There was a time back in the day when I gobbled up Philip Yancey books. I found them provocative and insightful. What’s So Amazing About Grace? and The Jesus I Never Knew were welcome additions to my library. Somewhere along the way I lost contact with his writings. I do not know why.
I was interested when I saw that he had released a memoir. At first, I was unsure if I would continue through it. It seemed to me to be dwelling inordinately on his childhood. I was concerned about the pacing of it. I was also amazed at Yancey’s memory of the early events of his life. To be honest, I almost gave up. It’s not that it was bad or boring, it just did not really grip me.
Boy oh boy am I glad I did not give up!
The book is an unflinching confession of family dysfunction but also of the power of faith and the presence of a loving God. To summarize, Philip and his older brother grew up in the home of.a dominant and domineering woman whose faith and brand of Christianity can be called hyper and myopic. It also turned out to be manipulative and narcissistic. Yancey’s older brother has broken with the faith (or his mother’s version of it), due in no small part to what appears to have been a curse his mother put on him, a prayer she offered that God would change him or wound him or kill him. She has since, under Philip’s pleading efforts, made something of a kind of apology, apparently to no avail. Philip’s brother drifted from the fundamentalism and legalism of his mother’s faith and his own earlier adherence to it to various religious and philosophical explorations along with explorations of narcotics and sexual libertinism. He appears now to be in a better place, though dealing with certain physical debilitations.
Philip, while not walking the hedonistic path of his brother, had his own intellectual wanderings from the faith, but ultimately came back to a healthy and biblical view of God and the gospel.
This was a painful read, but ultimately a hopeful one. It’s a story of legalism, of hyper-fundamentalism, of religious abuse, of a broken family, and of the dangers of bad theology. It is also a picture of the power of family, of a brother’s love, of a brother’s efforts to foster peace, and of a brother’s refusal to give up either on God or his own fractured family.
I feel like I understand Yancey better now and, as a result, could re-read his works with even greater profit. Maybe I’ll do so.
For those who grew up in deep-South fundamentalism and know that world, this will be at times an awkward and uncomfortable read. For all readers, I would think, this will be a cautionary tale but, again, one that does not leave the reader in despair. There is indeed light in all this darkness, and, amidst the pain and heartbreak, it still gives hope and life.
This is an interesting book and, at points, powerful book. Highly recommended.