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Review: The Unlikely Disciple

April 30, 2009

I just finished reading and writing the review for an extremely interesting and entertaining book: Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple—A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University.


The book had an intriguing premise—Roose, the son of secular Quakers and a sophomore at the preeminent ultra-liberal Brown University, was awakened to the fact that he knew next to nothing about a large segment of his peer group—the Christian collegiate sect. He decided to transfer from Brown to Liberty University for a semester and completely immerse himself in all things Liberty with intent to write a book about his experiences.


Roose intended to keep his identity as a writer and his true purpose at LU secret, something that concerned me initially even as I understood his reasoning. Roose speaks several times in his book of the great fear that his fellow students at Brown and his family members have for his venture. There is a misconception that most people associated with Liberty (and most Christians) are “rabid, frothing fundamentalists who spend their days sewing Hillary Clinton voodoo dolls and penning angry missives to the ACLU” (63). After only a week on campus, Roose is receiving panicked emails from Brown buddies that read, “I can’t believe you’re there and breathing and haven’t been burned at the stake,” (42). Obviously, revealing his true intent—to observe Christian college students in their natural habitat and expose them for what they are, be it true or false—could be a somewhat dampening experience if the journalist unable to move freely about and blend in. At the same time, I felt like an individual coming from this kind of background would be looking very hard for evidence of hypocrisy simply because he doesn’t understand the basis of our faith. Christians, after all, are not perfect people any more than non-Christians are—we are not called to be perfect. Sure, we should be trying harder, and I would never want anyone to say that they couldn’t observe Christ in me. 


I was very reassured, though, with Roose’s determination: “no cheap shots” (11). “I wanted to see what Christian college was like, with as little prejudgment as possible. I knew that wouldn’t be easy—you can’t neutralize a lifetime of bias overnight—but I wanted to try my best…if I went to Liberty, it would be to learn with an open mind, not to mock Liberty students or the evangelical world in toto” (11).


For the most part, Roose manages this very well. He does struggle somewhat with creationism and evolution, and with the support group for Chronic Masturbators, but he manages. Part of the charm of the book, in fact, is in how Roose embraces his experiences at LU wholeheartedly and unabashedly. He even goes so far as to embrace the possibility of conversion, stating “it’s hard to watch Liberty students singing along to worship songs during convocation, raising their hands and smiling beatifically, and not wonder whether they’ve tapped into something that makes their lives happier, more meaningful, more consistently optimistic than mine. I still don’t get what that something is, or how it changes them, or how it can coexist with the sorts of socio-political beliefs that have made Jerry Falwell one of America’s most reviled public figures. It still feels like everyone on this campus is tuned in to a radio frequency I don’t get on my antenna.  But with the help of my hallmates, I’m starting to piece things together” (65).


Whether Roose realizes it or not, this is the triumph of this book—the evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit, stirring within him the beginnings of conviction. It’s what kept me reading the whole way through–not page after page of humorous recollection of typical college foible and folly, laced as it was with prayerful introspection and the genuine desire for a righteous way of life.To see God chipping away, though, at the armor in one cloaked so heavily in cynicism and the things of this world, and to see this individual being softened in spite of himself…and to not even be fully cognizant of what is happening…that is an amazing read. 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2009 11:16 am

    Thanks for the review… I’m always looking for another good book to read!

  2. May 1, 2009 3:18 pm

    Very deep subject… I’m going to have to read it.

    We’ve all been raised with some sort of bias, and it’s nice to see when others shed theirs so we can show them the light that is in us thru belief in Jesus.

    By the way, My pastor calls himself a “jacked up Jesus follower” and warns no perfect people are allowed at our church. So I’ve taken to calling myself that. It’s nice to be REAL about our faith, and HUMAN-ness, isn’t it? When others question me about God’s loving them, I tell them we are human BEINGS, not human doings. God loves us as we are and we are to love others the same.

    AWESOME review and post!!

  3. hintonrae permalink*
    May 2, 2009 6:50 pm

    Let me know what yall think after you read it, now…

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