Tuesday

Soul Survivor


"I've spent most of my adult life recovering from the church." A shocking statement? Perhaps. But when it comes from one of America's top-selling Christian authors, one wonders what he has to say.

Actually, if you've read other books by Phillip Yancey, you'll know that he does not write about easy topics. Titles of some of his books include: 'The Jesus I Never Knew,' 'What's So Amazing About Grace?', 'Disappointment With God', and 'What Good Is God?'

These titles may suggest that the author has not had an easy time on his Christian journey.

His book 'Soul Survivor' is about that journey and the thirteen mentors who helped him survive the church.

Here is a line up of his 'mentors' - some of whom he has met, and some of whom he has not:
  • Dr. Paul Brand: a pioneer in the treatment of leprosy patients
  • G. K. Chesterton: Outspoken Christian newspaper editor at the turn of the 19th century
  • Annie Dillard: American author
  • Frederick Buechner: American author, theologian and Presbyterian minister
  • C. Everett Koop: former surgeon general of the United States
  • Leo Tolstoy: Russian writer
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky: Russian writer (the writings of both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are credited with keeping Christianity alive in Communist Russia)
  • Henri Nouwen: Catholic priest, spiritual writer
  • John Donne: English poet, satirist, lawyer and a cleric in the Church of England, according to Wikipedia.
  • Mahatma Gandhi: leader of Indian nationalists in India during British rule. Very well known for his stance on nonviolent resistance
  • Shusaku Endo: 20th century Japanese author
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.: American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Also well known for his stance on nonviolent protest.
  • Robert Coles: American author, child psychiatrist and professor at Harvard University.
Born and raised in the deep South during the 50s and 60s, Yancey grew up in a church that preached racism as doctrine. It took many years for Yancey to overcome that teaching. His chapter on Martin Luther King, Jr. talks about how King's writings helped him in that plight. Each mentor had a profound effect in Yancey's life at the right time. His own biography is interwoven with the life stories of these people who serve as Yancey's mentors. Yet, even thought the lessons apply to him and his situation, they are life lessons for a vast array of readers as well.

Although the book was published in 2003, I had not heard of it until a few weeks ago when I was browsing through an Amazon advertisement and the title jumped out at me like a frightened mouse. I had not previously heard of this title by Yancey so I looked at the summary and was surprised to find that the book was about Yancey's problems with the church. Since Yancey is a Christian writer whom I greatly respect for his willingness to delve into difficult issues, and, who works with and for well known Christian organizations, I wondered how he could have had problems with the church.

Although I have not been indoctrinated in racism, during the last few years I have been dealing with my own set of problems with the church. Before reading 'Soul Survivor' I had not read anything by a Christian author who I thought had helped me in that area specifically. It seemed that God brought this book to me at the right time. While reading Yancey's beautifully crafted prose I seemed to connect with this fellow believer who had struggled deeply with Christ's bride. This refreshed my own commitment both to the church and, more importantly, to Christ himself.

C. S. Lewis said that "we read to know that we are not alone" and that is certainly true. Books and other reading materials have been a continual solace to me throughout my life. "Soul Survivor" joins that line up of books that have meant the most.