I don’t normally review books here but Philip Yancey’s Soul Survivor is not simply the best book I’ve read this year, I added it to the list of books I feel every Christian should read. At its core this is a story of Yancey’s own growth in faith, told through the lens of biographies of the people who have impacted him. Each chapter outlines the life and work of someone who impacted Yancey’s development in faith. But these chapters are not written to be objective they are explicitly from Yancey’s view, and he is a gifted writer who is able to draw the reader deep into his own experience with his subject.
I do not know how I stumbled on the book (Divine intervention?) but I found it while I was dealing with an individual who had been burned by a church. I read the Preface and I was hooked, not because of any help he might provide for that individual, but because I resonated with his story. I have already written that I had my own difficulties with faith and I found my story of alienation from an anti-intellectual church similar to the story he presents. I do not know if our stories are at all similar, rather I think that Yancey is so gifted he told his story in a way which brought me into it. He was able to make me find a connection between his life and mine, and through that connection his journey became inspiring.
Yancey’s biographies are as authentic as he can make them, never glossing over the struggles that his subjects had in life. But one thing a reader will quickly recognize is that most of the individuals, though struggling with doubt or sin did not give in; instead these saints, though frail humans, have sought to allow God to work through their weaknesses. This is a wonderful presentation, because it is far too easy- and far too common- to gloss over a person’s weaknesses or to present the weaknesses to bring the person down. I felt that Yancey highlighted the weaknesses of these characters to show how they struggled with reality and overcame. (The one exception to this might be his depiction of Gandhi.) The portraits become inspiring, telling me I too can overcome the weaknesses I have.
I had previously heard of everyone Yancey biographies in the book and had read something from most of them. Yet, what I have never done and was not prepared for is how Yancey weaves together the lives and work of each of these individuals. I might appreciate the words on the page when Henri Nouwen writes of the Wounded Healer, but I had never actually reflected on his wounds. I appreciated how well the hero’s were tied to their work and how each one was brought into Yancey’s own life and story. My deep appreciation to Philip Yancey for producing this book and I sincerely hope Soul Survivor reaches the hands of many more people.