How My Faith Survived the Church
Hardcover | $21.95
Philip Yancey grew
up in a church that proclaimed its identity as "New Testament, Blood-bought,
Born-again, Premillennial, Dispensational, Fundamental . . ." (page 1)
With astonishing candor, he chronicles the milestones of his coming to
understand that "the church had mixed in lies with truth." (page 1) He
learned from flawed teachers--the thirteen people whose accomplishments
and foibles are recorded in this book--that human failings do not invalidate
great teachings, that no one system of belief endows the key to heaven,
and that by the nature of our humanity we inevitably fall short of our
Are ideals worthless because we cannot achieve
them? Is the church evil because it falls prey to human weakness? Can
good people be sinners? In Soul Survivor, there are no easy answers. And
that is precisely the point. The subtitle of the book, How My Faith Survived
the Church, reveals the struggles Yancey has experienced in his faith
journey. Survival involves choices. It involves overcoming obstacles.
It means knowing what makes us weak so that we can be strong. It requires
attention to that which will uplift us and that which would destroy us.
In Soul Survivor, Philip Yancey shows us the good, the bad, and the glimpses
of the divine that somehow make us more than the mere sum of our earthly
RECOVERING FROM CHURCH ABUSE
Philip Yancey says he "spent most of [his]
life in recovery from the church." (page 1) And he is candid about the
racist views he acquired in a society and church that was pervaded by
racism and legalism. Talk about what, if anything, made you begin to wonder
about the truth of things you learned in church? What feelings and emotions
have marked your questioning?
Did you at any point experience a contradiction
between the church's teachings and its actions?
What denomination were
you raised in? What are your happiest memories of church? The saddest,
the most painful?
Yancey talks about people like millionaire Millard Fuller
who abandoned his life of luxury to found an organization to build houses
for people who cannot afford them. (page 8) How does such willingness
to live one's faith go against the grain of a secular world? What role
does the church play in who you are today?
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
Philip Yancey describes growing up in the apartheid
conditions of the South in the 1950s and 1960s. (page 13) Even if we have
not grown up in such an obviously racist climate, few of us escape some
form of it. What racial assumptions did you grow up with? What made you
begin to understand them as something other than "right" or "normal"?
Martin Luther King, Jr., now stands accused of
personal moral flaws, yet he was a powerful agent for equality and change.
How can we reconcile the two sides of his character? Does one side somehow
negate or lessen the other?
Can you think of other men and women with seemingly
contradictory public and personal behaviors? What makes you forgive or
accept such a duality? Does accepting questionable moral practices in
a leader weaken the moral fabric of society?
What is the difference between passivity and nonviolence?
Do you see a place for nonviolence in the contemporary world? Why or why
G. K. CHESTERTON
C. S. Lewis wrote: "A young man who wishes to remain
a strong atheist cannot be too careful of his reading." (page 44) What
does this statement mean to you? Have you been exposed to such transforming
Yancey's brother reacted to their confining upbringing
by embarking on a "grand quest for freedom." His brother's failures showed
Yancey "the destructive power of casting off faith with nothing to take
its place." (page 44) Have you been through such a freedom quest? Talk
about the relationship of faith and freedom. Why is freedom such a frightening
concept for some people?
Nature contains both majestic beauty and unspeakable
cruelty. What does Chesterton mean when he said, "Nature is not our mother;
Nature is our sister"? (page 51)
Why do you think we experience pleasure? What role
does it play in God's creation? Why does the church focus so strongly
on the dangers of pleasure?
Chesterton weighed three hundred to four hundred
pounds (page 56), showing one example of how a sensual pleasure such as
eating may ultimately be destructive. How can we savor pleasure and avoid
Chesterton propounded faith with great wit. How
would Christians of today benefit from Chesterton's sense of humor?
From Paul Brand, Philip Yancey learned, "It is
indeed possible to live in modern society, achieve success without forfeiting
humility, serve others sacrificially, and yet emerge with joy and contentment."
