Faith and Fiction Round Table: What Good is God? In Search of a Faith That Matters by Philip Yancey

Title: What Good is God? In Search of a Faith That Matters
Author: Philip Yancey
Genre: Christian non-fiction
Publisher: Faith Words
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library

Goodreads blurb: “Religion author Philip Yancey described his approach to his books this way: “I’m not a professor or academic or ordained pastor. I’m an ordinary pilgrim. When I tackle a project, I try to represent my readers.” In What Good Is God?, he sets out on a spiritual pilgrimage that takes him to scenes of trauma and healing at several far-flung locales. His search for answers about the value of belief leads him to crowded Mumbai, India streets that were rocked by terrorist attacks; to the backstreet motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated; to the Virginia Tech campus still recovering from a student massacre; to an AA convention and to a conference for women attempting to survive in prostitution. A journey where every stop brings new answers.”

As has happened with previous selections, the Faith and Fiction Round Table group’s thoughts on What Good is God? were mixed. One of the main problems some readers had was with the title. When you call a book “What Good is God?,” it sets the reader up to expect an answer.

Another problem some readers had was with the format. Each section consists of two parts: Yancey’s personal thoughts on the place he has traveled to and the suffering that occurred there; and a sermon or lecture Yancey gave in that locale. Almost everyone – including me – agreed that his personal thoughts were the more insightful sections. I’m not sure if it was the fact that the lectures were recycled material, or the fact that they had to be written in a lecture format, but they seemed less personal. Yancey travels a lot for his work, and I would love to read another book about his travels that was in the format of a travelogue or personal travel journal.

While I don’t think that this was Yancey’s best work (I would recommend What’s So Amazing About Grace? or The Bible Jesus Read over this one.), I did still appreciate his thoughts and the way he provoked me to rethink things for myself. One thing that Yancey does very well is to point out that traditional church does not always meet the needs of the most broken and damaged people. I love that he challenges the Church’s assumptions in the light of Scripture.

Some of the most spiritual addicts I know avoid church because they view it as a place for people who already have it together. Oh, my! I can think of far more entertaining ways to spend my Sunday mornings if I already have it together. I go to church as an expression of my need for God and God’s family – the same reason you go to 12-step groups. So often, however, I leave with an empty feeling because church covers reality with a veneer of respectability. What have we done that we communicate church as a place for well people rather than a place to get well? ~ p. 248-249

While Yancey does not give a direct answer to the question posed in his title, he does use real-life stories to demonstrate that, even in the midst of the darkest suffering, God is there.

Read through the Gospels and you’ll find only one scene in which someone addresses Jesus directly as God: “My Lord and my God!” Do you know who said that? It was doubting Thomas, the disciple stuck in sadness, the last holdout against believing the incredible news of resurrection. Jesus appeared to Thomas in his newly transformed body, obliterating Thomas’s doubts. What prompted that outburst of belief, however – “My Lord and my God!” – was the presence of scars. Feel my hands, Jesus told him. Touch my side. Finger my scars. In a flash of revelation Thomas saw Almighty God, the Lord of the Universe, stooping to take on our pain, to complete the union with humanity.

Not even God remained exempt from pain. God joined us and fully shared our human condition, including its distress. Thomas recognized in that pattern the most foundational truth of the universe, that God is love. To love means to hurt, to grieve. Pain manifests life. ~ p. 27

The sufferings of Jesus show us that pain comes to us not as punishment but rather as a testing ground for faith that transcends pain. In truth, pain redeemed impresses me more than pain removed. ~ p. 31

Where is God when it hurts? Where God’s people are. Where misery is, there is the Messiah, and now on earth the Messiah takes form in the shape of the church. That’s what the body of Christ means. ~ p. 34-35

Faith and Fiction Round Table Partcipants:
~ Heather at Book Addiction
~ Julie at Book Hooked Blog
~ Sheila at Book Journey
~ Jennifer at Crazy for Books
~ Ronnica at Ignorant Historian
~ Nicole at Linus’s Blanket
~ Amy at My Friend Amy (our gracious hostess)
~ Thomas at My Random Thoughts
~ Liz at Roving Reads
~ Sherry at Semicolon
~ Florinda at The 3 R’s Blog
~ Tina at Tina’s Book Reviews
~ Brooks at Victorious Cafe
~ Hannah at Word Lily

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21 Responses to Faith and Fiction Round Table: What Good is God? In Search of a Faith That Matters by Philip Yancey

  1. Florinda
    Twitter: florinda_3rs
    says:

    I’m glad you shared your previous experiences with this author, because I’d like to check out some more of his work. There were some interesting ideas in this one, but I didn’t feel like ot all tied together as well as it might have – although it did generate some good discussion!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Florinda – yes, definitely give him another try – this one wasn’t representative of his best.

  2. irene says:

    You know I had What’s so amazing about Grace in my hand the other day and put it back on the shelf, I’ll have to take another look. Great review, thank you.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Irene – I hope you get a chance to read it – it’s fantastic. :)

  3. Word Lily
    Twitter: Wordlily
    says:

    I’d thought I’d read Yancey before this, but after reading this one, I’m not sure.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Hannah – he has really written a lot of great books – I hope you find another one that works for you better.

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  6. I actually really enjoyed this read even if it wasn’t perfect. My favorites of his are Reaching for the Invisible God and Rumors of Another World.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Amy – I haven’t read either of those! I forgot about Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church – it’s awesome, too – and all about the authors who influenced him.

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  8. Sheila (Bookjourney)
    Twitter: bookjourney
    says:

    I too enjoyed Whats So Amazing About Grace. I enjoyed this book and found it to fit well for me, but like you did not find it to be his best work. I have Rumors (as Amy mentions above) but I have not read it yet.

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  10. Tina says:

    I think that point about the church failing to meet peoples needs is so right!! I know I said on another blog comment that I feel people forget church is not a building…its a group of believers who should be helping and reaching others. Sometimes the whole aspect of “church” gets lost and winds up being a business.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Tina – yes, exactly – church being run as a business is one of my biggest pet peeves.

  11. Heather @ Book Addiction
    Twitter: BookAddictHeath
    says:

    Like Florinda, I’m happy to know that you would recommend some of Yancey’s other works more than you would this one. I enjoyed What Good is God? but I’m not sure I would read another Yancey unless it came highly recommended. So thanks. :)

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Heather – yes, definitely give one of his other works a try; I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. :)

  12. Thomas says:

    Even though I should have not allowed the title of the book and it’s format to influence my reading of this book, I did. I did enjoy learning about the emerging Church in China though.

    Thomas

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Thomas – I think it’s hard not to be influenced by a title that acts a direct question like that – it sets up a certain expectation.

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