There were two primary things I didn’t know about God Speed before it arrived by parcel. First, it doesn’t center around driver Sage Karam’s struggle following an accident that killed fellow driver Justin Wilson, though the story does occupy a couple of chapters. Much of that story can be found in a recent FCA article, also by Chad Bonham, which touts the book. Secondly, the book is less nonfiction narrative and more devotional. No such clue on the latter detail was apparent from the book’s cover or from the details on its Amazon page or publisher page. So now you know.
What’s In It?
As a devotional, each of its twenty chapters follows a standardized format. The first section generally covers a piece of the story of George Del Canto, a financial businessman who experienced significant loss following the collapse of Enron and later founded Kingdom Racing, an IndyCar race team with a mission to “Deliver God’s Word Through Motorsports.” The second section introduces a passage of scripture that’s presented in relation to the first section. Each chapter then closes with three applicational points, group discussion questions, and a suggested prayer.
The first chapter introduces us to Del Canto, his massive business success, his wife’s receiving Christ, his subsequent uncomfortable attendance at church, and the Enron scandal that brought him to his knees to receive Christ. The book then presents the stories of Mark 10:17–22; Luke 19:3–10; and Mark 8:34–37. Concerning the first passage, Bonham writes:
There’s been much theological debate over Jesus’ instruction to the rich man. Was He literally telling him to sell everything and give it to the poor, or was Jesus making the statement simply to show the man that he didn’t possess his material wealth, but in fact, it possessed him?
The answer to that question might be a mystery. However, the point behind Jesus’ encounter is crystal clear. When you have a lot of possessions in this world, it can be easy to forget about the more important things in life, and the chief thing among them is the call God has on your life. This is of utmost importance because that call will require you to give up the things separating you from God and holding you back from your eternal destiny. (pp. 16–17)
The manner by which God Speed explains this passage euphemizes the overarching soteriological principle: the rich young ruler is claiming to have followed the law perfectly, and Jesus exposes that he’s wrong. Mankind’s mandate, failure, and inability to keep God’s moral law is never clearly presented with its full weight. Not long after the above quote, the first chapter’s gospel presentation presents this description of lostness:
Admit you’re lost. The first step to being found is being honest enough to admit that you aren’t where you’re supposed to be. Perhaps it’s a sin you need to confess or simply the fact that you’ve been distracted from doing God’s will. In either case, there’s no way out until you get real with yourself and with God.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23/NIV) (p. 19)
Shortly thereafter, the book presents a sinner’s prayer for the reader to recite.
In addition to being unclear about the urgency of the law, the book presents the receiving of direct divine revelation as normative and uses scriptural allegories to substantiate them. For example, in the third chapter we read of Del Canto reading Awaken the Leader Within, by Bill Perkins, and discovering “that all real Christians should have a ‘blow-your-socks-off’ vision to build God’s Kingdom.” Del Canto after a few days figures out his vision is to “build an IndyCar team to deliver God’s Word through motorsports.” A few days later, Del Canto calls his senior pastor and asks how he can know he’s received a vision from God. The author then likens this experience to Joseph’s dreams in Genesis 37–50.
This mode of presenting a story and allegorically connecting it to scripture passages continues throughout. In chapter four, Del Canto approaches the Indy Racing League offices across from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, nervously asks God for a sign, and then receives one. This is then likened to Judges 6 (Gideon vs. the Midianites). Romans 8:5 and John 16:13 are cited as verses that teach we should listen for what the Spirit has to tell us. Chapter five likens Del Canto’s inability to find willing business partners to the David and Goliath battle and Peter’s healing of a lame man in Acts 3:6. We learn in chapter six that Del Canto became frustrated, stopped praying, and wrongly took matters into his own hands. The reader is warned to trust God’s supernatural, personal vision for one’s life and not to do what Abraham did with Hagar. Front-and-center here is the personal “vision,” not the Bible, despite many citations from the latter. On at least a couple of occasions, the protagonist receives divine whispers.
The Urgency of Reconciliation
Absent from God Speed is the urgency of reconciliation. God Speed quotes Romans 3:23 but doesn’t really expound upon it in terms of the nature and consequences of our sin. The very same letter to the Romans says this:
“He will render to each one according to his works:to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”
(Romans 2:6–13 ESV)
One can understand a certain fear of mentioning eternal punishment because of its offensiveness, but we really can’t accurately proclaim the Good News of salvation unless we teach from what (and from Whom) we’re being saved.
