God Of The Underdogs: When The Odds Are Against You, God Is For You, by Matt Keller
This book has a message that deserves to be heard by a wide and appreciative audience. The examples used in this book are generally familiar (except for Mephiboseth, they are on the level of familiarity of Paul, Joseph, David, Gideon, Esther, Jacob, and John the Baptist, as well as Jesus Christ Himself), and are excellent examples of God’s faith in working through people who have shortcomings and flaws that they might feel disqualify them for use by God but whose shortcomings instead enable them to serve God humbly and to give God the glory. The book is written energetically and passionately, and is full of telling and sincere personal details from a fellow who clearly feels himself and everyone else to be an underdog. This clear identification with the subject is a major strength, but it also leads to some challenges in terms of the book’s larger points, as there are times where the author’s obvious energy and passion lead him to blur matters that are more clear in the Bible.
It is difficult to do this book justice. On the positive side, this book is easy to read and full of interesting personal commentary. On the other hand, this book is extremely superficial and appears to be self-consciously intending to be hip and relevant in a way that sometimes leads the author to make poor comparisons that obscure biblical society in ways of trying to repackage it for modern popularity with a young and biblically illiterate audience. It is noble to desire to stay au currant in one’s knowledge of cultural trends and how to interact with others (a nobility that is met in the book’s online bonus content that can be accessed only through scan codes; sadly, my phone is not au currant enough to access that bonus information), but when that desire leads one to twist what the Bible says, it becomes more problematic. For example, in one passage the author compares John the Baptist to a radical preacher’s kid, comparing the Temple of Jerusalem to an ordinary congregation, failing to demonstrate the importance of the temple to Judaism (and early Christianity), and misrepresenting the role of the priest in the worship system of ancient Israel. Whether this is because of his own lack of knowledge about Judaism and biblical religion (as is the case with many nominally Christian authors, the author shows no awareness of the importance of the Sabbath to God’s plan whatsoever), or because of a deliberate desire to pander to the young is beyond my ability to say.
Likewise, this book has an emotional feel to it that gives it considerable strength as well as weakness. The overall push of the book is designed for a very noble and worthwhile purpose, to encourage believers (many of whom, myself included, have a checkered past and serious concerns about our reputation and credibility to preach God’s ways to a skeptical and critical world constantly looking to use our personality and character flaws to discredit our message). This is certainly a message that needs to be said, and that requires a certain degree of compassion which this book manages to provide. That said, it appears as if the author sometimes tries too hard to relate to the concerns of others and the “underdog excuses” that can threaten to undermine our will to accomplish what God has set out for our life by relating to his own experiences in setting up what appears to be a pretty run-of-the-mill “emergent” church in Fort Myers, Florida. Considering the sort of crippling issues that the biblical figures have to face, and that many believers have to face, the author’s own struggles, and the “confirmation” that he receives from God seem a bit trivial, especially given the author’s clear lack of knowledge about God’s ways despite his ambitions to lead leaders. This book would have been much better had it come from the pen of someone who combined a passion for preaching the Gospel to the young but who had a knowledge of God’s ways to begin with, but those who read this book and need encouragement that their life does not disqualify them from serving God will get much out of this book, making it a worthwhile read, if an uneven one. In the end, that makes it worth reading even if it falls short of the standard of a great book.
That said, this book appears to be part of a somewhat alarming trend of having so many books that are focused on the brokenness of this world and the people in it. As I have noted before, I read many of these books from various Christian publishers , and the fact that even books like this one that appear to have little to do with brokenness choose to dwell on it at considerable length suggests a concerted push to address those concerns. It is unclear exactly where this tendency is developing from, but it is strikingly obvious in the fact that it is unavoidable if one reads any quantity of books published for mass audiences by Christian publishers in the present time. While I suppose it is a good thing to recognize that our society and its people are broken, and comforting to know that God works with the broken and helps to make them whole, there is no widespread call to repentance in these works, nor any sort of progress in trying to arrest the spread of that brokenness or to confront our own culpability in the broken state that our world is in. Where is that call going to come from in a way that would be recognized by the people that this book and many others are trying so desperately to reach.
 See, for example, the following: