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Every Christian Needs to Read This Book! (And Every Atheist Too!)

Updated on March 23, 2013

"The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University," by Kevin Roose

(No, I'm not talking about the Bible.) We're all on one side or the other of the "God Divide." As an atheist, do you ever wonder about believers? As a Christian, are you curious how the world views you?

A journalism student jumped the Divide in a study-abroad semester at home ... but a whole world away: an undercover secular liberal from Brown University masquerading for a semester as an evangelical at ultra-conservative Liberty University, the school founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.

Whichever side of the God Divide you are on, get a little insight into the other ... and maybe into your own side as well.

What Prompted This Experiment?

Why did Kevin Roose decide to attend Falwell's Liberty University for a semester?

Kevin Roose was first taken to Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road church by his mentor, A.J. Jacobs, as research for Jacobs' book The Year of Living Biblically. While there, he encountered some Liberty U students with whom he signally failed to connect. Recalling it later, he found himself frustrated at the incident:

"I replayed those fifteen minutes over and over in my mind. Every time, I got more frustrated with myself. Why wasn't I able to hold down that conversation? I mean, I've heard of the God Divide before, in a thousand Newsweek articles and one-hour CNN specials. I'm aware that a tree-hugging Brown student isn't supposed to be able to talk to a Bible-thumping Liberty student. But why not? Aren't we all part of the Millennial generation? Don't we all carry the same iPhones and suffer from the same entitlement complex?

"I started reading up on Liberty and other evangelical colleges, and the more I read, the more I began to realize the importance of knowing about my Christian peers. This isn't a fringe culture, after all. According to the Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm, a full one-third of America's teenagers self-identify as born-again Christians....

"What exactly do they believe? And are we really that different? I also felt intuitively that there was something limiting about being an outsider in the evangelical world. When I told the Liberty students at Thomas Road that I hadn't accepted Christ as my savior, the entire dynamic of the conversation changed. It began to feel distant and rehearsed, like a pitch for Ginsu knives. So how could I, a curious non-evangelical, get the inside scoop?

"Several months after my Thomas Road visit, while browsing Liberty's website one morning, it clicked: What if I spent a semester at Liberty as a student? What if, instead of speculating about Christian college life from afar, I jumped over the God Divide and tried to experience it myself?"

"The Unlikely Disciple" - Kevin Roose spent a semester undercover as an evangelical Christian, to try to understand their culture from their point of view.

"Here, right in my time zone,

was a culture more foreign to me

than any European capital."

~ Kevin Roose ~

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

Hoping to connect with his conservative Christian peers, Roose leaps across the God Divide and embeds himself among Liberty’s 10,000 undergraduates, who call themselves “Champions for Christ.” At Liberty, he sings in Rev. Falwell’s church choir, takes classes like Evangelism 101, and makes surprising discoveries about the true nature of America’s culture war. The chronicle of Roose’s journey is timely, hilarious, and thought-provoking, and will inspire and entertain believers and non-believers alike.


"The Unlikely Disciple" Book Trailer - Kevin Roose talks about his reasons for spending a semester at Falwell's Liberty University.

"A tree-hugging Brown student

isn't supposed to be able to talk to

a Bible-thumping Liberty student.

But why not?"

~ Kevin Roose ~

Why Should Everyone Read This Book? - Although there are very real differences, the people on both sides of the "God Divide" are still people, and it is possibl

"Is the God Divide really

as big as we say it is?

Well, no, it's not.

And I'm the proof."

~ Kevin Roose ~

Do you agree that it is important to humanize and empathize with the other side of the God Divide?

No! If they believe what they do, then they deserve whatever they get.

No! If they believe what they do, then they deserve whatever they get.

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    • anonymous 7 years ago

      Hmmm, there are 'Christian's' and 'Christian's' mate! Unfortunately not many these days can tell the difference. It's easy enough to follow a series of ACTIONS but true Christianity starts in the heart- and depends entirely upon one's personal relationship with God. You're just proof of how legalistic and humanistic mainstream Christianity has become. Sure you can 'fit' in with Liberty college! It wouldn't be the 'largest evangelical' college if it wasn't popular with the world. That in itself is a good indicator that the college has compromised in some way. If you came across the real thing there is no way you'd fit in or feel comfortable. Sorry! That's just the way it is. The Bible slams mankind as being sinners and having hearts that are desperately wicked- only God could write that, and there isn't a single human being who'd feel comfortable being dealt with on that level. Especially non-believers!

    • anonymous 7 years ago


      I feel sorry for you. You can't make a name for yourself on your own merits.

      Instead you distort the truth, just as the serpent did, in order to get attention.

      I know better. I graduated from LU. You're the tares among the wheat.

      You will not last.

      I wish you peace.

    Yes! People are people and it is important to find common ground.

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      • Ayngel Overson 7 years ago from Crestone, Co

        Yes, I do. We have enough division in this world, and the only way to find unity is to realize that we are all different in some ways, but fundamentally we are all the same. We are humans and we can connect if we choose to. First we have to get past all of the reasons we think we wont.

      • Dianne Loomos 7 years ago

        I really admire Kevin Roose for actually trying to find out for himself about people on the other side of the "divide". It is easy to dehumanize those who disagree with you if you have never really met them. This is a real step in the right direction of civil discourse and understanding. It also says a lot about the Liberty University students and faculty who interacted with Roose in a positive way.

      • Anthony Godinho 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Love the unbeliever and hate the sin (or division)!

      • California_Dreamin 8 years ago

        I think it's important to remember that, what ever divides us, we are all share a common humanity. I also think that empathy is the most noble of all human emotions.

        I don't agree though that there are two kinds of people: atheists and believers.

        I've always considered myself to be an agnostic. I believe that, by definition, "God" is unknowable and cannot be pinned down by any set of principles, rules or beliefs. At the same time, I've spoken to religious people who explained their faith in ways that I thought were completely reasonable and that I could respect.

        The type of religious people I don't like are those who try to thrust their beleifs on others. For example, I was once approached by a young born again Christian type on the street who asked me, "Have you accepted Jesus into your life as your personal savior?" When I told I hadn't and why, his response was, "I feel sorry for you." That's the type of thing that gives religious people a bad name.

      • maryannk 8 years ago

        Jesus did.

      • religions7 8 years ago

        I totally agree that trying to find common ground is important - but other than in research projects like this, starting out by lying to people is generally not a great way to start... But how does one get 'in' on the incrowd without doing that?

      What Did the Author Discover About His Classmates?

      Kevin Roose went to Liberty with an idea of the evangelicals he would meet.

      "The thing that strikes me hardest:

      this is not a group of angry zealots."

      ~ Kevin Roose ~

      "They're not rabid, frothing fundamentalists

      who spend their days sewing Hillary Clinton

      voodoo dolls and penning angry missives

      to the ACLU. Maybe I'm getting a skewed

      sample, but the ones I've met have been

      funny, articulate, and decidedly non-crazy.

      ~ Kevin Roose ~

      The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at American's Holiest University

      Will You Read This Book?

      See results

      Going All the Way

      Doing nothing by half, if an evangelical opportunity presented itself, Kevin Roose took it.

      Kevin Roose joined the choir at Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road mega-church; took the typical freshman courseload (including a Christian ethics course, Old and New Testament classes, Evangelism 101, and creation studies); attended regular Bible studies, prayer groups, and one-on-one Christian counseling; and even signed on for a trip to evangelize college students visiting Daytona Beach for spring break.

      "Evangelizing to secular spring breakers in Florida struck me

      as an enormous waste of time.

      Why not go somewhere Jesus

      would be an easier sell?

      Like Islamabad?"

      ~ Kevin Roose ~

      Kevin found that, true to a prediction made by his only Christian friend from high school, the hardest part of blending in was making his language fit to be heard on a Christian campus.

      "I want a refund for that 30 Days

      to Taming Your Tongue book

      that was supposed to teach me

      how to speak to evangelicals in

      their own language.

      After reading it, I went around

      for several days saying things

      like 'Mercy me, that was a

      doozy of a class, wasn't it?'

      But instead of credibility,

      I mostly got looks of pity."

      ~ Kevin Roose ~

      What Do You Think About the Undercover Semester? - For a semester, Kevin Roose presented himself with a false identity.

