Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Phillip Yancey's Soul Survivor - A New Favorite


It's ironic, really, because for years I've heard Yancey's name and never paid attention, just sweeping him into a lump with all the other popular evangelical authors. Sometime this year I heard a rave review of this book and thought it sounded like something that someone like me (someone who'd walked through deep cynicism about the church) would like. Turns out that among Yancey's "thirteen mentors" are some obscure people who also have spoken to me, including Japanese author Shusaku Endo, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, John Donne, etc. He speaks of how growing up mired in fundamentalism (and some really truly racist, messed up fundamentalism at that) and how each of these people (some of them not even Christians) changed him and his beliefs or world view in some way. Although the book is from his perspective, the majority of the book is about these 13 amazing men and women, and I LOVED IT. It mirrors what I have really rejoiced in over the past couple of years - discovering people who are passionately living out some profound truth of their faith. It's immensely healing, I think. At the same time it's striking that each hero is so flawed in some way... this in and of itself is a profound truth that makes it way through Yancey's work - that true heroes are much like our biblical heroes and are very human, saved by grace.

 Over the holidays when I mentioned the book to my family, my dad told me he'd loved it, and that he'd read it after hearing my grandmother (who died nine years ago) talk about how deeply the book spoke to her. I wish she were here so that I could ask her how the book spoke to her, and I think it's really interesting that three generations of my family loved the book so much. It turns out I relate to much of Yancey's life story, including his experience in Bible college, his life in inner-city Chicago (he lived in my neighborhood!) attempting to avoid suburbia, and then his move to Colorado and the mountains (where my family lived).

This is from the amazon publishers review:

In some ways, it is his darkest work ever, chronicling his own lover's quarrel with the institutional church specifically, the church of his childhood that promulgated racism and practiced a pharisaic legalism. In other ways, this book is one of his most hopeful, for in it he charts a spiritual path through all of the muck made by organized religion. As guides, he looks to "a baker's dozen" of thinkers, writers, doctors and activists who have taught him about Christianity. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life shamed Yancey into confronting his own racism and then helped his heart be transformed by Christ's love. Leo Tolstoy taught him self-forgiveness, while Fyodor Dostoevsky modeled grace as a lived reality. John Donne taught him to wrestle with the ultimate enemy, death; Annie Dillard demonstrated ways to appreciate God in creation; Mahatma Gandhi showed him the power of one individual to change the course of history. The most moving chapter is perhaps the tribute to Paul Brand, an orthopedic surgeon whose work on leprosy helped Yancey to understand how pain can become a gift from God. It's not a perfect book; the chapter on G.K. Chesterton is too short, and the essay on former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop seems superficial in a book with such theological depth. Despite these minor flaws, this multibiography is a much-needed signpost, stubbornly pointing to the life of faith.

1 comment:

Rae said...

I confess that I'm one of those who somewhat willfully overlooks Yancey as well, despite (because of?) high recommendations from the sort who adored The Purpose Driven Life.

Your view is enough to change my mind the next time I am at my parents house and looking through their shelves for something to read! And aside from that it is so great that you were able to connect with your family this way even if you can't talk with your grandmother about why it meant so much to her.