This will be a relatively brief review of a book that probably deserves a more considered response – it’s not written to entertain so much as provoke thought and faith. Ideally you’d probably sit down with it like a uni text and take notes/write responses on the way through.
However I didn’t read it that way, rather I just chipped away here and there, and finished it a while ago, so forgive me when I blur things a bit.
A positive of this book (typically Yancey and probably a major reason for his popularity) is the relative honesty. Unlike so many other Christian books he doesn’t create absurd straw men to attack, or speak from the perspective of a saintly guru. To his credit, in painting his picture of someone ‘disappointed’ with God he gives ‘Richard’ time, sympathy and respect – it’s not the more usual deal of setting someone up for a fall, where lack of faith is simply a character defect. The conversations don’t feel contrived. The issue he sets up feels authentic: at least it feels like we’re actually talking about the same thing, he’s understood the question.
The bulk of the book is then an attempt to offer answers. Not (generally) in a, “C’mon stupid, this is so obvious,” tone, but more personal, “How about this? Have you thought about it this way? Something I was thinking about the other day was…”. That being said, while this book avoids the contempt for non-Christians that undermines so much Christian literature, it’s still going to be rough going for anyone who doesn’t accept some pretty basic mainstream Christian assertions, particularly that of the authority of scripture. Its more aimed at Christians with some doubts, not condemning them, but throwing in some potentially encouraging ideas.
Why, I suspect, it didn’t deliver me into a land of conviction (as was the hope of those who recommended it to me) was to do with the sheer volume of mental contortions offered (or, perhaps, simply a character defect on my part). Somewhere along the way I felt too much like I was in one of my own way too wordy missives – I’ve written letters to people that have got so convoluted in explanations that they lost impact, they felt too much like contrived mental exercises rather than penetrating analysis or heartfelt conviction. Something starts feeling a bit suspect if it takes just so much, ‘hey, just stay with me on this one, I know it’s a bit out there and it’s already run a few pages, but…”.
There’s also the irony that at times Yancey’s sincerely offered ladders to faith actually require just as much faith as you’re hopefully being led towards: why is it easier to believe that we’re looking ‘at’ the beam when we should be looking ‘along’ it to deal with contradictions? Lewis, as ever, has wonderful metaphors, but just because something has poetic impact doesn’t necessarily make it easier to believe. I suppose the trick is saying, “Look, you say the idea of a loving and powerful God is impossible to reconcile with suffering, but I’ll give you an example of being able to look at the same thing in two entirely different ways.” Maybe the elegance this argument can push some over the line, but I felt like it was no easier (or harder) to buy this than to just go with the hardly unjustifiable usual, “Who are you, man, to think you can judge God?!”