      "If I were a normal Liberty student,

      I would have no qualms about

      making friends, dating girls,

      and following all my social impulses.

      But I'm not a normal Liberty

      student, and as I'm learning,

      I'm not immune to guilt."

      ~ Kevin Roose ~

      What did you think?

      He should not have lied to the university and the people who became his friends.

      He should not have lied to the university and the people who became his friends.

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        No comments yet.

        I think this was a great way to get a look at the other side of the God Divide.

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          • anonymous 7 years ago

            I think what Kevin did took alot of patience. It's not easy to deal with religious people who are stuck on their own beliefs. I give him kudos for being able to do what he did and it had to be so interesting. I could tell you I wouldn't have been able to do this without blowing my cover.

          • anonymous 8 years ago

            The insights gained would have never been gained in any other manner. Not a fan of lying at all, but I think Kevin did more avoidance than lying (or else I have failing short term memory).

          • maryannk 8 years ago

            I'm okay with it. I appreciate having the outside perspective and am looking forward to reading the book.

          "When I wake up at 7:45 on Sunday morning,

          I expect to feel much worse.

          It's 7:45 on Sunday morning, after all."

          ~ Kevin Roose ~

          "It's a novel idea - Bible study as singles

          mixer. And since the alternative is to watch

          my roommate play solitaire until he claws

          his eyes out, I decide to go along."

          ~ Kevin Roose ~

          "In nearly two months of booze-free

          Christian living and twice-a-week jogging,

          I've lost 15 pounds without trying, and

          I forget what a hangover feels like.

          All college students should do a semester

          at Liberty for the health benefits alone."

          ~ Kevin Roose ~

          "The Year of Living Biblically" - One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

          Kevin Roose was first taken to Falwell's Thomas Road church by his mentor, A.J. Jacobs, as research for Jacobs' book The Year of Living Biblically.

          The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
          The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

          Make no mistake: A.J. Jacobs is not a religious man. He describes himself as Jewish "in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant." Yet his latest work, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, is an insightful and hilarious journey for readers of all faiths. Though no fatted calves were harmed in the making of this book, Jacobs chronicles 12 months living a remarkably strict Biblical life full of charity, chastity, and facial hair as impressive as anything found in The Lord of the Rings. Through it all, he manages to brilliantly keep things light, while avoiding the sinful eye of judgment. - Dave Callanan


          Praise for "The Unlikely Disciple"

          Secular and religious reviewers praise Kevin Roose

          "Hallelujah for Kevin Roose. This is a remarkable book. He takes us on a fascinating, funny, nuanced journey that doesn't condescend or make glib judgments. It's just what the culture wars need. If I didn't already have kids, I'd adopt Kevin."

          A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author of The Year Of Living Biblically

          "What happens when a Brown undergrad goes undercover at Liberty University? If he's a writer as insightful and open-minded as Kevin Roose, he ends up learning as much about himself as he does about the evangelical Christians he lives with. The Unlikely Disciple provides a funny, compassionate, and revealing look at Jerry Falwell's 'Bible Boot Camp,' and the surprisingly diverse band of true believers who make it their home."

          Tom Perrotta, bestselling author of Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher

          "This is a brilliant book. Absolutely brilliant. Roose's wisdom, humanity, and love kept me going. And I laughed. A lot."

          Rob Bell, founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, author of Velvet Elvis

          "Keenly observed, funny, and compassionate. Kevin Roose parachutes us into a seldom-glimpsed and little-understood pocket of America, then guides us through a story of religion and country more resonant than any of us could have imagined."

          Robert Kurson, bestselling author of Shadow Divers and Crashing Through

          "Kevin Roose has produced a textured, intelligent, even sympathetic, account of his semester at Liberty University. He eschews caricature and the cheap shot in favor of keen observation and trenchant analysis. The Unlikely Disciple is a book of uncommon wisdom and insight. I recommend it with enthusiasm."

          The Rev. Dr. Randall Balmer, Episcopal Priest and Professor of American Religious History at Barnard College, Columbia University

          Did Crossing the "God Divide" Change His Attitudes?

          Kevin Roose found real people with individual personalities, problems, and passions at Liberty.

          "[My family] talked about how I

          lived with 'brainwashed sheep.'...

          It makes me uneasy when people paint

          Liberty students with a broad brush,

          just as it would make me uneasy if someone

          said that all Brown students are

          amoral, unpatriotic heathens."

          ~ Kevin Roose ~

          "The Unlikely Disciple" Kindle Edition - Read Kevin Roose's book electronically now!

          Read The Unlikely Disciple RIGHT NOW on your Kindle, within one minute of placing your order. Kindle Books include FREE wireless delivery!

          Are the Cultural Differences Insurmountable?

          "Bible Boot Camp is a surprisingly

          messy place.... Liberty students

          who struggle with lust.

          Secular Quakers who enjoy prayer.

          Evangelical feminists who [attend]

          out of academic interest.

          I used to think that my two worlds

          were a million miles apart.

          But tonight, the distance seems

          more like a hundred thousand miles.

          It's not a total improvement,

          but it's not meaningless, either.

          ~ Kevin Roose ~

          Crossing Another Cultural Divide - "Black Like Me" by John Howard Griffin

          Similar to Kevin Roose, journalist John Howard Griffith went undercover to cross a serious cultural divide.

          Black Like Me
          Black Like Me

          This mid-century classic on race brilliantly withstands the test of time. Concerned by the lack of communication between the races and wondering what "adjustments and discriminations" he would face as a Negro in the Deep South, the late author, a journalist and self-described "specialist in race issues," left behind his privileged life as a Southern white man to step into the body of a stranger. In 1959, Griffin headed to New Orleans, darkened his skin and immersed himself in black society. (c) Reed Business Information



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            • profile image

              jerrywil 6 years ago

              There is no God divide. There is a vocabulary and description problem. Like four blind men describing an elephant.

            • religions7 profile image

              religions7 7 years ago

              Great lens, but you knew that :) same for the: Interfaith - religious dialogue Headquarters


              It's now transformed into a lensography and I would love it if you could show your appreciation by featuring it here, or lensrolling it or something.

            • religions7 profile image

              religions7 7 years ago

              Great lens, but you knew that :) Just wanted to remind you that this is featured on the Religious and spiritual gifts Headquarters:

              It's now transformed into a lensography and I would love it if you could feature it here, or lensroll it or something.

            • ayngel boshemia profile image

              Ayngel Overson 7 years ago from Crestone, Co

              I can't wait to read both books actually. I've watched a few of the interviews and videos on his year of living biblically and it was great. Maybe that's what I will ask for for Christmas!!! Great job, and I'll be back to get those books!

            • brittanyshaf profile image

              brittanyshaf 7 years ago

              interesting lens!

            • ajgodinho profile image

              Anthony Godinho 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

              Interesting...well done lens!

            • Everyday-Miracles profile image

              Everyday-Miracles 8 years ago

              Looking forward to reading this one! Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

            • KathrynDarden profile image

              Kathryn Darden 8 years ago

              This sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for pointing it out!

            • Kylyssa profile image

              Kylyssa Shay 8 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

              Great lens. I'll have to check this book out of the library, it sounds fascinating.

            • TreasuresBrenda profile image

              Treasures By Brenda 8 years ago from Canada

              Every Christian needs to read this lens! Great work, Carma & blessed.


            • profile image

              California_Dreamin 8 years ago

              I've ordered the book. I followed the link on this page, but finally bought it through, because I live in Japan, so I don't know if Squidoo gets any credit for that sale on not.

            • profile image

              maryannk 8 years ago

              Great lens. Can't wait to read the book. I live near LU and at one time lived and worked with many LU students, so it will be interesting to read Kevin's perspective.

            • Senora M profile image

              Senora M 8 years ago

              Sounds interesting.

            • tandemonimom lm profile image

              tandemonimom lm 8 years ago

              [in reply to spirituality] I have now! :-D

            • religions7 profile image

              religions7 8 years ago

              Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

              Have you submitted this to my spiritual gifts group btw?

            • Dianne Loomos profile image

              Dianne Loomos 8 years ago

              I want to read it!