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Friday, September 23, 2011

Review of "The Walk" by Shaun Alexander

The Walk (Shaun Alexander)

Book review by Rob Tennant, September 23, 2011

I enjoyed The Walk by former NFL running back Shaun Alexander for several reasons. Alexander writes as a Christian who played football, not as a football player whose religion happens to be Christianity. That’s extremely important. Often high profile athletes (or actors or politicians) give lip service to faith. On the award stand, they “thank Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.” But nothing in their words beyond a pithy thanks reveals that faith has any influence on their life.

One NFL star talks about his faith in Jesus, but a few years ago, he was found guilty of obstruction of justice in a murder case. He never referenced his faith in his public comments about the experience.

Another superstar football player said in an interview with a national sports magazine that his top priority in life was to make Jesus his Lord. But then, he listed all his other priorities – to be a record-setting running back; to win several Super Bowls; to be remembered among the all-time greats. He went into considerable depth describing how he would achieve these goals. He gave no elaboration on what he would to do make Jesus his Lord, the Lord of his life. I have seen him in subsequent interviews and he never misses an opportunity to expound on his football acumen. He rarely, if ever, discusses what he says is his top priority – the acknowledge Jesus as Lord.

These are a few of hundreds of examples of athletes and other famous people who mention “Jesus” but do not display in anyway that I can see a life of faith. Shaun Alexander’s book The Walk is a book about true faith by someone who happens to have played football.

I am an avid football fan who enjoyed watching Alexander, especially the year he played in the Super Bowl. I love sports-books, especially when they are well written. In that spirit, I wish Alexander would have given more locker room or on-the-field vignettes. However, in light of what I wrote in the previous paragraphs, I salute Alexander for staying on topic – living the life of a disciple of Jesus. Or as he wisely puts it, God is not out to make “you a success at anything other than a success at hearing His voice, knowing His name, and doing His will” (p.214).

That sentence from the concluding paragraph is another reason I admire Alexander’s approach. So many people, who have made it big, go to great lengths to say that God gave them their success and that if their fans/readers/followers believe as they believed, they too can be successful. Alexander realizes he has lived a unique life, and God is not going to make everyone a starting running back at the University of Alabama, or an NFL probowler or a millionaire athlete. Alexander’s writing shows a faith that runs deeper than such shallow spirituality. Shaun Alexander is not calling people to prosperity that is worldly, but not Biblical. He’s calling people to true faith and truly faithful living.

I would happily recommend Alexander’s book to young people, teens or young adults, or to people who are football fans and who are new to Christian faith. But, my recommendation would come with a couple of caveats.

First, I look at the categories of “the walk” Alexander lays out. He cites five steps and these come in progression: the Unbeliever, the Believer, the Example, the Teacher, and the Imparter. I have not seen this succession of steps in the Christian life worded in this way. I want to know more about where this comes from. The way Alexander writes, it seems to simply come out of his own experience with the church, with pastors, in his own Bible reading, and his own relationship with the Holy Spirit. Those are completely valid sources, and I don’t dismiss them in the least. But, I wish Alexander would have given more specifics in where his schematic comes from. How did he arrive (besides experience) at this system for following Jesus? A theology or faith practice that is solely based on experience is shaky because it is so subjective.

Perhaps Alexander’s writing does have a foundation beyond his own life experiences. I wonder as he writes about the Imparter if this is the case. I have not used that term, and I wonder if it is based in a denominational tradition I am unfamiliar with. If so, Alexander would have done the reader a great favor in expounding on where the term “imparter” comes from so that the reader go do further reading.

A second caveat to my positive review of The Walk has to do with those examples in the book where Alexander shares that he feels God has given him, at special times, supernatural perception or even a heeling touch. I don’t doubt the veracity of those incidents. I believe miracles occur today, and some people are gifted by the Holy Spirit to do unexplainable things. Shaun Alexander may well be one of those people. But it sure would have been helpful if he had give references that give the basis of his beliefs about the Holy Spirit and heeling touch and divinely inspired knowledge. I understand what he’s saying. But, besides his own ideas, where does this come from.

My base criticism of The Walk is that it is poorly referenced. There’s no real research offered. Shaun Alexander isn’t writing his own biography. He’s writing a persuasive piece – inviting readers to consider a life that he feels would be a tremendous blessing. I happen to agree with all he has written. But I think if I were not already a believer, I would not be convinced. There has to be more than simply Shaun lived, it works, so you (reader) should live this life too. As a testimony of genuine faith, The Walk is excellent. As a witness of the joy and power of Christianity, The Walk is inspiring. As a persuasive piece that would positively impact readers predisposed to disagree, The Walk is lacking.

"I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review."

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