26/04/2012

What good is God? (by Philip Yancey)

I've been reading, and very much enjoying books by Philip Yancey for many years now. He writes from a gentle, grace-filled Christian perspective that often clashes with the right-wing fundamentalist viewpoint of many in his country (and amongst whom he was raised). He is a journalist who looks for God all around the world, and seeks to reach out in love to all people, no matter what their race, background or behaviour.

In 'What God is God?" Yancey travels to ten very different regions of the world - from Cambridge (in the UK) to Mumbai (in India); from China to South Africa.  He visits a conference for former prostitutes in Wisconsin (in the USA) and a Bible college (also in the USA). In each of these diverse places, he describes why he is there, writes about what he observes, and also mentions how he hopes to be able to reach out in some way to the people concerned. The second part of each of the ten chapters is a transcript of the talk he gave in each of the situations described.

The writing, of course, is very good. The subject matter was all interesting from a general sociological point of view, helping me to realise afresh just how diverse humanity is, and yet how every person in the world has the same need to be loved and accepted. Yancey's aim in writing this book is to see how God works in each of these situations - whether the message of Jesus' love is relevant to people considered lowest of the low; and, indeed, whether it remains relevant to academics, or even, ironically, those who are training to be professional Christians.

His conclusion seems to be that yes, God is at work. He is apparently most active amongst those whom society has rejected, those who have nothing left but their faith. Yancey points out how Jesus ministered mostly to down-and-outs: the despised, the sick, the untouchables. His harsher words were directed only at the hypocritical Pharisees and other supposed leaders who should have known better.

There's an underlying criticism, I suppose, of those who see the church as an elite for the 'nice' people, who condemn sins they don't practise themselves. But still Yancey manages to convey grace and acceptance - of reaching out in love to all, and showing a little of Jesus' compassion.

I don't think Philip Yancey is capable of writing a bad book. This one is not his greatest, most powerful work, in my view, but still an excellent read.

Recommended to everyone. The theology is fairly low key, and I think it would probably be non-threatening to anyone interested in knowing what real Christians do around the world, whether or not the reader has any faith.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 26th April 2012

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