Upon first reading The Jesus I Never Knew on a fall day fifteen years ago, I knew I had found a favorite author. So with great anticipation I looked forward to What Good is God (FaithWords) which releases officially on October 19th. I was not disappointed. This is a different book; it has a rhythm and cadence all its own; it is a book which will stretch any who read it, including Yancey aficionados like myself.
The format is quite different.
Divided into ten parts, each part contains two chapters which focus on a particular group of people, and a particular place in the world. This is a travelog of sorts, and while you don’t have to spend the time in airport waiting rooms as did the author, you feel like you’ve earned some frequent flyer points by the time you turn the last page.
The first chapter in each of the ten sections describes Philip Yancey’s journey to a diverse set of places. As a journalist, travel ignites his writing. It also introduces the reason that finds him where he is in his role as a speaker. The second chapter in each of the sections is in fact the text of a speech (or in one case, a sermon) given to a diverse group of people.
But I didn’t know that ahead of time.
So the second chapter of the first part totally ambushed me. I am familiar with the feeling of tears welling up as one approaches the ending of a good book. I did not expect that to happen so soon as it did in the first part, with the text of Yancey’s address to the student body of Virginia Tech just days after the shooting there left more than a dozen fatalities, and just a few more days since Philip Yancey’s own traffic mishap in Colorado left him close to either death or paralysis.
In the sections that followed are speeches to business leaders in China, sex trade workers and the people who minister to them, the student body at his old Bible College, a Charismatic church in South Africa and members of the C. S. Lewis Society in Cambridge, England, an AA meeting, Christians in India and the middle east; and many others. These are speeches and addresses you and I would never get to hear, and would never be drawn to read were it not for the set-up in the previous chapter.
I believe the title prepares you more for something along the lines of a response to today’s militant or “New” atheists. Perhaps the marketing department at the publisher had something like that kind of hook in mind. However, the book doesn’t deliver along the lines of apologetics, and while I wasn’t at all let down, I hope purchasers will be appraised about its true content before they buy.
Rather, through its series of narratives, the book demonstrates that if anything, God is what’s good in the world. That on a global scale, Christianity is making a difference and on a personal level, this is a faith that works. The answer to the question the book’s title asks is found in the way that the Christian God infuses every area of life, especially those places of hurt and pain. This is Reaching for the Invisible God meets Where is God When it Hurts. Or maybe The Bible meets your morning newspaper.
Still, seeking resolution to the book’s title promise, I turned over the final page and immediately rushed back to the introduction. If I were not a believer, not a Christ follower, how would all these stories answer the title question?
Technology manufacturers have a phrase called “the tabletop test.” Engineers design wonderful new products: iPhones, netbooks, video game consoles, notebook computers, MP3 players, optical storage devices. But will the shiny new product survive actual use by consumers in the real world? What happens if it gets pushed off a table accidentally or dropped on a sidewalk? Will the device still work?
I look for similar tests in the realm of faith. My travels have taken me to places where Christians face a refiner’s fire of oppression, violence and plague…
When I spend time among such people, my own faith undergoes a tabletop test. Do I mean what I write from my home in Colorado?…
I must admit, my own faith would be much more perilous if I knew only the U.S. church, which can seem more like a self-perpetuating institution. Not so elsewhere. Almost always I return from my travels encouraged, my faith buoyed…
If a person had never read Philip Yancey before is this book a good place to start? Probably, I would recommend What’s So Amazing About Grace? For the rest of us, don’t miss this unique piece of writing from Philip which is, truly, as big as the whole world.
The full title is What Good is God: In Search of a Faith that Matters (Faith Words, hardcover, 287 pages, October 19, 2010; $23.99 US/$26.99 CAN)
Photo: Randal Olsson – The Christian Post