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In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's…

In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the…

by Gina Welch

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11719103,116 (3.47)20
  1. 30
    The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose (ToTheWest)
    ToTheWest: The authors were in the same place, with similar goals, using similar "undercover" methods, but studying different aspects of evangelicals. These books complement each other nicely.
  2. 00
    Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin (rxtheresa)
    rxtheresa: This is also about going "undercover" to understand a different way of life than your own.
  3. 02
    The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs (Percevan)

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Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
If I were to rate this book by its stated intention, I would have given it two stars. As an attempt to bridge the gap between the secular world and the Evangelical world, the book contributes precious little of substance. Instead I rated this book on its value as a means to draw someone into an experience that is created through words: most of the book was about as interesting as any other well-written book detailing someone's investigation into some part of the world, but the ending actually gave me the nausea that I imagine she must have felt and made my skin crawl the way I assume her skin crawled before making the big reveal.

But again, I'm judging the book based on how well it told the story of Gina Welch, its author; as an investigation into the 'Land of the Believers,' it offers little. The book begins with Welch's preconceptions of who Evangelicals are - the book then proceeds to confirm most of those preconceptions, but with affection. That is to say, Welch confirms that Evangelicals are every bit as homophobic and ignorant as she initially believes, but now they are taking up prime real estate of her Dunbar Number. She loves them, but yeah they are what you think they are.

The book details the adventure of Californian Gina Welch discovering that her liberal worldview does not exclude her from the kind of prejudice she (prejudicially) assumes to be the domain of the Evangelical Christians surrounding her in the state of Virginia. She decides to take an anthropological journey into Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church, going so far as to try to have an experience she can point to as her conversion moment and joining certain smaller groups within the larger church, predominantly a singles ministry. Her heart is progressively won over; her mind remains steadfastly secular. Her journey reaches its zenith in a missions trip to Alaska where she participates in leading 101 people to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, after which she decides that she can no longer continue lying to the people who have become dear friends to her and consequently bows out of their lives without explanation.

The story as a whole tends to drag. Welch adds a lot of details that I believe were included to add flavor and to make subtle suggestions to lead the reader to certain conclusions (X Woman wore too much Y kind of makeup, implying vanity; I painted my nails in good girl pink before heading to church, implying scrutiny; his chivalry was reaching performance art levels, implying chauvinism), which is perfectly acceptable, reasonable, and desirable in a book like this, but after a while the details just feel like they are mucking up the pace. Then there are times when Welch discards the notion that the story is about the church and just begins talking about her day-to-day existence, which leads me to believe that Welch was aware that the fact that she made this journey was more interesting than anything she might have discovered in the course of it. Ideally I think the book could have shaved off a third of its length and been more effective, but that could just be my attention span talking (I would say the same about this review I'm writing, so, hypocrisy).

By the third portion of the book, which details Welch's trip to Alaska, you become certain that this is no longer about Evangelical culture. She tries to keep the spotlight focused: she throws out general observations about Evangelicals based on particular occurrences with varying degrees of shoehorning, but they cease to feel organic at that point. Soon you realize that this is a story about the lengths this woman will go to to write a book. It's a story about someone feeling so little about an entire people group that rampant deception in the course of developing intimate relationships seemed perfectly acceptable to her, and then falling in love with those people while still holding onto this devastating deception.

I quickly became bored reading about Alaska, but I didn't stop. The mundane events of the Alaskan mission trip are not interesting, but you feel the tension building because you know she has to reveal what she has done to her friends. The spotlight shifts from the group to Gina herself - who is becoming progressively more aware of the gravity of her deception.

Approach it based on what it advertises and you will be disappointed. Approach it as what it is - a story of the depths one will go to in order to tell a story - and you might find yourself intrigued. Further, and perhaps this is the books greatest contribution, it is a cautionary tale about failing to see those who are different from you as still being people. This seemed to have been one of the goals of the book and this goal the book fulfills by virtue of existing. The book itself is the warning. ( )
  GTWise | Feb 28, 2013 |
Gina Welch, in an attempt to gain a better understanding of evangelical Christians, pretends to be interested in learning about Christianity (later, when that gets her virtually nowhere, she pretends to be a convert and is even baptized). Although she never espouses the beliefs of Thomas Road Baptist Church (made famous because of its founder, Jerry Falwell, who dies during Ms. Welch's study), she does make some genuine friends and realizes that evangelicals aren't nearly as alien as she thought.

I come at this book differently than the author does; I once drank the kool-aid and was an evangelical Christian myself for several years. It was interesting to see a non-believer's take on the whole spectacle (and, really, it is one - I was pentecostal, and that denomination can be certifiably crazy).

Although I agree, to a point, with the whole "we just need to understand one another" vibe of the book, there are some problems to the whole peace, love, and understanding conclusion. The first was experienced by Ms. Welch herself: until she pretended to be "saved," she couldn't go anywhere in the church. She never would have made her close friends had she continued to simply be interested in the church or religion; you have to go full-force into the lion's den. Otherwise, all you are ever seen as is a potential convert. You aren't a person. And I say this from my personal experience, both as a (FORMER) evangelical and as the one tossed outside of the circle because I wasn't a sheep (I don't mean that offensively; I was literally called a goat more than once).

Secondly, it's relatively easy for Ms. Welch to gloss over the rampant homophobia present in evangelical circles. She does mention it a few times, but like the "disbelief" in climate change, it's not a central issue. And I didn't expect it to be; she's not gay. However, I am, and I've seen the ugly face of Christianity that Ms. Welch just didn't see because of it.

Altogether, the book is okay, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. ( )
  schatzi | Sep 24, 2012 |
In the Land of Believers
An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey Into the Heart of the Evangelical Church

By Gina Welch
Picador 333 pgs

Rating: 3.5

Gina Welch writes "...And you're never more like Christ than when you're forgiving the unforgivable."

She also writes "...You can see anything you want if you've already decided what you're looking at."

These are my favorite lines from Gina Welch's cultural experiment. Ms. Welch was raised a secular Jew by a single mother in Berkeley, California. She is a Yale graduate. She teaches English at George Washington University. She is a practicing atheist. I just wrote that last sentence and I'm not sure what it means. All of which I point out simply to say that she is not a typical attendee at church. And certainly not an evangelical Christian church. And never a member of Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC.) But she was. She went undercover in the temple of the Moral Majority in Lynchburg, Virginia in the guise of a seeker.

Ms. Welch successfully pitched the book idea for her to go incognito into the land of Evangelical Christians and return to tell the tale. Which I find a little weird because after all they aren't vegetable cult worshippers or something. Nevertheless, Believers is the story of her experiences at TRBC. Ms. Welch spent years at this endeavor. She was baptized; learned to appreciate Christian rock; studied her bible; joined the singles ministry; made friends; even went on a mission trip to Alaska.

Gina Welch surprised me. This book is not the book I thought it would be. Ms. Welch expected to dislike the people she met. She expected to dislike the teachings. She expected to dislike the theology and doctrine. She expected to disagree with the politics. Ms. Welch also surprised herself. Her beliefs did not change fundamentally. But she made friends. She came to enjoy the sense of belonging. She felt the concern of people who genuinely practiced what they preached. She came to appreciate the teachings of a historical Jesus; a man whose values already meshed with hers.

And then she had to confess to her pastor and her new friends that she was an impostor. This is the story of Ms. Welch's exploration; her answers; and the questions yet satisfied.

This is a good book that could have been better. Ms. Welch is good at description: of people, places and sensations. I got bogged down now and then. The pace picked up during the Alaska mission trip. I found some of the claims of guilt feelings over her dishonesty to be unmoving. But some of these people were a pleasure to spend time with and know that they exist and are doing good in the world.

