Review: Philip Yancey, Reaching For the Invisible God

This book, Reaching For the Invisible God… what can we expect to find? is published by Zondervan, 2000.

Jackson Clelland has been pastor at Angus ON and a Renewal Fellowship board member. Jackson will be going to Spring Valley CA Presbyterian Church to become Associate Pastor this summer.

I begin with a personal note. The reason I chose to review this book is because I noticed it three times in one day; on a book table on spirituality at Chapters, next to a Chicken Soup for the Soul at Costco, and on a coffee table in a friend's home. The week before that a member of my congregation had photocopied a chapter (sorry, Zondervan) and mailed it to me, insisting that I read it because it had "totally changed her life." This is a book that people both within and outside of the church are reading. Why are so many reading it and is it worth reading?

The appeal of Yancey's book is his transparent honesty in admitting that his own relationship with God has more often than not been a struggle. His background has left him with some baggage to unpack. He says, "I have lived most of my life in the evangelical Protestant tradition, which emphasizes personal relationship, and I finally decided to write this book because I want to identify for myself how a relationship with God truly works, not how it is supposed to work."

Yancey writes this book out of a thirst for God and a desire to point people to a faith that gives more than pat answers. He has clearly entered his own faith through the portal of doubt. But his doubts have moved him further, to probe into the deeper questions that most believers must come to terms with: How do we understand and live our faith during the times when God seems absent, indifferent, or even hostile? How can we get along with God when God is "invisible, overwhelming and perfect and we are visible, weak and flawed?" What does this relationship "do" and how does that come about? How does this relationship grow and transform us?

Although Yancey comes from conservative roots his writing reflects a much broader view of history and Christendom. Not only does he bring the thoughts of current Protestant evangelicals such as Eugene Peterson and J.I. Packer into his discussion, but he quotes Roman Catholics — Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton and G.K. Chesterton — and Jewish writers — Abraham Heschel and Martin Buber. Yancey is not content to stay within the twentieth century either. He draws on the early Church Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa, and Saint Augustine and other Christians throughout the history of the church — Ignatius of Loyola, Blaise Pascal, John Bunyan and John Donne. He shares with his readers the literature and poetry from many periods. In all of this I believe that Yancey shows us that the "Communion of Saints" extends beyond our local congregation and certainly beyond and before the Reformation. He reveals that we have much to learn by sharing our spiritual struggles and insights with fellow pilgrims, even with a few we might not have expected to be on the road with us.

With all of these "fellow pilgrims" to travel with, it would seem that Yancey could very easily become a spiritual drifter. But Yancey does not lose sight of the Word of God and the Word made Flesh. The Bible is rooted to his task and he clearly sees the Son of God as central to the Bible. He opens the texts to his readers with a freshness and clarity. He reveals the personal struggles for faith are not his, or ours alone, but are found throughout the biblical narratives. His knowledge of the Bible is extensive, but he is certainly not purely academic. He opens the Bible both with reverence and relevance.

The beauty of this book is its simplicity and depth. The language is kept relatively free of "Christianese" despite the thoroughness with which many difficult subjects are covered. I would not hesitate to give a copy to a friend who is searching for faith or a friend who has been a Christian for a long time, as Yancey's winsome transparency would resonate with almost anyone.