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What good is God? – Philip Yancey

June 2011 | by Jeremy Walker

What good is God? – On the road with stories of grace

Philip Yancey

Hodder and Stoughton, 272 pages, £12.99, ISBN: 978-0-340-99614-0

Picking up this volume, I knew only that lots of people read Yancey, and I never have.

     Here we follow the author to Mumbai slums and Cambridge conferences, stopping at gatherings of addicts and prostitutes. The book describes these environments, interleaved with addresses the author delivered in these situations.

     The style is somewhat Reader’s Digest, engagingly journalistic, quite undemanding, and occasionally bland. Perhaps this accessibility helps to explain Yancey’s popularity?

     The book sets out to answer the question of the title in these various places where tragedy, deprivation, confusion and misery seem to reign. Does God provide an answer for such variety and depth of need? While the answer is clearly intended to be a resounding yes, there are positives and negatives in its presentation.

     Positively, Yancey practises what he preaches, putting himself sympathetically and wholeheartedly in the front line. He writes movingly, clearly living in the real world. He is earnest, observant, engaging and committed to doing good.

     At the same time, things not necessarily opposed are set against each other. The chapters on C. S. Lewis show the debatable debt Yancey owes him. The emphasis on grace tends to objectify it: ‘grace’ becomes an abstracted thing, a commodity somehow separated and potentially existing apart from God in Christ.

     An exceedingly broad ecumenism reaches beyond — sometimes well beyond — historic biblical Christianity. With all this in the mix, I was left asking what answer Yancey really gives to his key question.

     He often offers encouragement, counsel and direction, but I am not sure he always offers good news. His gospel, such as it is, is warm but fuzzy, toothless, lacking definition.

     Yancey has doubtless done some good under God, but he might have done much more with clearer definitions and sharper edges. While your heart might be sometimes and genuinely warmed by this book, there is more and better substance elsewhere.

Jeremy Walker

Crawley

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