Unlikely Disciples

I think I am on to a new personal favorite genre of spiritual literature: memoirs that tell the story of a person’s unlikely spiritual transformation in an environment very much unfamiliar and even inimical to the one in which he/she was raised. The market is flooded with conversion stories to Christ, but ones that tell the story in a grateful and truly humble way are few and far between. Eager new converts too often come across to their audience as, “I’ve got it, whatever ‘it’ is, and you need it, whoever ‘you’ are.” With hardly a note of personal connection, their plea for salvation falls flat as nothing more than a hawking of cheap furniture.

Two books that have come out in the last few years buck this trend, the first one by a man who remained a more informed non-believer and the second by a lesbian English professor whose transformation led her to become the wife of a Reformed Presbyterian pastor.

Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University is not as snarky as the title suggests. Growing up on the east coast, in a region very antithetical to the Bible Belt, Roose sought a more informed and compassionate understanding of ‘the other’. By enrolling as an undercover, embedded reporter at a prominent Christian fundamentalist university, Kevin was able to record the thoughts and reflections of the students for an audience that misunderstands “fundies” or takes them for granted. Certainly, there are many funny moments of culture shock, but what the author discovered ultimately about Liberty University’s students and faculty was that their often sincere attempts at spiritual growth and living for Christ get mixed up their all-too-human foibles and desires to seen and applauded by men.

And if anyone deserves recognition for their success in this world, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield had achieved it as a tenured professor of Syracuse University and teacher in the department of Women’s Studies. But like another Apostle Paul, she counted it all as loss for the sake of knowing Christ. It is rare that my wife and I both devour a book (she is usually a much tougher critic than I), but upon first reading about it in our favorite news magazine and then another review in the most recent edition of Salvo, we were hooked. The book is not simply valuable as a conversion narrative, but as a piece of great literature. Rosaria, the English professor, never settles for prose when poetry would heighten the praise of her Creator. And the sheer range of the author’s experience ensures that there is something in it for everyone:

  • Coming out of a lesbian lifestyle without abandoning former friends
  • Struggling with a new identity in a community that used to be the enemy
  • Embracing a monogamous marriage without idealizing the institution
  • Discovering a life-long ministry in mixed racial adoption

Without question, this book will make it to our family’s top ten list for the year, and we heartily recommend the same to you and yours. Here is a video to close with the book’s author describing her amazing journey of faith.

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