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What Good is God? - by Philip Yancey


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#1 Overstreet

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Posted 16 November 2010 - 10:42 PM

In my limited reading experience, Philip Yancey has been one of the most consistently inspiring writers in Christian publishing... or elsewhere, for that matter.

I'm eager to get my hands on a copy of his new book. CT just published a "condensed" excerpt that's worth reading.

The opening paragraphs are intriguing:

If someone had stood here in Julius Caesar's day and predicted the decline of the mighty Roman Empire and the triumph of an upstart religion founded by a Galilean peasant, he would have been judged a lunatic.As would anyone who stood in the Middle East five centuries later and predicted the downfall of Christianity, by then dominant in places like Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Yet here we are in the 21st century meeting rather furtively in a backyard in an Islamic state, hoping that none of the hired help are eavesdropping.

As a visitor, I cannot help wondering why this part of the world, the birthplace and once the center of the Christian faith, became the region most resistant to it.
I get one possible clue from the French sociologist Jacques Ellul who, looking around him at the modern world, noted a paradoxical trend: As the Christian faith permeates society, it tends to produce values that contradict the gospel. I sometimes test his theory while traveling by asking foreigners, "When I say the words United States, what first comes to mind?" Invariably, I get one of three responses:

Wealth. Representing only 5 percent of the world's population, the U.S. generates almost a fourth of the world's economic output and still dominates global finance.

Military power. The U.S., as the media regularly remind us, is "the world's only superpower." The U.S. military budget exceeds that of the next 23 nations combined, including China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

Decadence. Most people in other countries get their notion of the U.S. from Hollywood movies, which seem to them obsessed with sex and crime.
Each contradicts the teachings and example of Jesus, whose life was marked by poverty, self-sacrifice, and purity. No wonder followers of Islam puzzle over Christianity, a powerful faith that somehow produces the opposite of its ideals in society at large.


Edited by Overstreet, 16 November 2010 - 10:43 PM.


#2 MattPage

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Posted 17 November 2010 - 04:06 AM

Ditto to that. The ending is great as well.

Matt

#3 opus

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Posted 17 November 2010 - 12:30 PM

That was a fantastic article. I'm not as big a Yancey "fanboy" as I once was, but his writings have been very important to me over the years, and based on the article, I'm eager to pick up his latest.

#4 Stephen Lamb

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Posted 17 November 2010 - 01:30 PM

Back in September, Books and Culture posted another excerpt from that book, on "Life in a Bubble."

http://www.booksandc...lifebubble.html

#5 SDG

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Posted 17 November 2010 - 02:05 PM

Several years ago, a Muslim man said to me, "I have read the entire Qur'an and can find no guidance in it on how Muslims should live as a minority in a society. I have read the entire New Testament and can find no guidance in it on how Christians should live as a majority."

This is really, really insightful, and a real challenge to both traditions.

#6 M. Leary

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 04:32 PM

This is really, really insightful, and a real challenge to both traditions.


It is very insightful from a post-Constantine perspective.

But in historical terms, earliest Christianity never envisioned the possiblity that their religion would be in any sort of majority position (the opposite is simply assumed throughout Paul's letters, especially as one gets into the pastorals). In contrast, in earliest Islam, the idea that Mohammed's message would ultimately gain majority was simply assumed - and turned out to be remarkably true in that area of the world.

I am not sure what it is, but something about this dichotomy puzzles me. In Islam this concept of identifying with those in social or economic minority positions is embedded in their theology of charity.

#7 opus

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 10:47 AM

Yancey discusses the inspiration behind the book, as well as a Christian response to suffering -- or what should be the Christian response to suffering.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TFDMw6dFgA

#8 CherylR

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Posted 17 December 2010 - 08:12 AM

Here's a short CNN interview transcript. The comments regarding Chinese Christians and prayer and a comment made by someone from a former Soviet country are thought-provoking--at least for me.


I finished the book last night and so far, the section that is sticking with me is the one dealing w/ AA and the essay "I Wish I Was an Alcoholic."

#9 Andy Whitman

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Posted 17 December 2010 - 08:36 AM

Here's a short CNN interview transcript. The comments regarding Chinese Christians and prayer and a comment made by someone from a former Soviet country are thought-provoking--at least for me.


I finished the book last night and so far, the section that is sticking with me is the one dealing w/ AA and the essay "I Wish I Was an Alcoholic."

I haven't read this particular Yancey book, but I'm very familiar with his writing, and I've read a shortened version of this essay elsewhere.

And he's right. One of the reasons 12-step groups encourage frequent attendance, even long after the problem has been theoretically addressed, is that it is all too easy to lose sight of the basic condition: brokenness. Remarkably, I can adopt the notion that I am healthy and well, and that it's everybody else's fault, within about five seconds of leaving a meeting. Or praying. It's also one of the reasons why I'm a big fan of fixed-hour prayer. At least four or five times per day I'll be reminded of the truth.

#10 CherylR

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Posted 26 December 2010 - 03:49 PM

This book isn't Yancy's usual style of writing, but has more of a journalism aspect to it. He visits ten different areas--from Virginia Tech, to Mumbai (he was there when the terrorists attacked the hotels/train stations etc), to AA meetings. He writes an essay about the experience, then the text of a speech he gave while at the venue follows the essay.

The speech re: the AA aspect stuck with me for the contrast it draws between the AA meetings and most churches. Grace, accountability, acceptance, genuineness vs. what is found in most churches. In many ways, AA meetings are what the church should be.

#11 opus

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 04:15 PM

I got this book for Christmas and finished reading it last week. Like all of Yancey's books, it's well-written and very easy to read, and quite compelling. However, he recycles a lot of material from previous books. For example, his chapters on AA and his college experience don't really contain anything new if you've read, say, What's So Amazing About Grace?. I don't mean that as a slam, as it's still pretty compelling stuff. My favorite sections were probably the first three and the last one, which deal with the Virginia Tech shootings, the Church in China, sex workers, and the Mumbai bombings, respectively. I find the Church situation in China interesting to begin with, so I especially liked the second section.

In it, as well as a couple of the other sections, I find Yancey doing what I think is his most valuable service: reminding his readers in an almost prophetic manner that 21st century American Evangelicalism is not the pinnacle of Christianity, but rather, that Christianity is a global phenomena and that there are places where the Spirit is moving far more powerfully.

#12 Goodnight Tuesday

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Posted 17 May 2011 - 05:04 PM

In it, as well as a couple of the other sections, I find Yancey doing what I think is his most valuable service: reminding his readers in an almost prophetic manner that 21st century American Evangelicalism is not the pinnacle of Christianity, but rather, that Christianity is a global phenomena and that there are places where the Spirit is moving far more powerfully.
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His writing also reminds me that the kingdom of God cannot be institutionalised or contained... I love it. I'm half way through the book. Not been to church for a number of years and Yancey is one of the only Christian authors I can read without wanting to bang my head on the wall. Somewhere in this book he said that church should be a place where we are unafraid to express our weakness (or words to that effect) I long for that. Long to walk into a church as myself without the sensation that I am being greeted with a row of false smiles.

I hope that this post is accepted as I really feel that I want to be a part of this community. It's a big step for me.