One More Quick Note on


One More Quick Note on Yancey

In a critique below, Neil Dhingra (ever a cogent observer) critiques Soul Survivor and finds that there is a certain weakness about it that stems, perhaps from Yancey's own experience of the church and attempts to heal from those experiences.

Mr. Dhingra phrases it this way:

I did not think that the book was entirely successful, though. Yancey has been left scarred by his early experience in church - "Although I heard that 'God is love,' the image of God I got from sermons more resembled an angry, vengeful tyrant." These experiences keep resurfacing in the book - the angry responses he gets in response Christianity Today articles about Martin Luther King or Gandhi, the "climate of hysteria" that surrounds the religious discussion of the AIDS crisis and C Everett Koop.

Yancey values his subjects because they challenge - from a religious angle - the authenticity of this negative church experience. "The churches I attended had stressed the dangers of pleasure so loudly that I missed any positive message. Guided by Chesterton, I came to see sex, money, power, and sensory pleasures as God's good gifts." They do so as misfits, outsiders - "Several of them, a psychiatrist would probably diagnose as unstable." We constantly get sentences like, "Despite his Harvard roots, Coles hardly fits the mold of an ivory-tower academic." This, of course, confirms Yancey own identification as "an ordinary pilgrim, one person among many on a spiritual search. Unavoidably, and by instinct, I question and reevaluate my faith all the time."

And this is where I think that book is weak. His subjects are almost solely valued for their iconoclasm, their attacks on complacency and legalism. None of them are really allowed to structure Yancey's religious experience: Dostoevsky doesn't make Orthodoxy an attractive option; we don't know if Yancey takes up Henri Nouwen's habit of a half-hour of contemplative prayer a day. This limits their possible influence on Yancey and his ability to deeply interact with them. The book is often quite moving, but one gets the sense that Yancey's focus on "surviving" the church may leave him with too little in the way of concrete practice and an inability to live any sort of ecclesial existence.

I can't fault the cogent observation, but I would reply: surviving is the essential theme of this book. It isn't about growth, transformation, ecclesial conformtity, or any number of other things it could be about. It is about survival. What Yancey points out through his examples is indeed contra societal norms, but I would argue that that is where Yancey meets Christ. "A sign of contradiction," in other words iconclasm as we phrase it today. It is in the sign of contradiction, in the lack of conformity with the expected norms of society that Yancey has his most authentic experiences of Jesus Christ.

Now, that may not be where many of us encounter Christ--but through Yancey's struggles and through his eyes, I came to appreciate many of these people for the signs of Christ they bring to the world. How they transformed Yancey's life is of less interest to me than the possiblity that they may transform my own. Not that I don't care about Yancey, I do. But perhaps he chooses to moot this point to emphasize what these people can do for other individuals who are looking for examples of Christlikeness.

So, while I acknowledge that this might be levied as a criticism, my reading of the book made this a strength and invited me to consider more carefully these varied influences. I believe that makes for a sucessful book. I doubt seriously that Yancey really wanted a reader to spend time reflecting on Yancey's life and challenges--his life enters only as example of what kinds of transformation might result from contact with those who live a Christ-like life in whatever mode.

Bookmark and Share



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 24, 2003 10:33 AM.

Quick Note For Those Who Favor Complaint was the previous entry in this blog.

Great Post on God's Presence is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll