Let me begin by saying that I really wanted to like this book. I wanted to be able to give it to men I know to challenge them to grow in Christ and to serve Him more faithfully. As one who loves and seeks to live out Christian discipleship, the table of contents seemed encouraging. As a sports fan, the idea of a well-known athlete living out his faith and commending others to do so as well was equally encouraging. Then, however, I started reading.
There were multiple things that were disappointing about the book. I will highlight the three that were most troubling. The first problem was the rigidity and exclusivity with which Alexander defines his sequential steps of spiritual maturity: unbeliever, believer, example, teacher, imparter. The idea is that once a person progresses from one stage to the next, they are no longer effectively part of the previous category. That is, once a person becomes a “teacher,” he can no longer be as effective as an “example.” It is not that the teacher is not, or cannot be, an example. He simply loses some of his impact as an example because unbelievers may relate to him in a more didactic, or even abstract, way rather than in a personal way as an example. While Alexander says that any believer can be used in any way at any time, he greatly overrides that statement by the way he defines these categories and by the way he describes the ways they work themselves out.
The second problem with the book is the obvious bias toward a Pentecostal understanding of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly “sign gifts.” For Alexander, those who achieve the highest level of spiritual maturity on earth—the “imparters” —will have outward manifestations of a special anointing of the Holy Spirit’s work through them, primarily in the form of prophetic utterances and the bestowal of physical healing. In fact, he attributes some of these powerful manifestations to the personal volition of the imparter, as in his opening illustration referencing the prophet Elijah.
The third problem—and, by far, the most significant— is the sloppy theology throughout the book. In his defense, Alexander is a football player, not a theologian. It is incumbent upon Christians who decide to publish their work, however, to get the theology right. There are far too many examples to note here in this post, so one will have to suffice. Alexander uses one of the closing scenes from the movie Seabiscuit to illustrate a self-sacrificing teacher. One jockey caused his horse to “fall back” in the race so that Seabiscuit would feel more “in the race” and would thereby be challenged to run harder and outrun the field. In this act of “falling back” in the pack, the self-less jockey helped Seabiscuit’s jockey achieve success. Likening this to the selfless servant/teacher action of Jesus, Alexander writes: “Jesus was God in the flesh. He laid aside His place in heaven and took on human flesh so he could drop back and pick you up” (130). Jesus did not come from heaven to “drop back and pick you up.” Further, to consistently apply Alexander’s analogy, one would have to conclude that Jesus lowered himself in order to motivate others to achieve their greatest potential. This idea is contrary to the gospel. Jesus came to live a sinless life and to die a sacrificial death because we could never meet the demands of God’s holiness for ourselves, no matter how hard we would try or how strongly we were motivated. Again, in Alexander’s defense, I believe this is more a matter of sloppy theological writing than an accurate reflection of Alexander’s own theological view, based on other comments he makes in the book. Further, we should acknowledge that all analogies break down at some point. This reality does not, however, excuse our responsibility for theological accuracy in communication. It simply means that we must be careful about our use of analogies and think through the broader implications of our use of them.
The reader should not understand from this review that there was nothing positive to glean from the book. There are many strong ideas and statements that are on target. Alexander rightly reminds teachers not to “fall for the trap of reading Scripture just to have something to share with the group. Falling into that routine will choke out your relationship with God. You’ll become just a speaker” (140). Several other comments related to Christian discipleship were encouraging as well. The difficulty comes in having to discern between the comments that are biblically based and those that are theologically sloppy.
Once again, Alexander is a football player, not a theologian. And, giving Alexander the benefit of the doubt, I believe some of the theological ambiguity is more reflective of sloppy theological expression than Alexander’s personal theological beliefs—based on some other things he says. Overall, I would not recommend this book. Though Alexander makes some good points, other books on Christian discipleship make equally good points, without the theological ambiguity present here.
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.