Monday, May 25, 2009

Unlikely Disciple (Review)

In The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University, Kevin Roose sets out on a fantastic adventure to try and understand the religious right culture by forsaking a semester at Brown University and trading it for a semester under-cover at Liberty University. Here's a video preview of the book:

Now that you have an idea of the premise, let's get into the book. This book is one of the most engaging and fun books that I've read in a long time. I can almost promise that you will see this again in my end of the year book superlatives! I was able to read this book in two days, and was genuinely sad when I had to close the final page.

Being raised far more to the left, Kevin goes to Liberty with an open and curious mind. I also went to a Christian University (Campbell U.), which is by far a lot more secularized and less strict than Liberty, but I experienced a lot of the atmosphere that Kevin encounters in his book. The book brought up a lot of funny memories for me about the Christian culture that was prevalent on my campus. Yet like my own experience, he finds there is a wide variety within the student population. Not all of those he encounters all within the restraints of the typical "Liberty stereotype".

Why read this book? Well, it is a fascinating experience from Kevin's point of view. The people he meets and the experiences he has is captured in his wonderful writing style. Most people I have read or talked to that have read the book wished it was double the length. He is that engaging! But what he does best is re-humanizing the most conservative (both religious and politically) and Fundamentalist in our society. Because of his open-minded approach and his willingness to understand, he captures that there are people behind these ideologues that belittle elections and morals to that of homosexuality and abortion. How well does he succeed in this? He has one of the final interviews with Jerry Falwell before his death, and surprise; he's not evil incarnate as many people think! Kevin even has a great insight at, while not agreeing with him, understands why people like and follow him. He captures what distinguishes him from others that have been lumped together with Falwell like Haggard and Bakker.

I think that many people I have interacted with online and in person that would be considered liberal or postmodern have fallen into the same vices that plagues the other end of the spectrum. We have forgotten that there is flesh and blood behind these ideas that we might fervently disagree with. Even more, we've forgotten that there is a story and a journey for each individual that has gotten them to where they are. Let's face it, each side is probably missing something in the whole God, faith, and religion department. For instance, Kevin finds something vital and important in prayer.

Liberty changes him, but does not convert him. In his own words he states after his experience,
"Everything I did, even [back] at Brown, took on a new aura of openness. I began to tell everyone in my life exactly how I felt about them at all times. I poured my hear out at every available opportunity. I grabbed at transparency like an addict grabs at a crack pipe" (p. 314).
Roose acknowledges his own spiritual growth from his friends at Liberty, but sadly most of them could not celebrate this growth upon his revelation that he had been under cover. Why? Because they had to place him from the "saved" to the "unsaved" category again according to their binary thinking because he had never said the "sinners prayer".

There are a lot of great issues about faith and beliefs/ideals that are explored in this great book! Kevin sets out to see if there is a way to bridge the "God Divide", and found that perhaps it is possible. However, one has to wonder if the only way he was able to be a bridge was because he went in as "one of them", was accepted as someone who thought like they thought, and only after they had ALREADY accepted him and he came clean they couldn't just dump that relationship. Do we really have to pretend to think like each other in order to build relationships that transcend our differences? If so, there is something fundamentally wrong with us as human-beings!

Yet perhaps Kevin shows us all hope! This is a MUST READ book! You won't regret it at all! Yes, sometimes it feels a little choppy in the editing process, but his stories are amazing, humorous, and full of transparency. Get this book, sit back, and enjoy the ride!

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