Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Phillip Keller

One of my favorite devotionals from my youth is Lessons from a Sheepdog by Phillip Keller. One reason is the unique angle of featuring an animal, instead of random stories about people, to illustrate Christian truths. Another reason is that Keller was well-qualified to write about sheep dogs, himself once being an operator of a sheep ranch. As I read Keller’s inspirational book of parables this week in one sitting, a third reason came to mind, that of the simplicity and brevity of the devotional.

In just over one hundred pages, Keller shares the captivating story of his experience with a beloved border collie, as well as lessons that Lass taught him about having a relationship with God. As part of completing his university training in science and animal husbandry in North America, Keller managed a ranch in British Columbia. Because he didn’t have sufficient funds to start out with cattle, he was obliged to start out with sheep. This left him with the dilemma of needing to find a sheep dog. He found one through an advertisement in the city paper. All the dog did was chase boys on bicycles and race after cars that came by. Even when Keller bought Lass, she initially wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Her trust broken, Lass leaped and snapped at him at every opportunity. But Keller felt she could be redeemed and worked to that end. In one pivotal moment, he even set Lass free on his ranch.

The instance Lass returned to Keller of her own accord, their relationship began. From their adventures together, Keller learned seven lessons about how God desires to interact with mankind. Dedicating each chapter to a lesson, Keller spends about ten to fifteen pages sharing one experience of his with Lass and the revelations about being a Christian that the particular experience taught him. For example, just as in Keller’s first encounter with Lass, God often finds his children “cast in the wrong role, caught in toils of our own intransigence, and misused by the hands of an uncaring master”. The owner of Lass obviously had no idea how to handle a sheep dog. Similarly, individuals are often shaped and directed by the world around them. When Keller rescued Lass, her full potential was able to be released. Similarly, when we allow God to direct our lives, we will discover He has our best interests at heart.

As I reread Lessons from a Sheepdog this week, I smiled in recognition of the various experiences Keller relates, which life has introduced me to over time. For example, volunteering in a no-kill shelter has acquainted me with dogs who need patience for them to find their place in a home. Taking classes at a local dog club has acquainted me with the rules of obedience that Keller taught Lass. Raising a multitude of pets has made me aware of the need for discipline as well as praise. The latter has also showed me many reasons to be proud of how my critters behave and respond to my husband and me. In other words, Lessons from a Sheepdog felt richer upon this reread.

For those walking in the Lord and possessing an appreciation of dogs, this devotional should stir your heart. It lovingly explains how God wants us to follow Him, trust Him, and obey Him. It illustrates through the form of parables how our faithfulness might be tested and why God hates to discipline. Most of all, God wants us to be ready to do anything for Him. Lessons from a Sheepdog will surely inspire!

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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.

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