I recently read and reviewed Churched, the memoirs of growing up in an Independent Fundamental Baptist church, by Matthew Paul Turner. That book gave a humorous and curious look at Fundamentalist Baptist culture as told through someone that desperately wanted out. It was an enjoyable and eye-opening read, but lacked in the getting out phase. I was left with a lot of questions.

The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose stands opposite the looking glass from Turner’s Churched. It gives an account of a liberal, non-religious college student spending a semester at a Fundamental Baptist college.

Several aspects of The Unlikely Disciple are reminiscent of Turner’s memoirs. Both are detailing the same culture, though Turner gives the childhood account and Roose gives the college account. Both expose the same problem: a faith that is difficult on the surface with little answers beneath. Both Roose and Turner struggle with the outward demands of the culture while never fully learning why such outward demands are made.

I’ll give credit to both. I think they searched for it. I’m not sure anyone around them was prepared with answers, but I’m sure both writers have searched. I also want to give credit to Roose in that he really tries to understand those around him. I am impressed with the compassion and understanding he shows toward people he opposed ideologically. I think Roose does everything he can to try to understand the faith that moves the students of Liberty University. He engages the culture at every level attempts to learn all he can. His account is thorough and enjoyable.

As an evangelical Christian, I found The Unlikely Disciple to be both challenging and frustrating. It was frustrating because I am an evangelical but I would probably have as much difficulty understanding the culture as Roose does. There are many pockets of evangelical Christianity that are less focused on legalism, more interested in spiritual matters, and more open to questions. Yet, in all fairness, evangelical Christian culture tends to have a louder voice and that culture is what speaks to Roose. I cannot be frustrated for what a writer reports, but rather, evangelicals would be wise to note what the culture portrays and begin to question it a bit.

As for challenging, I am moved by the level of understanding Roose displays. I have never been as respectful toward Jerry Fallwell as Roose even though ideologically, I am much closer. That is to my shame. I think there is a lesson in compassion and understanding in this book. I am appreciative for it.

I can easily recommend this book. Its an easy, fun read, that in the end will challenge everyone toward a greater degree of understanding. For my fellow evangelicals, I would recommend that after reading this book, an evaluation of evangelical culture is in order. A message is getting out, but is it the message we intend?

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