My Faith Survived the Church)
Philip Yancey, 2001
Hodder & Stoughton, 307 pages
a good Easter read? Undoubtedly Philip Yancey’s Soul Survivor.
subtitle is itself intriguing. “How My Faith Survived the Church”. If
truth be told, countless believers down the centuries have been
traumatized by the church. Many
still are. As sheep led before
its shearers is dumb, so has many a people of God suffered silently under
overbearing elders and insufferable preachers.
At long last comes a book with whose author we could shed a
begins with a chapter on the trauma he had been through as a seeker after
the truth. Having been deeply scarred, he finds inspiration in an array of
what were for him spiritual luminaries. Some on his list I did not know of
before; some, you may question if they should be there as they weren’t
or weren’t ostensibly Christians; and some, whose saintliness would seem
quite beyond comprehension for some of us.
the list is someone whose credibility is still being debated – Martin
Luther King Jr. Yancey quite blandly states the fact of King’s
immorality: King’s adultery and plagiarism are acknowledged givens.
Yancey himself had been taken to task by two college presidents for
hailing King as a modern “prophet”.
in defence of his own assessment, cites the presence of moral deviants in
the Hall of Fame of Hebrews 11, and dryly observes that we appreciate
Solomon’s proverbs even as we disapprove of his lifestyle.
What is it about Martin Luther King that draws such sympathetic
deference from Yancey?
grace and power descend on great and flawed leaders to convict and lead us
on.” (p. 39)
Yancey, King’s stature spells hope for the hopeless. If God uses only
perfect specimens of humankind, then only hypocrites would qualify. And if
hypocrisy be the homage of vice to virtue (after Pope, I think), then far
too often has that tribute been accepted unquestioned.
wasn’t the only rogue in Yancey’s gallery of spiritual luminaries.
There was Tolstoy who lived a tortuous life, whose own defence of his
vision was that God’s holy ideas should not be judged by Tolstoy’s own
inability to meet them (p. 125). Or in Yancey’s own words, “An idea
cannot be held responsible for those who profess to believe in it.” (p.
cap it all, there was the Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo whose avowed
intent to tell the story of apostates who had been unjustly “twice
damned”: by the silence of God in the face of torture; and the silence
of history afterwards. While
Endo’s near-veneration of treachery is both moving and disturbing, it at
least throws light on the profound sense of trauma on the part of those
caught in the morass of their ethical limbos. Is there really no
redemption for them? Both Endo
and Yancey hint otherwise.
less disturbing, and yet no less provocative, are characters like Mahatma
Gandhi and Frederick Buechner.
Yancey the example of Gandhi stands as a rebuke to our modern self-serving
gospel of prosperity. Yancey carries a story of how Gandhi once travelled
third class in a train. When
queried as to his mode of transport, Gandhi remarked that he travelled
third class because there wasn’t a fourth class. And Yancey could not
help but contrast that attitude with his own sense of excitement at
collecting mileage points in air-travel for upgrade to business class.
article on Frederick Buechner is special for me in that Buechner (with the
notable exception of King) was the only preacher included in his
“gallery” of saints. It is
significant because Buechner, as a preacher himself, was sick of sermons
and rebels against that note of falsity he hears in most preaching.
In Buechner’s own words,
found that most ministers preach out of their shallows more than out of
their depths… I rarely go to
hear them and when I do, I feel guilty about my negative reaction.
So many churches remind me of dysfunctional families, full of
loneliness and buried pain, dominated by an authority figure.” (p. 254)
rebuke was for me an inspiration toward the search with Buechner for that “subterranean
presence of grace in the world.” (p. 241)
much for sinners like King, and cynics like Buechner.
Yancey also writes about what I might call genuine “saints”.
For me, they appear “saintly” only because their goodness far
transcends what we mere mortals would often normally regard as human
recounts the story of Dr Paul Brand with whom Yancey had collaborated in
Brand’s research on pain. As
someone acutely aware of the problem of pain, Paul Brand, on the one hand,
chose a life of poverty in India and treated his patients as people rather
than problems; and yet he could, on the other hand, appreciate both good
food and fast cars! It is a
mind-boggling act of balance that spells both sanity and saintliness.
Yancey’s assessment of Brand is an inspiration for those on a quest of
what godliness really entails:
is indeed possible to live in modern society, achieve success without
forfeiting humility, serve others sacrificially, and yet emerge with joy
and contentment.” (p. 64, 65)
only other controversial figure I might mention in this brief review would
be Dr Everett Koop. Appointed surgeon-general during the Reagan
administration, Koop had been villified for his support of AIDS programmes,
as well as his stance on abortion. In
Koop’s mind, fairness was a straightforward issue.
His famous illustration was that of a gun battle between a robber
and a policeman. Both had arrived for treatment. The doctor’s duty (even
Christian doctor!) was to treat the more seriously wounded of the two; and
not the more moral of the two. This
seems to me to be the kind of moral-cum-spiritual astuteness that we find
difficult to establish.
have but scratched the surface of the issues raised by the personalities
treated by Yancey in Soul Survivor. Soul
Survivor seems almost like Yancey’s own list of the “heroes of
faith”, and there are thirteen of them altogether.
They are the people who sustained his own faith in both God and
a book I want to share with you in the hopes that, if you, too, are
struggling with your faith and have been deeply disillusioned and
traumatized by the pathetic version of Christianity you see around you,
then you too will recover some semblance of faith and sanity.
death to life, thou mightst him yet recover.” (Michael Drayton)
by Rev Ng Seng Chuan)
speaker on 7 April was Debbie Lee. Debbie
is a free lance trainer who worships at the
speaker began with the story of Daniel and his three friends.
They chose to remain faithful to God at the cost of their lives.
The issue of faithfulness to God in the face of life’s dire
circumstances is one of personal choice.
message may be summed up in four action words: accept, acknowledge,
commit, and act. Before
going into some detail concerning these strategies, the speaker also
dealt with the nature of earthly ills.
These are spelt out in terms of trials from God, temptations from
the evil one, trespasses as a consequence of actions by others, and
troubles arising from one’s own evil deeds.
story of Ruth requires that we take four steps.
First, we need to accept our situation rather than grieve too
long over it. When Naomi
accepted her situation, she could look beyond her own grief to the
well-being of her daughters-in-law.
we need to accept God’s sovereign control.
Naomi was aware of God’s “visitation” in
we need commitment. Ruth
demonstrated real commitment to God in being willing to accompany Naomi
in her return to
we need to act upon what we believe in.
We often know what we ought to do about the predicaments we find
ourselves in, but lack the resolve to act upon what we know.
message ended, aptly enough for chapel at a theological school, upon the
note that it is possible to graduate “summa cum laude” from the
seminary of affliction.
Chapel Speaker on 21 April will be Mr Chng Joo Ching.
Chapel Speaker on 21 April will be Mr Chng Joo Ching.
The Faculty and Staff of BGST rejoices with our alumni as they graduate
of Divinity (M Div)
of Theology (Th M)
Goh Li-Ern 13/4
Yong Teck Meng 14/4
Grace Yap 14/4
Ng Beng Hong 14/4
Lim Keng Hee 15/4
Chew Chee Kuan 16/4
Reine Teo 16/4
Therma Cheung 17/4
Leslie Tsen 17/4
Chan Hsiao Yun 17/4
David Chan 18/4
Kang Cheng Guan 18/4
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This page is updated on 16 Apr 2004.