Friday, August 17, 2007

The Spirit Moves in Mysterious Ways

Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive The Church is written by Philip Yancey, the editor of Christianity Today and author of numerous books, including: The Jesus I Never Knew, What's So Amazing About Grace? and Disappointment With God. I read this book about a year ago, but picked it up again because of my recent musings concerning how "perfection" fits into the Christian life, how and to what extent do the imperfect fit into God's Kingdom, and the reality of messy spirituality that all believers are ravelled up in, whether they admit it or not.

Soul Survivor is one of my favorite books because it tells the compelling story of Philip Yancey, who said, "I spent most of my life in recovery from the church." He rejected Christianity after escaping his 1950s childhood "fundamentalist" church in Georgia, that blatantly embraced racism, sexism, and hatred. Yancey recounts the lives of thirteen unconventional public figures, some Christian and some not, who helped lead him back to faith.

The thirteen mentors that lead Philip Yancey back to faith include: Martin Luther King Jr., G.K. Chesterton, Dr. Paul Brand, Dr. Robert Coles, Leo Tolstoy, Feodor Dostoevsky, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. C. Everett Koop, John Donne, Annie Dillard, Fredrick Beuchner, Shusaku Endo, and Henri Nouwen.

Each chapter is devoted to one of his "mentors," humanizing their larger-than-life, often idealized personas, separating reality from legend, and honoring their lives without editing out their flaws. Yancey brilliantly conveys the work and lives of these men and women as he intertwines his own life into their remarkable stories.

Each unique examination of the eclectic mentors highlights the strengths and weaknesses of humanity, the mysterious paths faith can take a person, and God's ultimate grace and faithfulness constantly reaching out to every life.

The chapter on MLK was intriguing because of how it recounts Philip Yancey's own deliverance from racism. Yancey skillfully and somewhat frighteningly recreates the 1950s and 1960s racial landscape of the South. He recalls the divisions, the rhetoric, and the oppression ultimately overcome through nonviolence. Yancey also tells of MLK's personal struggles and weaknesses that are rarely mentioned in other works about him. I find this important, because those who have accomplished great things, tend to be immortalized, idealized, and have their humanity annihilated. The acknowledgment of imperfection, conflicts, and struggles reminds each of us that God uses the insufficient, the weak, and the flawed and yearns to use the rest of us that fall into those categories as well.

Other fascinating aspects of the book include the section on Dr. C. Everett Koop, the controversial pro-life Surgeon General under the Reagan Administration, who would not sacrifice honesty for the cause he believed so deeply in; Dr. Paul Brand, who wrote about the blessing of pain after witnessing the curse of the pain-free existence of leprosy victims; and Mahatma Gandhi, whose assertion of the disconnect between Christ and Christianity forced Yancey to look at faith in a whole different light.

There is an eye-opening and heart-wrenching chapter on Henri Nouwen (the wounded healer), the priest that worked among the poor and paralyzed, who struggled with homosexuality his entire life. Yancey highlights Nouwen's writings that ministered to many, while hinting at his own inner turmoil and weaknesses. This man took a vow of celibacy, and though at times was lonely, learned a deeper dependence on God and a love for the least, the lost, and the last of this world.

Soul Survivor is an honest account that teaches the lessons learned by the author and the thirteen people who guided him back to faith. It's a book that will inspire grace, challenge opinions, and reveal the presence of God in the midst of the most unlikely people and places.


Tilly said...

I read Philip Yancey's "The Jesus I Never Knew" and loved it. His exploration of the Sermon the Mount is an alarm clock waking up the church snoozing through the true message of Jesus.

I'll have to get this book, it sounds fascinating, I'd love to learn his own story and how such public giants shaped it.

Candice said...

How in the world could idolater like Gandhi lead anyone to the Christian faith?! That's just absurd.

Tia Lynn said...

Read the book Candice, and you'll find out. :)
Gandhi didn't "lead" Yancey to the Christian faith in the sense of witnessing to him, praying with him,etc. Gandhi's view of Jesus and mission of nonviolence inspired Yancey to look at Jesus in an undeniably different light.

from Christy Fritz said...

my home group leader just announced our new book for study...messy spirituality.")
just thought you'd get a kick out of that... i did.
you and will need to come visit...
this one definitely looks interesting. our pastor brought up henri nouwen, during our series on silence and solitude... did he write a book about desert christianity or something?

Tia Lynn said...

Henri Nouwen wrote "Return of The Prodigal Son," (hi most famous work), a few other books, and countless other articles. He wrote a lot about the Christian life, Christian service, the poor, and who we are in Christ. Also, he wrote alot about suffering and pain. The chapter in the Philip Yancey is a great starter summary of his life. You'd like it. :)