Book Review: Courageous

CourageousCourageous is a novelization by Randy Alcorn of a movie by the same name written by  Alex and Stephen Kendrick and produced by the same church that produced Facing the Giants and Fireproof. I’ve never seen the film, but when the audiobook was on sale I decided to check it out.

The basic theme of the book is encouraging fathers to be men of integrity and to take the responsibility to raise their children in a godly manner as well as mentoring other young men. The story follows four men who are policemen and a fifth who is not on the force but becomes a good friend. Law enforcement has to be one of the toughest jobs on families, so I can see why the authors chose that profession for their characters.

A couple of the fathers are on the right track but need guidance and wisdom and maybe a little course correction, at least for one of them, before major trouble hits. One means well but is alienating his son with his lack of involvement and interest. Another fathered a child in a former relationship but hasn’t seen mother or child in years. When a tragedy strikes one of them, it sends repercussions throughout their whole group.

A subplot involves a gang that is wreaking havoc in the town of Albany, Georgia, their various encounters with the police force, and one fatherless wannabe gang member in particular.

Though the premise of the story is a good one, the writing is driven more by the points the author wants to make than by the plot or the characters, an accusation often aimed at Christian fiction. Nevertheless, the points are good ones, and if you think of it more as an extended parable or sermon illustration than a novel it’s a little easier to take.

I enjoyed a phone interview with Alcorn at the end of the audiobook in which he discussed the ramifications of expanding a two-hour screen play into a full length novel, when usually the process goes the opposite direction. I appreciated, too, the point he made that a film will reach many people, but when people read a book, they’re spending 10 or more hours with it and thus the principles involved have a longer time to affect the reader’s thinking.

One little quibble I had with the story involved the resolution that the fathers all eventually sign. One father came up with it after studying out what the Bible had to say about being a godly father, and when he told the others about it, they wanted to sign it, and eventually word of it and promotion for it went out to the whole church. The resolution sounds like a good thing in itself, but like so many of these kinds of things, the emphasis shifts to it rather than the principles behind it. After the resolution, instead of a character saying, “I can’t do this…” or “I must do this…” because of Biblical instruction or principle, they say I can’t or I must do such and such “because I signed the resolution.” When I was composing this post in my head before sitting down to write, my mind went to various scenarios where we tend to shift our focus to the tool rather than the reason for it: starting a Bible study program to aid in reading and understanding the Bible, and then getting caught up in the tenets of the program rather then delving deeper into the Bible, or having an accountability group to encourage one another in a certain area, and then experiencing a subtle change in our thinking to want to look good in the eyes of the members rather than growing in holiness before God. Small groups are not my favorite thing, but I do acknowledge they can be beneficial, and I acknowledge that they work best if everyone in the group participates, yet that participation doesn’t mean that every member must say something every meeting. I tend to say something if I have something to say, but sometimes I’m processing, sometimes I’m still on the point made ten minutes ago when the rest of the group has moved on, etc. Once when I hadn’t said anything in a couple of meetings, our group leader spoke to my husband and wondered if he should call on me during the meetings – perhaps he thought I was shy and needed the encouragement to speak out (though calling on a shy person in public would NOT be an encouragement to them!) My husband, thankfully, said that would probably not be the thing to do. Then a few days later, our leader’s wife called to ask me to do something for an upcoming activity, in what seemed a subtle attempt to “get Barbara involved,” when I was involved and participating all along, even if I wasn’t saying anything. That kind of thing puts pressure on a person to feels she has to dream up something to say every week so people don’t think she’s unspiritual, which is totally fake and, again, turns the focus on the tool (getting everyone to participate by making everyone speak in small group) rather than on the reason the group is meeting in the first place.

Please forgive the rabbit trail. 🙂 I don’t have a problem with the resolution itself (or any of these other tools), but with this tendency to focus on the tool rather than using the tool to help us focus on the Lord. I did also appreciate a point Alcorn made in the phone interview, that this book and film are not “the” tools, but just some tools that churches or groups could use. Most churches who preach and teach anything about godly fatherhood would incorporate the principles in the book, but it helps some to have a vehicle like this in which to do so, and that’s primarily what the authors wanted to do: to provide a film and book that would be food for thought and and encouragement to people in their walk with God.

I finished the book a week or two ago but had wanted to see the film before writing this review. However, there is no telling when I might get time for that, so I wanted to go ahead and get this review up. I thought the audiobook narrator, Roger Mueller, did a wonderful job reading the book, but I could have done without the dramatic music between chapters.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Courageous

  1. I liked the movie and didn’t know there was now a book. I appreciate the good things about it you shared, but I also appreciate your rabbit trail. 🙂 I agree that we can get so focused in on the tools that we forget the point of the tools is to focus on Jesus.

  2. Barbara, thank you for the excellent review of the book. I have seen ads for the movie, as well as viewed the trailer for it, but have not seen it or read the book. I appreciate the review because of your honesty about it all…and your rabbit trail.;) I agree with you about some times we can become so focused on the tools that we forget the whole reason we are using them…to grow closer to Jesus. Thank you for the review Barbara.

  3. I appreciate how you expressed the idea of seeing this book as an extended sermon illustration rather than a novel. In general, I have enjoyed the movies that particular church has put out – but mostly by thinking of them in those terms. If I’d have been approaching them with my normal movie-watching frame of reference, I’d have been pretty disappointed.

    Your rabbit trail makes me think about people’s perceptions of other people and how often “looking good” becomes our motivator rather than pleasing God. Daniel and I are in the opposite boat, with me as a much more vocal contributor to group conversation and he more reticent. We struggle to figure out how to manage that because we want us both to be able to be ourselves in group conversations – but I also want people to see and know that my husband IS the head of our home and my spiritual leader, even if I talk an awful lot more in public. For me, it’s easy to rebel against the perceptions, but then I have to remind myself that sometimes I can honor God and my husband by helping others perceive him to be the spiritual leader in our home that he actually is. (How’s that for a whole new rabbit trail of my own?)

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