Book Cover: Soul Survivor, How My Faith Survived the Church by Philip Yancey

Soul Survivor,

How My Faith Survived the Church

By Philip Yancey


I become uneasy whenever I read Philip Yancey’s books. Soul Survivor is one of those books that challenge my assumptions. I first read this book a few months after its publication in 2001. Another congregation I had been attending had fallen apart over authority and money. I didn’t walk away from it; it crumbled and left me and my family wondering, “Where to now?” The people had seemed so close and had warmly welcomed us. How could this happen again?

I thought Philip Yancey might have discovered an answer; instead, he provoked more questions. Six years later, I picked Soul Survivor, How My Faith Survived the Church off my book shelf to read again. I wondered if I had grown in discernment enough to gain any clarity over the state of the church and my place in it. This time I am asking myself, “How did my faith survive my church experience?”

Philip Yancey found encouragement in the lives of people who were changed in some way by Jesus of Nazareth. In his book he tells his story and his journey by faith and into faith. Then he tells the stories of twelve people whose lives, writings, failures and accomplishments restored his faith in God. Some of his mentors (mostly by the printed page) offend the conservative Christian because none of them live up to our expectations of what a Christian should be. Philip Yancey holds a mirror up to our own failures as well as his own. He shows us that we too fall short of the glory of God.

Philip Yancey said that his “deepest doubts about the faith can be summed up in a single question: Why doesn’t it work?” In Chapter Six, the author wrote about Leo Tolstoy and Feodor Dostoevsky: “Thus Dostoevsky adds a note of wistful longing, of grace, to the Christian ideals he shared with Tolstoy. Today, I claim these two Russians as my spiritual guides because they help answer my underlying doubts by throwing light on a central paradox of the Christian life. From Tolstoy I learn the need to look inside, to the kingdom of God that is within me. In that glance, I see how miserably I fall short of the high ideals of the gospel. But from Dostoevsky I learn the full extent of grace. Not only the kingdom of God is within me; God himself dwells there.”

The answer Philip Yancey found and proposes is the grace of God. The answer to the survival of faith in my life is the grace of God.

The author of Soul Survivor has the gift of looking into the eyes of the monster who is our sins, hidden or revealed to all. He asks the questions we would prefer no one ask. We would rather tuck our sins and doubts into a dark corner of our attics and basements, lock the doors, and then pretend we have cleaned house. We would like to think our sins are insignificant while those who “sin differently” from us are headed to the Lake of Fire.

Philip Yancey reminds us: “The gospel presents both high ideals and all-encompassing grace….I am convinced that unless we embrace both messages we will betray the good news that Jesus brought to earth.” He summed up by saying, “The only hope for any of us, regardless of our particular sins, lies in a ruthless trust in a God who inexplicably loves sinners, including those who sin differently than we do.”

Yes, Philip Yancey’s book Soul Survivor still makes me uneasy. But in that uneasiness I see my sins with more clarity and the grace of God as our only hope for the survival of our faith.

Book Review
By Scarlett Stough

Title: Soul Survivor, How My Faith Survived the Church
Author: Philip Yancey
Publisher: Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.
Copyright: 2001 by SCCT
ISBN: 0-385-50274-5