Yancey seems to realize the magnitude of the question himself, and acknowledges that the focus of most of the pieces here is a little more specific: “What good is God when disaster strikes anyway, and belief doesn’t protect us?” I suspect that after a week of storms that have caused 300 deaths and millions of dollars’ worth of damage, that’s a particular resonant question in the Bible Belt right about now.
I’m not sure belief is supposed to protect us, like a magic shield. Rather, I think it offers a way to process events we’re not protected from - a refuge, a community, a framework for moving forward. In addressing groups who have been victims of traumatic events - the Virginia Tech shootings, the terrorist attacks in Mumbai - or forced underground by prosecution - Christian communities in China and the Middle East - I think Yancey recognizes this. The book’s subtitle is “In Search of a Faith That Matters,” and my impression is that the kind of belief I describe is the sort that “matters” in the contexts he presents here.
Because this was a collection of talks given to a variety of audiences, I don’t think it addressed what a “faith that matters” is supposed to look like - and I appreciated that. I think that approach was also influenced by the way in which Philip Yancey came to his own faith. He was brought up in a fundamentalist church and graduated from a Bible college, but his worldview - and understanding of God in the world - expanded as he reached adulthood. He takes a pretty strong stand against what he calls “legalism,” or the excessive focus on “rules” about the “proper” way to believe and express one’s faith that often seems to lead to “my Christianity is better than your Christianity” competitiveness - not especially Christian behavior, in my opinion, and Yancey seems to recognize that such rules are not really the point of a faith that matters.
I don’t think Philip Yancey actually answers the question posed in the title of this book - not in the book, at least. I’m not sure the travels and people he writes about here are finding the “faith that matters” the subtitle alludes to. And personally, I’m not bothered by either of these matters’ remaining unresolved - as I’ve said before, I’m more interested in the questioning and the searching than in actually getting answers sometimes.
Members of the Faith and Fiction Roundtable are discussing our second read of 2011 today; if you’ve also read it, or have thoughts on the themes it brings up, we’d love to have you join in on any or all of our blogs: