Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church

by Philip Yancey

Paperback, 2003



Call number



WaterBrook (2003), 352 pages


Overexposed to the distortions and hypocrisies of Christian churches, Philip Yancey set out in search of a life enhanced by faith instead of diminished by religion. Having struggled to forge personal convictions about God amid the ironies of life and the incongruities of religion, he looks closer at those whose lives radiate spiritual authenticity rather than pious posturing. From John Donne to Martin Luther King, Dostoevsky to Mahatma Gandhi, G K Chesterton to Henri Nouwen, Yancey pays homage to some of the most remarkable, selfless, Christ-like lives our world has known, and asks what both he and we can do to find such beautiful faith in our own lives. Soul Survivor is spiritual journalism of the highest order.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bsanner
Blending biography and autobiography, Yancy retraces the role of several prominent authors, doctors, and leaders in sorting out the struggles and difficulties of his faith from adolescence to adulthood. Yancy describes the influences of MLK Jr., Gandhi, Tolstoy, Chesterton, and Annie Dillard (to
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name 5 of the 13) in his progression of faith. Soul Survivor offers an intensely personal and honest testimony of both Yancy’s faith and doubt. A
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LibraryThing member rybeewoods
An easy book to pick up and put down. The chapters all sit independantly of eacother, which is a very good thing. I've learned a lot about the different people in this book: GK Chesterton, Mo T, Nouwen, MLK, and others.
LibraryThing member DSlongwhite
This was an absolutely wonderful book - the first I've read by Yancey, but it will certainly not be the last. Actually, I listened to it as a book on tape, and much of it by walking around the office park at Colonial Point with a tape player and earphones.

Yancey opens his book by saying that many
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times when he is in a waiting room or on a plane, people will ask what he does. When he says that he is a writer of books on spiritual themes, they tell him their horror stories. He response with, "Oh, it's worse than that. Let me tell you my story."

Yancey grew up in a small, strict, fundamentalist church in the south who believed that everyon who didn't agree with them was teetering on the edge of hell. It was not a healthy environment and many people left. In his book, he probes the question of why he survived. This book is a tribute to thirteen remarkable people who influenced him for good.

Yancey has forgiven the repressiveness of the church, much because of Chesterton who wrote, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and untried."

As Yancey reviewed his list of people who had influenced him, he sees flawed, not perfect people. From them, he learned how to handle his own longings.
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LibraryThing member seoulful
Yancey is a somewhat difficult author for those who still have emotional ties to the imperfect, fundamentalist churches of their youth. Even if they have long since left these churches, it is sad for some who in contrast to Yancey have warm memories, to have the blemishes so clearly displayed.
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Yancey, an author and jounalist of note, gives us insights into the lives of 13 men and women, many with whom he was personally acquainted, who played an influencing role in his spiritual recovery from his fundamentalist upbringing.
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LibraryThing member warofexodus
This is an amazing book for those who suffered burn out in church...Or to those who wonder whether life is worth living when it is so rigged with pain and suffering. A just and a good God but an imperfect world. How do we even life with it when everything seems so dark and gloomy? This book have
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shown me that despite all the imperfection life is still beautiful and worth living for. An amazing book that is worth every penny you spent on it.
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LibraryThing member avidmom
So what do a former U.S. surgeon general, a poet, two well-known Russian novelists, and a closeted homosexual Catholic priest have in common? These were people who, because of the way they lived their lives according to their beliefs, impacted Yancey profoundly. Yancey, growing up in a very, very
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legalistic and racist church outside of Atlanta in the early 60s found himself very disillusioned with the church. "When someone tells me yet another horror story about the church, I respond, 'Oh, it's even worse than that. Let me tell you my story.' I have spent most of my life in recovery from the church." The people Yancey writes about here aided him in his recovery. Some of these names are old familiar ones but some people I met in the pages here were new to me:

In order of appearance:
Martin Luther King Jr.
G.K. Chesterton
Dr. Paul Brand
Dr. Robert Coles
Leo Tolstoy and Feodor Dostoevsky
Mahatma Gandhi
Dr. C. Everett Koop
John Donne
Annie Dillard
Frederick Buechner
Shusaku Endo
Henri Nouwen

Many times the essays start out a bit autobiographical. Yancey talks about his experience growing up in an extremely legalistic (no movies - "too worldly"), racist church ("... we were taught, {the Ku Klux Klan was}, a last line of defense to preserve the Christian purity of the South.") and world and how that particular experience led him to all but totally abandon his faith. Somehow or another, the list of people above crossed Yancey's path, whether in writing or in person, and instead of Yancey finding himself rejecting his Christian faith more and more found himself introduced to what an amazing force for good in the world faith can be if actually lived out by humble and sincere people. One of the strong points of the essays is the biographical information presented that may stir up some curiosity. There are people presented here that I wanted to find out more about. Fortunately, Yancey provides a list of book recommendations about the people written in each essay for the more curious readers. If I had any criticism it would be that sometimes Yancey doesn't write too clearly about exactly how each of these people impacted his journey home to faith. The reader is left, on many occasions, to simply read between the lines.
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LibraryThing member olegalCA
Any book with a chapter on Frederick Buechner rocks. Philip Yancey is a breath of fresh air in this current "Pray it and get it" stream of Christianity. This is how his faith survived the church. This may be how I survive my faith.
LibraryThing member anitatally
This book had a profound and affirming influence on me. It also led me to many other wonderful authors and books.
LibraryThing member LeslieHurd
Yancey's "Soul Survivor" presents us with 13 individuals whose lives and writings allowed him to hold on to his faith despite his extreme disappointment with his southern fundamentalist upbringing. His early church's racism and legalism left him with doubts about the very truths of the "good news"
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of the gospel and the grace of God. He focuses primarily on Christians (among them Martin Luther King, Jr., G.K. Chesterson, Paul Brand, and John Donne), but also includes Mahatma Gandhi who rejected Christianity while adopting many of Christ's teachings. Yancey makes it clear that each "spiritual director" is flawed and yet each held on to his/her faith despite their doubts, sins, rejection, and sometimes severe physical costs. Each of these guides strove to have a real relationship with God and to share that grace with others in the best way they knew how. Raised as a fundamentalist, I've been facing my own struggles with the hypocrisy of the Church. I found this book a particularly timely reminder that we must keep our eyes on the God of the Bible, and not those who claim to be Christ's namesakes. Christianity is about grace (unmerited favor), not judgment, sin, patriotism or politics, or business practices.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

352 p.; 8.26 inches


1578568188 / 9781578568185
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