I'll include this again because I like it. "...And you're never more like Christ than when you're forgiving the unforgivable." ( )
1 vote TexasBookLover | Jul 25, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This interesting book by "secular Jew," Gina Welch, is a fun read for those who want to know more about a particular side of Evangelical faith. I think that Christians will be more likely to finish the book once they begin it because they will be familiar with the lifestyle portrayed and more interested in the outcome of this stealth reporting by the author. Ms. Welch went undercover to learn the ins and outs of "Evangelical" Christianity. She chose what she considered to be a bastion of Evangelical faith: Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University. While Thomas Road and Liberty can be considered Evangelical, I would go further and say they are Fundamentalist, and not necessarily representative of all conservative Christians. In her place I might have chosen a school like Wheaton College. Nevertheless, Christians (conservative ones at least) will gain insight into the way they are viewed by some who do not hold to their beliefs. Ms. Welch was very generous with regard to how she portrayed the lifestyles of the "believers" she observed. Still, as I read the book, I could not get out of my mind that Ms. Welch was constantly deceiving those around her. I couldn't imagine how someone could fake a conversion to a faith that puts such a strong emphasis on truth. I call to mind that Jesus said He is "...the way, the truth, and the life..." (John 14:6). All in all, the book held my attention, but it wasn't the page-turner I thought it might be. ( )
  riverrust | Mar 21, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
One of my reading themes for several years has been the promulgation of Christianity in East Asia, but I always have difficulty understanding the mindset/motivations of evangelical missionaries. When I found this new work about evangelicals in America I thought it might help me out a bit and indeed it turned into an interesting read.

The basic dilemma in examining the evangelical movement (or any social effort which involves strong human emotions and beliefs) is how to manage bias or pre-prejudice, and this is certainly the case with In the Land of Believers. One can either read works by evangelicals themselves, or interview them directly, and receive one type of "bias", or one can do what this author did and join the evangelicals (although remaining a non-Christian herself) and try to maintain an objective viewpoint in order to describe their work without the bias of passion. Unfortunately, this tactic results in the author's moral self-examination which distracts somewhat from the central thrust of the narrative.

Overall, however, this is a refreshing look at the breaking down of prejudice (the author thought she wouldn't be able to relate to the evangelical contacts but they became her friends) and she came to respect many of them. I still don't completely understand the motivation of people who want to preach and proselytize, but I did gain some insight. As a side-note, this is also an interesting travelogue through some tracts of America from Virginia to Alaska. ( )
  nobooksnolife | Sep 28, 2010 |
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Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
— Matthew 5:15
For my mother
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Beyond the entrance column of Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church, beyond the lobby's lake of dark marble, down past the cavernous sanctuary and The Lion and Lamb Café, deep into the linoleum warren of offices, closets, and classrooms, I am sitting under buzzing fluorescent lights, facing a blank dry-erase board, waiting for my evangelism class to begin.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805083375, Hardcover)

An undercover exploration of the world of evangelicals, offering an extraordinary behind-the-scenes look at the faithful

Ever since evangelical Christians rose to national prominence, mainstream America has tracked their every move with a nervous eye. But in spite of this vigilance, our understanding hasn’t gone beyond the caricatures. Who are evangelicals, really? What are they like in private, and what do they want? Is it possible that beneath the differences in culture and language, church and party, we might share with them some common purpose?

To find out, Gina Welch, a young secular Jew from Berkeley, joined Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. Over the course of nearly two years, Welch immersed herself in the life and language of the devout: she learned to interpret the world like an evangelical, weathered the death of Falwell, and embarked on a mission trip to Alaska intended to save one hundred souls. Alive to the meaning behind the music and the mind behind the slogans, Welch recognized the allure of evangelicalism, even for the godless, realizing that the congregation met needs and answered questions she didn’t know she had.

What emerges is a riveting account of a skeptic’s transformation from uninformed cynicism to compassionate understanding, and a rare view of how evangelicals see themselves. Revealing their generosity and hopefulness, as well as their prejudice and exceptionalism, In the Land of Believers is a call for comprehending, rather than dismissing, the impassioned believers who have become so central a force in American life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:14 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Ever since evangelical Christians rose to national prominence, mainstream America has watched them with a nervous eye, but our understanding hasn't gone beyond the caricatures. Who are evangelicals, really? To find out, Gina Welch, a young secular Jew ("born atheist") from Berkeley, joined Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church. Over the course of nearly two years, Welch immersed herself in the life and language of the devout: she learned to interpret the world like an evangelical, weathered the death of Falwell, and embarked on a mission trip to Alaska. Alive to the meaning behind the music and the mind behind the slogans, Welch recognized the allure of evangelicalism, even for the godless, realizing that the congregation met needs and answered questions she didn't know she had. What emerges is a riveting account of a skeptic's transformation from uninformed cynicism to compassionate understanding, and a rare view of how evangelicals see themselves.--From publisher description.… (more)

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