Allison's Book Bag

Two Memoirs by Phillip Keller

Posted on: December 23, 2015

Author of one of my favorite devotionals, Phillip Keller was a bestselling Christian author. As part of a desire to know more about him, this week I read his two memoirs: Wonder O the Wind and Thank You Father. Although I learned a lot about him, I was also largely disappointed. For this reason, my review is a little longer than normal.


In Wonder O the Wind, Phillip Keller tells of how his parents met and married, as well as how their commitment to God led them to East Africa as missionaries. School outside of the mission proved an unpleasant experience for him, leading to fights and spiritual doubts. While Keller felt more accepted at the University of Toronto in Canada, where he trained to become a scientist, he also become more spiritually hardened. His credentials allowed him to travel around the world as field conservationist, naturalist, wildlife photographer, as well as consultant to governments and organizations. However, at the same time that he pursued these many and varied careers, Keller became more convinced that he could handle anything that came his way without God. He eventually found out how wrong this belief was, and ended up as many of us do, searching for inner peace and meaning in life.

Whatever overshadowed a promising tale of spiritual fulfillment, unfortunately, is Keller’s pride. He puts his parents on pedestals. His mother was perfection in every way, from her wholesomeness and humility to her complexion and figure. Equally so, his father was gifted seemingly on every level too. He possessed a flair for languages and humor, as well as being generous and empathetic. Not only were no two people more loved by those to whom they daily ministered, but also they established procedures for assisting underprivileged countries that were decades ahead of their time.

Keller doesn’t stop with just them, but there are also his own successes which crop up again and again throughout his memoir. For starters, despite the fact he arrived late in his university academic year, he readily grasped all his courses and stood sixth with distinction. One of his first jobs took place on a farm not in good shape, but thanks to his tremendous drive the ranch was in first-class order in only a season. When he and his wife bought their initial home, apparently their ideas for improving their property were contagious, and soon the area was a hot commodity. While I have no reason to doubt his honesty, Keller seems too intense on elevating himself and those he respects to levels that few truly can reach.

Then there are his constant criticisms. His family’s time on furlough proves miserable to him. When his mother failed to be cured, he loses faith in miracles. He also disparaged any preacher who preached “fire-and-brimstone” messages, as well as those who used spirited music or raised their voices in the pulpit. That wasn’t the way of his father or the preachers in Africa and these emotional personalities caused him skepticism. While Keller is correct that not all preachers are correct in their claims, he is prejudicial to lump all American pastors under that description. Then there are his school experiences, which he seems to feel are unique to him, and so no one else in the world can understand. One only has to read a sampling of other memoirs to know we all have our own trials. Then there was his first employer, who attended church but had a mile-long list of sins, as did everyone else in the church the man attended. Maybe Keller’s judgments are true, but I grew tired of hearing them.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?



In Thank You Father, Philip Keller talks of his second marriage, after losing his first wife to cancer. In the twenty years covered by his book, Keller and Ursula moved eleven times. At one point, Keller tells of how God made it clear to him that this was to be their way of life.

Some of their adventures were dramatic. As part of their honeymoon, the two undertook pioneer work on property that a pastor had acquired for a Christian camp in Hawaii. The place was buried under tropical bush. In addition, insects had taken over the land. Some of their adventures were relatively simple. After being gone for a while from Hawaii, he received the call back to establish regular Bible Studies for the lay people. A few adventures weren’t even religious in nature. While in Australia to establish a camp for university people, Keller found his eyes poisoned from a random Eucalyptus tree. It took the treatments of an eye specialist, as well as that of a remedy used during his wife’s childhood days, to finally restore vision. For which, Keller praised God.

A reason I like Thank You Father is that Keller seems to credit much more of his accomplishments to God instead of his work ethic. He also readily admits of mistakes. For example, in his eagerness to move to New Zealand, he doesn’t pray about the decision, and therefore ends up waiting on God for a mission. Keller seems more at peace, less bitter, and more human, in his second memoir.

As such, I felt more at ease with taking some of his advice to heart. I especially found myself moved by the fact while service is meaningful, what God most wants even more is a relationship with his followers. Myself always being attracted to the service professions, I need to remember to find a balance between caring for others and keeping God first in my life. In addition, Keller shared of a few times when God didn’t positively answer prayers, but also of the many miracles that happened when he simply put God first in a request. When written in a humble way, I always feel inspired by such stories to believe in the impossible.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

For fans of Keller, I’d recommend reading both books. You’ll see the spiritual growth in the author. If you’ve yet to discover Keller, check out some of his inspirational writings instead. I’d include Thank You Father at some point under that category.

8 Responses to "Two Memoirs by Phillip Keller"

Your reviews are very insightful and detailed. Thanks very much for taking the time out to write them.

Thanks much for sharing your thoughts on both of these books. I would have been tempted to stop reading Keller’s work if I’d had the same experience as you with the first book. I’m glad you persevered with an open mind. Or at least a patient mind. I’m drawn to Christ more after reading your reviews.

I admire others (my husband for example) who can simply enjoy books based on the book’s own merits, with generous objectivity. Me, if I start to vibe with a book, I’m not a chapter in before I’m scouring the internet for the author’s personal backstory.

I’m working on my tendency to read and relate with over-zealous subjectivity. That you shared both reviews side by side provides me with a good example of how subjectivity and objectivity can be friends. Thanks!

Thanks again!

My apologies for my belated response. I am just now seeing your comments!

I am a huge fan of Keller’s inspirational writings. Even if I didn’t care for his memoir, I still appreciate his writings over all.

Thank you for the compliment on my reviews! I’m glad that they encouraged you in your faith.

An excellent review Allison. You do these very well.

Have a fabulous day and a very Merry Christmas. ☺

Thank you! This one was tough and took me the afternoon to write.

Merry Christmas to you! May your holidays be blessed.

The book Wonder of the Wind, which was reviewed above, I think deserves another closer look. First of all it was very informative and therein gives huge clues I believe, to some of the very real idiosyncrasies and perhaps sins talked about above. Having grown up as a third culture missionary kid, I could understand continual searching searching for home. I wept as I read this book, so much unresolved and unsettling issues.
Mr Keller spoke at a college was attending, even after all these years, what I remember most was his deep humility and love for the Shepherd.

Sue, thank you for sharing your experience with Wonder of the Wind. I am in awe that you met Philip Keller. His inspirational writings are among my favorites, even if I didn’t relate to his memoir. I hope readers will form their own opinion of the latter which, based on your reaction, might be more favorable than mine.

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