The Primacy and Sufficiency of Scripture
Perhaps most revealing (no pun intended) is the sense in which chapter seven, in one of its applicational points, refers to God’s voice. In its narrative, Del Canto is overcome with apprehensiveness over whether Kingdom Racing can enter the Indianapolis 500.
After hanging up the phone, George dropped down conpletely on the floor. “Oh boy,” he said to himself. “I’m not ready! I can’t do this!”
But then, a soft whisper came to his ear, “That’s right. You cannot, but I can.”
In the applicational points of this chapter, we find this follow up with no clarification as to what is meant by “voice.” An audible voice may not be in view exclusively, but it certainly is included.
Trust His voice. As you spend time in prayer and invest time reading God’s Word, you’ll be better equipped to recognize His voice. God speaks to us through the Bible and through His Spirit. As you become more familiar with His voice, you can start to trust it more every day.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27/NIV) (p. 67)
At a maximum level of charity, one might take this statement to mean that biblical revelation is equal to the supernatural hearing of God’s voice. But it really does appear to elevate direct divine revelation above biblical revelation at least functionally. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 and Psalm 119 immediately come to mind concerning the primacy of scripture, but here’s how the book treats Psalm 119. This appears in the paragraph immediately preceding the one quoted above.
Obey right away. The quicker we say yes to God’s instructions, the less likely we find ourselves going off track and the more likely we stay in the center of His will. Instant obedience is always the best way to guard against failure and defeat.
“I will hurry, without delay, to obey your commands. (Psalm 119:60/NLT) (pp. 66–67)
In treating scripture in parallel with a claimed audible voice, the book waters down the meanings of these scriptures. Psalm 119 isn’t about listening to an audible voice; rather, the term translated “commands” is treated in parallel with words further describing Scripture.
Ps 119:57 The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words.
58 I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.
59 When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies;
60 I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments.
61 Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law.
62 At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules.
63 I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.
64 The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes!
John 10:27 isn’t about listening to an audible voice, either. As with Mark 10:17–22, the soteriology of John 10:27 becomes lost. The immediate context should be clear enough to any reader that Jesus is not talking about an audible voice because the Jews who are demanding answers from Him can “hear” him (in the sense of being audible) just fine. As James Montgomery Boice writes concerning John 10:27, this verse describes Christ’s calling of those given to Him by the Father:
The third of the reformed doctrines presented by Jesus is the effective call: that is, that God’s call of his people is accompanied by such power that those whom he calls necessarily come to him, believing on Christ and embracing Christ for salvation. Jesus expresses this by saying: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (v. 27). It is a mark of the sheep that they both hear and follow their shepherd.
In the Puritan era it was the habit of many preachers to play on these two characteristics, calling them the marks of Christ’s sheep. In days when there were many flocks of sheep it was necessary to mark the sheep to distinguish them. In our day, at least on cattle, this is done by branding. On sheep it was often done by cutting a small mark into the ear. “Well,” said the Puritans, “each of Christ’s sheep has a double mark—on his ear and on his foot. The mark on his ear is that he hears Christ. The mark on his foot is that he follows him.”
A Plea for Accuracy
There are some things to like about God Speed. Its sports contextualization may cause skepticism among regular readers of Things Above Us or “Reformed Twitter” in general, but rather than being content to tell the story and insert some Scripture verses here and there, its devotional format makes room for Scripture lessons throughout. It even accurately exposited Philippians 4:13. There was much potential for good here. However, the misuse of Scripture throughout and its failure to communicate the gospel’s urgency and the Bible’s supremacy nullifies most of this benefit and functionally also draws readers away from where they need to be: in the text of Scripture.
How well can sports be used as an avenue to present the Gospel? NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip’s speech at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast comes to mind. Like Chris Pratt, Waltrip is not a pastor, seminarian, elder, or anything of the sort as far as I can tell. But in the presence of President Obama, the Dalai Lama, King Abdullah of Jordan, and many other dignitaries, Waltrip spends about sixteen minutes introducing himself and gets to his point of repentance, and communicates the forgiveness of sins, the urgency of repentance, and even the necessity of a changed life! Have a listen. Let this serve as a reminder to us to be accurate and bold in our evangelism, especially in contexts where we have the time and space to explain things well.