(page 67) Do you believe this kind of life is attainable and desirable?
What makes a person who could have fame, wealth, and prestige choose a
life of anonymity and scarcity? Can you think of such models? Is this
model inspiring or intimidating?
Yancey acknowledges that the problem of pain has
been a theme in his work. How would you define this problem? How can we
reconcile the idea of a loving God with the existence of pain in the world?
Can you think of reasons to be grateful for pain? How can we view pain
as a gift?
Do you believe God is trustworthy? Why? Why not?
Paul Brand learned from his parents "that love can only be applied person-to-person."
(page 75) Why does it often seem easier to care about groups than individuals?
What did Jesus mean when he said, "Happy are they
who bear their share of the world's pain: In the long run they will know
more happiness than those who avoid it"? (pages 85 - 86)
"Vicariousness is, after all, a writer's business,"
Yancey writes. (page 89) How does a reader know when to trust the vicarious
experience a writer presents?
Six-year-old Ruby Bridges was escorted daily through
an angry mob, "attending a vacant school to sit alone all day in her classroom."
(page 97) Imagine yourself in her place. In her parents' place. What gives
a person the strength to endure such an ordeal? What would you say to
a parent that allowed a child to endure an experience like this? Have
you ever had to act courageously for a cause?
Robert Coles believed that, for the poor, religion
"was no crutch but rather a source of inspiration." (page 102) Karl Marx
said, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." What makes one view more
convincing to you than the other?
What do we learn from Jesus' parable of the prodigal
son in which the father loves the errant and the dutiful son equally?
How would you advise a parent in a similar situation, with one "good"
child and one "bad" child? Where does the concept of "tough love" fall
in such a scenario?
Do you think wealth makes people less compassionate?
What do we gain/lose by our relative affluence?
LEO TOLSTOY and FEODOR DOSTOEVSKYThrough
Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Yancey developed an "understanding of the tension
between Christian ideals and reality." (page 121) Can you identify beliefs
and behaviors that create this gap? What figures, if any, have helped
you come to terms with life as Christians say it should be lived and life
as it is lived?
Tolstoy's desire to live his faith caused his family
pain and suffering. Talk about the dangers and virtues in having ideals
you cannot live up to?
What does it take to say "attack me rather than
the path I follow"? (pages 131-132) How can you separate one from the
Dostoevsky lived through a mock execution that
changed his life. Talk about near-death experiences or national catastrophes
or any other traumatic event that may have changed you somehow.
Through Dostoevsky, Yancey came "to understand
grace, not as a theological concept but a living reality worked out in
a world of ungrace." (page 139) What do
"grace" and "ungrace" mean to you?
At the beginning and end of this chapter, Yancey
poses a basic question about faith: "Why doesn't it work?" How would you
answer or refute him?
Gandhi said that a leader "is only a reflection
of the people he leads." (page 157) Think about leaders in your life,
not only national and state leaders, but the leaders in your community.
What do they reflect about society?
In a world that is global and materialistic, how
can one person make a difference? What prevents most of us from exerting
the power of a Gandhi?
How would the United States respond if a national
figure announced he/she were going on a fast to promote a cause? Say,
if John McCain pledged to fast to death unless Congress enacted campaign
finance reform? If Laura Bush pledged to fast to death until all children
were assured of an adequate education?
How would your life change if you renounced material
possessions or radically simplified your life? How does the need for possessions
shape us as individuals and as a society?
What makes a person a saint? What happens when
a saint appears in our midst?
What are the similarities between Martin Luther
King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi? The differences? Is one more appealing
to you than the other? Why?
C. EVERETT KOOP
Ronald Reagan appointed Koop surgeon general on
the basis of his strong antiabortion position. Yet Koop became the center
of controversy when he announced that "the scientific studies do not provide
conclusive data about the health effects of abortion on women." (page
193) How can this statement be reconciled with his long-standing and continued
opposition to abortion? How do you respond when apparent facts do not
support your beliefs or your church's teachings?
