An Outsider’s View of Christianity: Review of The Unlikely Disciple

"The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest
University" By Kevin Roose | Grand Central Publishing [Paperback] (June 3,
2010) | 336 pp. | List Price: $13.99

An emergency prayer meeting has been called. The guys on the hall at
the dorm gather to support their friend and seek divine assistance. The
emergency is that photographs that a student posted to his MySpace page may get
him expelled from college. He attended a "lingerie party" and the photographs
demonstrate that he broke just about every conduct rule of the college he chose
to attend. What makes this prayer meeting even more interesting is that,
unknown to the others, one of the intercessors does not believe in the power of
prayer. He is a clandestine writer trying to blend in as a normal student at
Liberty University. Thus opens "The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at
America’s Holiest University." The author, Kevin Roose, decided to transfer to
Liberty University for a semester when he was a sophomore at Brown University.

The decision to spend a semester at Liberty began when Mr. Roose, working as an
intern, was interviewing Liberty students at Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road
Baptist Church. The frustration at his difficulties communicating with young
adults who were demographically similar to him, with the exception that they
were Christians, was confusing: "Aren’t we all part of the Millennial
generation? Don’t we all carry the same iPhones and suffer from the same
entitlement complex?"

Comparing his plan to study at Liberty to a study-abroad program, Mr. Roose
decides he needs the experience for the sake of cultural diversity: "Here,
right in my time zone, was a culture more foreign to me than any European
capital, and these foreigners vote in my elections!" After getting a brief
orientation to Christianity from a friend who grew up in a Christian home,
despite the consternation and confusion of family and friends, Mr. Roose
plunges in to "pray when they prayed, sing when they sang and take exams when
they took exams."

Mr. Roose’s cross-cultural experience provides an opportunity for Christians,
and Christians involved in higher education in particular, to see our culture
through the eyes of a foreigner. I found "The Unlikely Disciple" to provide a
fair and insightful picture. I got to like Mr. Roose while reading his book and
began thinking of him by the nickname his dorm-mates gave him, "Rooster." In
one semester, Mr. Roose takes in an amazing dose of the Liberty experience:
singing in the Thomas Road choir, going on a Spring Break mission trip, and
obtaining the last print interview with Rev. Jerry Falwell.

One of the author’s most surprising experiences is finding that for the most
part he genuinely liked his fellow students. He had expected Christians to be
angry rather than joyful. He came to appreciate the concern and support that
students provided for each other, a sense of community that one does not find
on secular campuses. Mr. Roose even came to appreciate the rule banning
physical contact between males and females. When the physical was not the focus
on a date, he found he actually got to know girls as people, which was

Not everything about Liberty was to Mr. Roose’s liking, of course. Some of his
courses seemed more like indoctrination than explorations of scholarship. Were
the moral emphases for students the most important behaviors to monitor? He was
repulsed by his hall-mates’ harsh views on homosexuality.

I regularly laughed out loud while reading "The Unlikely Disciple." It is a
most engaging book. (The college where I teach, Grove City College, gets a
cameo, too.) I think I understand my students better, having read it. (There
is, however, more male dorm-talk than some readers might appreciate.) Good
questions are raised, such as whether those of us who believe in absolute truth
are guiding students in the pursuit of truth or merely telling students what to

Of course, the book is only one observer’s perspective, and his perspective is
limited in part by the hall to which he was assigned. His experiences might
have been different had he lived with a different group of students. Still,
"The Unlikely Disciple" is excellent. It is a must read for anyone interested
in the experience of Christian young adults or Christian culture.

— Dr. Joseph J. Horton is an associate professor of psychology at Grove City
College and a researcher on Positive Youth Development with [3]The Center for
Vision & Values.