Thursday, June 29, 2017

Book review: Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church by Philip Yancey

“I’ve noticed that Christians tend to get very angry towards others
 who sin differently that they do”

from Philip Yancey’s novel Soul Survivor.


Yancey makes his case well.  He has indeed recovered from the church (viz. “I have spent most of his life in recovery from the church”. Page 1).  His church “mixed in lies with truth” in a “hermetically sealed” racist Georgia of the 1960s.  Fitting to his recovery is a prominent chapter – perhaps one of the best in the book – dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr.  Ever since the start of his recovery path Yancey has “clung fiercely to the stance of a pilgrim” – “one person among many on a spiritual search”.


At the core of Yancey’s flight is a maturity of view that he had gained towards a particular church.  Yancey’s recognition of racism (and its lie) commenced that flight.  It is perhaps not that Yancey need survive the church – for instead he grew away from the church - but that he instead continue to fuel his own journey. 


It was through this book that I re-discovered John Donne (see this linked post).  Donne and another of the persons covered; G. K. Chesterton make a neat pair of perhaps similar order to the two Russian authors that are coupled into a single chapter; Leo Tolstoy and Feodor Dostoevsky.


While Yancey makes his case well, clinging as he does to an eclectic mix of persons across the ages, I was left with some questions.  What advice does Yancey offer to others to allow their faith survive despite the church?  What should people look for in their churches so that they identify the mixing in of lies with truth?  Indeed, how should people be opened to seeing themselves as “hermetically sealed” within a church?  How do they identify their church as little more than “a social setting for tidily dressed families to accumulate dignity by being seen every Sunday”?; Anne Dillard, American poet and author.  Yancey certainly seeks each reader to embark on their own journey to associate with Christian leaders of the past yet he does not offer immediate practical advice that establishes immediacy of discernment.


The book at times deviates from its prime theme of soul survivorship in becoming a reflection on the life of a writer.  In this way, Yancey seems to be justifying the times that he retreats - hermit like - to complete manuscripts.  These deviations do not distract too heavily from the overall theme yet they do suggest that Yancey’s selection of profiles was occupationally driven.  That is, he was perhaps naturally drawn to other authors.   Each person will naturally gravitate in similar ways to people who have some commonality to them.




Note: all links good as at 29 June 2017

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