Conservatives often call for less government control
of things like the environment and business, but advocate government control
in areas like abortion and sexuality. Liberals call for more government
control of the environment and business, but less in areas like abortion
and sexuality. What role can faith play in reconciling these apparent
polar opposites? How do you normally react to people who have strong feelings
about positions different than yours?
Koop had to learn to distinguish the immoral from
the illegal. (page 199) How does a person of faith accomplish this?
How is it possible to hate the sin and love the
sinner? Is sin an outdated concept?
When he thought he was dying, John Donne struggled
with the meaning of suffering in Devotions. Why do you think God lets
us suffer? What can we learn from God's becoming human and enduring the
pain and humiliation of the Crucifixion?
Even if you believe the Incarnation is a myth,
why has this story retained such a powerful hold on human imagination
for two millennia?
Why do we take health for granted and look for
meaning in suffering?
Many of us grew up with very specific notions of
life after death. Do you have a vision of an afterlife? What is heaven
like? Hell? How has your view evolved since childhood?
Philip Yancey was raised in a strict, fundamentalist
milieu, Annie Dillard in a more laid-back social one. Yet both have made
a lifelong journey of spiritual inquiry. How does childhood experience
shape adult faith?
Talk about your experience of nature. What have
you learned from it?
What books have guided you on your faith journey?
What do "secular" books offer that overtly "religious" books do not? And,
vice versa, what do religious books offer than secular ones do not?
Annie Dillard enjoys some aspects of fundamentalist
worship. What kind of religious services are you drawn to? What makes
you uncomfortable? What can you learn from experiencing either sort?
Buechner rejected rational explanations of a conversion
experience, viewing it instead as "an exemplar of the 'crazy, holy grace'
that wells up from time to time." (page 250) What is your understanding
of a conversion experience?
Buechner believed "that God is alive and present
in the world." (page 252) How do you perceive God interacting with history?
What is the point of searching for God in history?
A number of people Yancey writes about in this
book, including himself, made deliberate attempts to simplify their lives.
What are the challenges inherent in such a decision? What are the gains?
At a critical juncture--the death of loved one,
the loss of a job, a debilitating illness--a friend expresses trust in
God. What is your response?
What do you remember of your fears during the Cold
War? If you are too young to remember, how do you respond to stories about
fear of the atomic bomb, the Cuban missile crisis, the Communists' torture
of their enemies?
What are we afraid of today? What do our fears
tell us about the world we live in?
Endo was drawn to the stories of the Japanese Christian
martyrs. (page 276) How have stories of martyrdom affected you? How has
your response changed over time?
What makes a person an "outsider"? How do we identify
people who "are not one of us"? How do we treat them?
Yancey suggests that Christianity's emphasis on
father love prevented the Japanese from embracing it as eagerly as many
other Western phenomena. Some contemporary theologians oppose language
that attributes gender to God. How has your understanding of God's gender--male
or female--informed your understanding of the divine?
Why do "writers of faith have a tendency to sanitize
their characters" (page 291) when so many great characters in the Bible
are deeply flawed?
What do you think of a man like Nouwen who abandoned a life
of celebrity and acclaim to take responsibility for the care of a profoundly
Where many would see downward mobility, Nouwen saw "inward
mobility." (page 311) How can abandoning a public life of teaching in
favor of a much more private life in a small community be seen as embracing
God's gifts rather than abandoning them?
Nouwen never publicly acknowledged
his homosexuality. Most Christian churches are torn over issues around
gay ordination and gay marriage.
Should members of the clergy openly acknowledge
their homosexuality? How would the members of your church react to a gay
minister? To gay marriage?
Do you have a question about Soul Survivor? Send us your questions here. Then check back for the author's response to the most frequently asked questions.