Silver and Gold and the Feet of Clay: A book review

I don’t typically review Christian sports biographies. This isn’t because I don’t like sports or memoirs (who doesn’t?). I love hearing stories of how athletes have overcome tremendous odds to excel at their sport and be at the top of their game. But I am suspicious of Christian celebrities. I think it is great when Christian athletes use their platform to give glory to God but in a culture where sports figures and celebrates receive undue adulation, often individuals are thrust into the lime light that do not have the personal character and commitment to match their words.

But with Bryan Clay, I have suspended my suspicions. This is in part with how genuine and humble he seems and partly because he’s from Hawaii. Although I am currently living in exile, I still have enough Kama’aina pride to appreciate this local boy.

Who is Bryan Clay? He is a twice medalled Olympic decathlete, committed family man, and follower of Jesus. This book tells the story of him growing up in a broken home as someone who struggled with anger and authority and was raised by a mother who felt she had a vision from God that he would one day have Olympic Gold. He was a good enough athlete in high school that he had his pick of full ride scholarships from Division I schools on down. In the providence of God he ended up at Azuza Pacific, a small Christian school with a great track program. When he first gets there, he is a good athlete but was too much of a partier to be at the top of his game. When he got serious about following God, his athletics improve (in part because of a change in lifestyle) and he gets the girl and lives happily ever after with an Olympic silver medal (2004) and and Olympic Gold medal (2008) in the decathlon.

Of course the story is more complicated than this, and Bryan tells about his struggle with anxiety and being in the will of God as he competes for Olympic Gold. At various points he shares how he felt God was telling him to try his best, and that he would make it good enough.

I liked this story, and admire Bryan for his commitment and training (not to mention considerable raw talent and ability). Certainly I think that God was with him and he attributes his great success to his ‘living by biblical principles.’

But I feel somewhat critical. I don’t know what he means by ‘biblical principles’ and while there isn’t a full blown prosperity theology described here, there is the idea that if you live life a certain way, God will grant you your success and dreams. I just don’t see this as warranted in scripture (the rain falls on the just and the unjust). On the other hand, I can see how his faith, helped shape his discipline as an athlete (and how athletic discipline helped him stay disciplined in his faith). I certainly like the story, and found it a quick engaging read, but I am wary that people would apply Clay’s life lessons and assume that God will deliver for them what he did for Clay.

But decathletes are so cool. Some people can run faster, others can jump higher, and some will throw farther, but decathletes run faster, jump higher AND throw farther. This means Bryan Clay is a manly, manly man.

So if you are a manly man (or know someone who is) and are looking for a story of one person’s exceptional manliness, success and his life with God, by all means, “Take and Read.”

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me with 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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