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In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church Hardcover – March 2, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

A secular Jew raised by a single mother in Berkeley, Welch became an outsider in a strange land when in 2002 she moved for graduate school to the heart of the Bible Belt near Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. She saw everything around her ironically, treated the South “as a joke” and her time there “as a kind of elaborate performance art project.” Then something miraculous happened. The jaded Californian began to like Virginia. She’d arrived to a Virginia on the verge of a demographic shift as a new, progressive population burgeoned. But she also grew to like the Old South—its manners, easygoing nature, and friendliness. She got serious, cast aside her cynicism, and sought to know her evangelical neighbors “as people.” Why did they think as they did? Why were they so determined “to convert non-Christian America?” She went “undercover” to attend Falwell’s church. The resultant portrayal of evangelicals as she sees them and of how she transcended the popular media caricatures of them constitute an insightful, frequently funny book. --June Sawyers


“Excellent prose with a laudable purpose: to promote understanding of evangelical Christians... 
An engaging, personal look at one variant of Christian fundamentalism.”
Library Journal
“Memorable... A genuinely inquisitive memoir about the complicated nature of religious belief.”
Kirkus Reviews
“With compassion, wit, and verve, Gina Welch has gone where few secular liberals have dared to go—the late Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church—and emerged with a compelling story that transcends stereotypes and builds common ground. Both sides of the Great American Culture War should read this refreshing call for a cease-fire.”
—Kevin Roose, author of The Unlikely Disciple
“Gina Welch’s story of her immersion in Jerry Falwell’s Evangelical church is riveting. Welch is a fair, compassionate, very smart writer—and one of the most arresting narrators I’ve encountered in a half-century of reading.”
—John Casey, author of Spartina

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1 edition (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805083375
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805083378
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,694,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

166 of 180 people found the following review helpful By Smith's Rock on January 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Gina Welch's In the Land of the Believers left me disturbed. To be fair, this might be my baseline state, per friends and family. But if one measure of a book's success is to get under the skin of the reader and stay there for awhile, In the Land of the Believers most definitely succeeds in this category.

The premise of this non-fiction book is simple: Gina Welch, a born and reared non-believer, goes undercover to join Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC) in Lynchburg, Virginia, in a purported attempt to understand what she terms "Evangelicals". Welch contrasts herself with the Evangelicals: "I am a secular Jew raised by a single mother in Berkeley.... I cuss, I drink, and I am not a virgin." Falwell's church, ground zero for the now-eclipsed Moral Majority, was close enough geographically to serve Welch's purpose.

Welch starts with a trip to Scaremare, a church sponsored haunted house (termed a "hell house") designed to both metaphorically and literally scare the Hell out of participants. From this spooky beginning, Welch moves on to joining a TRBC sponsored singles group, EPIC (Experiencing Personal Intimacy with Christ), eventually being baptized (full immersion) and travelling to Alaska on a mission to capture one hundred souls for Christ (final tally 101 souls).

While the premise is simple, execution of the plan becomes complicated by Welch's penchant for developing relationships with the people she has gone undercover to observe. What might have been a documentary fact-finding expedition becomes instead a memoir about Welch herself as she gradually discovers that the church members are not caricatures, but humans, and how this discovery affects her.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Trevin Wax on August 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Ever wonder how a committed unbeliever would feel in your church service?

Have you ever given thought to how evangelicals are viewed by those outside the church?

How many of your friends disagree with you politically? Theologically?

In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church (Metropolitan, 2010) tells the story of Gina Welch. The book gives readers a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of Thomas Road Baptist Church (the church Jerry Falwell pastored) through the eyes of an atheistic, secularist, liberal young woman.

Welch faked a conversion experience, got baptized, and spent two years at Thomas Road. (She even participated in evangelism on a mission trip.) During this time, she kept a detailed journal of her experience, which she has now turned into a book that chronicles her journey into evangelical America.

If you're like me, your first reaction upon hearing about a book like this is to roll your eyes and think, Oh great! An exposé of evangelicals from someone who deliberately engaged in deceptive practices in order to show up evangelical hypocrisy. That was my initial reaction. But after reading a number of reviews, I was intrigued enough to pick up the book. I was pleasantly surprised by Welch's portrayal of evangelicals, and I was riveted by her account. While I abhor the deceit that grounds this book, I recommend that evangelicals read it for a number of reasons.

1. Unmasking Intolerant Tolerance

First, Welch clearly understands that "intolerance" is not a label that sticks only to the Religious Right. Coming from a liberal, secular background, Welch saw people within her circles speaking intolerantly of evangelicals.
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35 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Kay Harrisonburg, VA VINE VOICE on February 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When Gina Welch, a secular Jew from California, decided to infiltrate the world of Thomas Road Baptist Church (Jerry Falwell, founding pastor) in Virginia, it seems she had preconceived ideas of what she would find. She was surprised.

Instead of discovering a people who mindlessly followed charismatic leaders, Gina found sincere believers who were part of a loving community. She soon found herself drawn into the fellowship of people who honestly cared about her. Somewhere along the way, she came to love the music and found genuine friends.

While reading this book, I was surprised and challenged at several points. Because I am a Christian, sometimes it was a stretch to understand Gina's viewpoint and why she found certain aspects of the Christian culture peculiar. What she pointed out was often I the way I think and talk. I found it revealing and important to see the Christian culture from an outsider's viewpoint.

As I looked closely at my motivation for choosing this book, I realized my expectations were also unsupported. While the followers of Falwell's ministries are professing Christians, I express my Christian beliefs differently in some ways. As I read, I realized I had hoped that Gina would confirm my approach to the faith as a better approach.

To the contrary, I found myself humbled. As Gina described her experience, I found I have more in common with the people she encountered than differences, especially in terms of love for others and the essentials of faith.

Gina, the people you met at church are the people who accepted you, forgave your deception and still desire a relationship with you. They pointed to a God who still desires a relationship with you. Keep searching.
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