Roose grew up in Oberlin, Ohio, "the product of the ultimate, secular, liberal upbringing", with next to no contact with conservative Christian culture. He was raised a Quaker & rarely went to church. He's smart, savvy, liberal & open-minded. His parents even worked for Ralph Nader in their twenties. He goes to ultra-liberal free-spirited Ivy League Brown University--the polar opposite of a school like Liberty University.
No semester study-abroad in Italy or Prague for Roose. He decides to really broaden his cultural education. He enrolls for a semester at Jerry Falwell's evangelical Christian Liberty University in Lynchberg, Virginia--"a bastion of Christian purity--sort of the anti-animal house."
This is a self-described "Bible Boot Camp" for evangelicals--Falwell's training ground for the next generation of America's Religious Right.
Most parents are nervous about sending their college-age kids off to a foreign country--Kevin's parents were scared to death to send Kevin off to Liberty University, fearing some sort of subtle conversion.
His semester turns out to be nothing like he expected.
With a course load that included Old Testament, New Testament, Evangelism 101, and The History of Life--Liberty's Creation Biology, he had to work hard to get even mediocre grades.
It Was My Turn To Select a Book for Book Club
It was April 15th, and our book club was meeting on May 30th. It was our turn to come up with the next book & my husband & I had finally settled on 2 possible books for the group.
I was about to send out the email for a vote when I read Gretchen Rubin's interview with Kevin Roose on her blog and my email suddenly changed. This book sounded terrific. I quickly added "Unlikely Disciple" to my list of book choices for the group and within hours everyone agreed that they wanted to read Kevin's book.
So Why Would This Book Club Be Unlikely Fans of "Unlikely Disciple"?
Because this book club--made up of couples in their 40s & 50s--are practically like Kevin's parents--remember, they were not too happy about his transfer to Liberty U.
Our book club has been meeting for almost 17 years. Half of the group are doctors, who value science, and don't exactly understand the teaching of creationist biology in a university. None of us are Christian, and our politics wouldn't be described as staunchly conservative--for the majority of us, that is.
WE UNANIMOUSLY LOVED THIS BOOK!!! In the almost 17 years we've been meeting this is only the 2nd book that everyone has loved, hands down. The other one was: The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen. The other-almost-favorite was Captain Corelli's Mandolin, written by Louis de Bernieres.
Why We Loved the "Unlikely Disciple"
1. It's wise, funny, compassionate, balanced, hopeful, well-written and entertaining. There's nothing snarky, mean-spirited, cynical or condescending about it--which is a welcome relief.
2. Kevin experiences everything at Liberty: a spring-break evangelical mission to Daytona Beach; one-on-one spiritual counseling with Pastor Seth; dating the old-fashioned way; singing in the famous Thomas Road Church choir; participating in a self-help group that helps student's dial-down their sexual thoughts; and good old-fashioned single-sex dorm camaraderie.
3. As strict as the rules are at Liberty, on balance, there's a lot to recommend it--and it mostly works. The students are engaged, healthy, and happy--especially compared to those at many secular colleges.
4. The book has a lot to say about the danger of stereotyping individuals by their group affiliation--and the value of getting to know people before making judgments. The students Kevin met were nothing like his preconceived notions--and the same could be said for Jerry Falwell. Get to know people, and opinions change.
5. We all got a kick out of Kevin's amazement at how easy it was to awaken in the morning--clear-headed & full of energy--with the help of an enforced curfew and rules barring alcohol. And he even lost weight minus the alcohol.
Some of My Favorite Quotes
Kevin on Pastor Seth, his spiritual advisor:
Here, Pastor Seth quoted the famous Christian author Oswald Chambers, who wrote: "It is not so true that prayer changes things as that prayer changes me and I change things."
From his interview with Gretchen Rubin:
"When I was living at Liberty, I had to learn how to pray. I'm back at secular college now, but I still pray almost every day. Don't get me wrong: I'm not an evangelical Christian, and I don't believe that G-d sits on his throne in heaven watching our requests flood into his cosmic inbox. But I do think there's value in focusing on the needs of my friends and family members, trying to empathize with them for ten or twenty minutes a day. It forces me to be aware of how lucky I am, and I really do think it motivates me to be more compassionate."
Finally, there have been a rash of deaths in MN due to alcohol toxicity or impairment. Where would you want you kid to go to school. A place where, while conservative, was safe or a place that your kid lived a risky life due to the binge drinking?" Bill Rowe Sun May 31 09:5615 2009
If you are looking for a book for your book club that has something discussable--this is it!! There's religion, the appeal of the group religious experience, sexual attitudes, morals, politics, humor, ethics, friendship, deception, as well as what constitutes a well-rounded university education.
We all agreed that this book was just plain good fun to read--all of us looked forward to reading it--and we all really liked Kevin Roose. What could be better?
To Read More:
Gretchen Rubin's interview with Kevin Roose
NPR's Excerpt from the "Unlikely Disciple"
NPR's segment, "Undercover at an Evangelical University"