Soul Survivor: how thirteen unlikely mentors helped my faith survive the church
I have read several books by journalist/author Philip Yancey, including Soul Survivor. Not long ago, I signed up to receive his blog posts, and due to recent racist concerns, this book was mentioned. So I picked it up again.
Yancey grew up in the violent and “blatantly racist” Deep South in the 50s and 60s. He talks of beliefs and feelings against blacks which were natural in his church and school, in himself.
Yancey struggled to keep his faith as he grew more aware of racism and other problems with his church. He talks of thirteen people who helped him find his way back to a faith in God.
Martin Luther King Jr. used the Sermon on the Mount to back his movement. He called for non-violent protest, to bring to light the horror shown to blacks, to bring this to the notice of white Americans who would object. He said he had to love everyone because God loved everyone.
Yancey said one thing that helped him was reading in the Old Testament prophets and the teachings of Jesus that God had always been on the side of the oppressed and called for justice. I, too, have found these in the scriptures more and more the older I get.
Luke 4:16-19: He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Isaiah 1: 17: Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
Amos 5:14-15: Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live! Then the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies will be your helper, just as you have claimed. Hate evil and love what is good; turn your courts into true halls of justice. Perhaps even yet the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies will have mercy on the remnant of his people.
Though I’ve always known racism is still around, I believed that it had much improved since the 60s. Now, I’m fearing that’s not true.
Yancey said he pulled away from the church because of self-righteousness, hypocrisy, legalism and racism. G. K. Chesterson, when asked what is wrong with the world, answered, “I am.” This helped Yancey understand his own sin as he judged the church.
Dr. Paul Brand taught him about humility and trust.
A Japanese writer taught him that Jesus welcomes doubters, that he died for traitors. Jesus identified with rejects and outcasts.
Henri Nouwen from the Netherlands, priest, professor, missionary, writer. Yancey says Nouwen taught him it was okay to take risks with his writing, to admit his weakness. Nouwen said, “The only true healer is a wounded healer.”
Mahatma Gandhi. Although Gandhi never became a Christian, he studied the Bible and tried to follow Jesus’ teachings. Yancey said Gandhi made him realize that Jesus had caused a new way of thinking for the world, even if people did not accept him as God.
Other mentors included authors, doctors, a psychiatrist, writers, poets, professors, preachers, missionaries.
Yancey says that these mentors, who struggled with their own sin, showed him that Jesus loves them like a mother, who loves her children in spite of their wrongs.
Much about God is hard to understand, but we see the face of God in Jesus on earth, how he showed compassion to the hurting. And, Yancey said, if we can’t trust God, what can we trust?
Yancey said these mentors taught him about humility, and to realize that he had given into the temptation of self-righteousness, looking down on the people from his church upbringing without remembering the good he’d seen there. He said, “I needed to rediscover the leveling truth of Jesus’ gospel…I needed a change in heart as much as a change in thought.” He said he needed to forgive the people in the churches of his childhood.
This is not an easy book. Yancey discussed the struggles and failures of his mentors, himself, and of me. But he doesn’t leave us hopeless. He found that the way to survive was to go back for the mercy and grace of Jesus.