Isn’t that Special (Forces)? Arf, Arf: a book review

Because of all my book reviews people keep asking me,“James could you please recommend a memoir about a member of U.S. special forces who turns Christian evangelist?”

Most of the time this question elicits a blank stare from me. I’m not a military guy and the closest I’ve come to the Navy Seals is watching reruns of NCIS on late night TV. I have a brother-in-law that made an attempt at the Green Berets (wanting to be a chaplain’s assistant so he could be a ‘warrior for God’) but personality and conviction would make me a poor choice for any sort of military service.

But now I have read a memoir by a former Navy Seal describing in detail his life, the challenge of Seal training and the strength of will that saw him through, his conversion to Christianity and the obstacles he faced, what he could actually tell us about the missions he was on as a SEAL and his dedication to evangelism both in the Seals and afterwards. This is the story of Chad Williams, the book, Seal of God(Get it?).

“But James, is it any good?”

There are things I like and things I didn’t. I am predisposed to like stories about God turning lives around and this is one of those stories. As a wee lad, Chad Williams was a bit of a troublemaker and very competitive. When he wasn’t getting into trouble and partying too hard, he excelled at Baseball and skateboarding (even had a Vans sponsorship). When he decided to become a Seal he set his eye on the prize and trained full force. His dad put him in contact with Scott Helvenston, former Seal, to help train him (actually the original goal seems to have been to weaken Chad’s resolve by showing how difficult Seal training was). Scott became a mentor, friend and ‘like a second father’ to Chad.

Scott went to Iraq to work a security detail he was killed on the streets of Fullujah. Chad saw this and felt evil enter him. Driven by rage and wanting revenge, his desire to become a Seal became an obsession. He coasts through Basic training in the Navy and completes the grueling Seal training.

This was Chad’s life goal and he though it would love his new found status and would feel complete. Instead he felt empty and when he was home for weekends from the Seals he would drink and fight and engage in self destructive behavior. But he goes to an evangelistic crusade and becomes a Christian and his life radically cover

However, this isn’t a Pollyanna tale either. He begins to live for Christ and live his life out of Christian convictions, but this brings really challenges to his life. His girlfriend doesn’t understand. He suffers a cruel hazing from fellow Seals because he won’t go out drinking and to strip clubs anymore (evidently the military isn’t too tolerant of alternative lifestyles). His fellow service men wonder if he has what it takes to be a Seal anymore and he ends up having to switch Seal teams to allay some of the tension. But he grows in Christian conviction, becomes an evangelist and gets the girl. A happier ending could not be conceived.

“I get it, nice story. But what didn’t you like?”

There is a matter of tone. Chad is a competitive guy and he’s proud of all he accomplished. Along the way he comments about the strength of his will and his physical condition. It is though he wants to prove you can be a Christian and a tough guy. This kind of rubs me the wrong way.

“You’re just jealous because your idea of athletic accomplishment is not being picked last in a pick up basketball game.”

Ouch. Yes that’s true. On a more serious note, these sorts of books make me worry about the blend between God and Country sort of Christendom. For Chad, his devotion to Christ is of a different order than his military duty, even bringing about opposition from his fellow troops. On the other hand, the climax of the book has Chad pinned down in an ambush in Fallujah (where Scott Helvenston was killed). He is able to return fire and get he and his men to safety. This proves that he could be a Christian and still kill the enemy if he has to.

While I lean in the direction of Christian pacifism, I lack the courage and conviction to say I am a total pacifist. On the other hand, proving that you can be a Christian and fire a machine gun in the ally is not a victory for the Christian faith. While Chad is open about the psychological impact of training, there is silence about the impact of actual combat. Similarly, Chad criticizes those who think Iraq was all about the oil and not about freedom (after all he’s been there so he knows). I don’t trust his political analysis and am afraid that a lot of what he says here makes him end up glorifying war and the war machine (though that isn’t his stated purpose).

But as a personal story of what God can do in someone’s life this is a good book. It is a quick light read and Chad is a likable enough guy.

Thank you to Tyndale for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review

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I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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