The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University

Liberty University, or “Bible Boot Camp” to some, is among the most conservative universities in the nation.

In a move that baffled and even worried his friends and family, unreligious Kevin Roose took a semester off of studying journalism at the liberal Brown University to try to bridge the culture gap and went to Liberty. He candidly chronicles his time and discoveries in the memoir The Unlikely Disciple.

The first few pages of the book contain praise from Christian Science Monitor, The Onion, New York Times,, Jewish Weekly, and even Playboy. The readers associated with these publications aren’t known for agreeing, but they all reach the same consensus. Roose’s work is worth the read.

Liberty University was founded in the 1970s by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. He wanted to provide an accredited university for Christian students. The school has grown rapidly since that time, with more than 11,000 students enrolled in 2010. Falwell was once the poster-boy of evangelism, but lately is more often associated with sensational remarks he made in the last decade of his life.

Roose’s friends and family were quick to point to Falwell’s statements on the 700 Club after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as a reason for Roose to avoid Liberty.

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle … I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen,’ ” Falwell had said.

Falwell was still living and presiding over Liberty, with almost a rock star persona among students, when Roose moved onto campus.

Roose’s open-mindedness and honesty, along with witty writing, makes the book more than another memoir.

He candidly lives alongside devout evangelical students, participates in their religious activates, abstains from cursing, sex, dancing and R-rated movies and everything else described in Liberty’s 46-page code of conduct. Roose even sang in Jerry Falwell’s choir every Sunday morning at the nationally televised Thomas Road worship service.

Roose deals extensively with social and moral issues. He also abandoned many of his preconceived ideas about evangelicals. Some of the stereotypes held up, however. He chronicles how hostile the campus is toward homosexuals. Instead of swearing, students were prone to using synonyms for gay as their expletives. He also tackles a class called History of Life where he is instructed that Noah carried dinosaurs on the ark. Despite problems like this, Roose never takes a shot at Christians, and genuinely is interested in the spiritual aspect of their lives.

Roose embraced many of the new areas of his life that he learned from the university. He continues to pray and read scripture.

This book crosses lines of demographics that rarely mix. It is enlightening to those close to evangelism and who are unaware of how the faith is perceived by outsiders.

For non-Christians, the book shows an honest view of what Christian students are like, how their faith helps them in life and how they struggle with the same issues everyone else does.

The work is extremely compelling and should be read by anyone interested in the culture wars. For students at a Christian university, the book is even more interesting and humorous.

Most of all, Roose casts the hard light of examination on both sides of the battle lines, encouraging empathy and communication between foes who have more in common than they might believe.

Author: Evan Duncan

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