Book Review: Where the Light Fell

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In recent years, a growing number of people from conservative Christian backgrounds have been questioning the faith commitments of their youth. Sometimes identifying as “exvangelicals”, these people often share publicly about the process of deconstructing (and sometimes abandoning) their faith. Generally what leads people to take these steps is their deep disillusionment with the church. Though there have always been those who wrestle with the Christian faith, people’s struggles today seem different. Author Russell Moore observes that in past generations people left the faith because they were not sure they believed what the church teaches. But today, he notes, young people leave the faith because they don’t think the church itself believes what it teaches.

If there was ever anyone whom you would expect to reject Christianity because of bad experiences in church, it would be the author, Philip Yancey. In his memoir Where the Light Fell, Yancey describes the soul-crushing experience of growing up in a strict, fundamentalist home. His father, a young preacher preparing for the mission field, died when Yancey was an infant, largely because of misguided theological beliefs. Yancey and his older brother where raised by their devout mother, a woman who abused them physically and verbally at home while enjoying her reputation among friends as a godly Bible teacher. Despite her viciousness toward her children, Yancey’s mother never admitted to any sin. Instead she heaped judgment on her two sons for any minor violation of her spiritual community’s strict definition of morality.

In addition to the hypocrisy that filled his home, Yancey witnessed spiritual duplicity at church. The congregations in which he was raised were legalistic, judgmental, and openly racist. (Yancey’s boyhood church denied a seminarian’s request to become a member because the young man was black. The seminarian, Tony Evans, later became a well-known pastor and author.)

Most modern narratives that begin with these kinds of details end with an explanation of how the story-teller liberated themselves from the constraints of religion and found peace in agnosticism. But surprisingly, Yancey’s story leads to deeply authentic faith in Christ.

Yancey is no apologist for Evangelicalism. He is as critical of American Christianity as anyone you will find. Yet, after enduring several years of skepticism and doubt, Yancey emerged with a genuine love for Christ, a trembling amazement at grace, and (astonishingly) a compassionate connection to the church. He writes, “My resurrection of belief had little to do with logic or effort and everything to do with the unfathomable mystery of God.”

I recommend Where the Light Fell. It is a beautifully written story and would probably be encouraging for anyone who struggles with their faith or who wants to understand the struggles that others face.