I just finished reading Philip Yancey’s Soul Survivor and instead of writing a normal book review (I have taken a book review hiatus, I will eventually write more) I will instead take his advice in the epilogue and reflect on those God has used to guide me in my journey in pursuing Christ.
Yancey has some odd mentors in his book that initially caused some worry on my part, but after he tells his story about growing up in a hate-filled fundamentalist church (not all fit this category but his certainly did) he struggled to trust the church or even God. We all have struggles and obstacles to faith. These may come from the rebellious nature of our own hearts or from the suffering that results from living in a fallen world or even from the enemy of our souls. Yet the journey is often confusing and with every believer it is unique and tangled, so bear with me for a few paragraphs while I take Yancey’s advice and reflect on my mentors in the faith.
First I must acknowledge the influence of my parents - Mom taught me to love - she thinks that she’s not very good at expressing love. Yet all of her sons have felt loved and learned from Mom how to share love in meaningful ways. Dad taught me how to be a man - that manhood doesn’t consist of grunting and spitting but rather is fundamentally about taking responsibility and being willing to sacrifice for others (in Dad’s case sometimes to a fault, sorry Dad but its true).
Second I would point to J.R.R. Tolkien. When I was in the sixth grade I stumbled across the Hobbit and was immediately hooked. I then went on to read the Lord of the Rings of course. What I learned from Tolkien was from his portrayal of heroes. Throughout my younger years (and to this day) my understanding of what a hero was came from Tolkien, one who courageously does what is necessary even when it means a great deal of suffering by one for others. This was what really captivated me. Seeing poor little Frodo suffering alone to save all of middle earth, that is epic heroism. Repentant Boromir fighting to the death so the little one’s can escape. I didn’t know it at the time but these are Christ-like heroes. In shaping my understanding of a hero, in some measure, Tolkien softened my heart to hear about the work of Christ.
Third (bear with me) is the Dalai Llama. In my junior year of high school I was once again prowling through the library (boy I was a nerd) and came across a book by the Dalai Llama where in very basic terms he explained what Buddhism was. I began reading there in the aisle and was captivated. He was answering questions from his perspective that I had never once thought to ask. I checked out the book and checked it out repeatedly for the next year. To a few friends I declared myself a Buddhist (sorry Mom and Dad). The positive that came out of this deception (for I became convinced that Buddhism is not true and actually does a very poor job of answering the big questions) was that I began thinking about spiritual things. I don’t think that before that moment I had ever had a spiritual thought in my life. So it was a kind of back-handed blessing, good coming out of darkness.
Fourth was John Lucas. John was the first person ever to invite me to any kind of Christian function. I had never been invited to church or BSU or anything like it in my life. Yet John took me to these meetings and shared the Gospel with me and after I became a Christian (and to this day) John has served as a guide and mentor to me as I strive to follow my crucified savior.
Paul Badgett was important for the biggest reason that it was under his preaching that I came to faith in Christ. But also Paul was faithful to proclaim the beautiful gospel simply and clearly week after week. Thank you Paul for feeding me the gospel.
Erwin Lutzer’s book Doctrine’s that Divide was the book that showed me that theology really does matter. That what we believe really does matter. This was the book that God used to kill all the post-modernism left in me.
Now I want to close with a few honorable mentions. Josh Owen allowed me to watch him be a pastor, husband, father, and theologian. He showed me that we can be all these things without neglecting our churches or our families, thank you Josh. Francis Schaeffer showed me that the Christian faith was intellectually beautiful and extremely logical, that we are not leaping into the dark. Mark Helton has shown me how to suffer with grace. My matchless wife has shown me the power of forgiveness and love (she has had much to forgive and little to find worthy of love).
PS - Yancey's book is a great read. His writing ability made this book hard to put down. But most of all the strange path that God used in bringing him safely into the fold was captivating. A worthy read and I've been inspired to read more by Yancey.