Becoming a Soul Survivor: Learning from fellow-survivor, Philip Yancey

23 Mar

“I have spent most of my life in recovery from the church.” (Yancey, 1) 

Solemn words from one of the best-selling Christian authors.  Yancey is the author of several thought-provoking books such as What’s So Amazing About Grace, and The Jesus I Never Knew.  I want you to read them again.

“I have spent most of my life in recovery from the church.” (Yancey, 1)

At one point in my life, I would have been irritated by these words – connecting them to the bitter, cynical, or irreligious.  Today, I however, find his statement interwoven into my story.  My journey of recovery is not as long as his, but for several years I have been on a journey to find healing from church abuse [I describe it as – PTCD or Post-Traumatic Church Disorder].

My desire to spiritually survive drove me to read this book.   Each chapter reflects upon an influential person in our world history, and how he/she inspired Yancey to deeper faith.  The list of inspiring Christians include:  Martin Luther King Jr, G. K. Chesterton, Paul Brand, Annie Dillard, Henri Nouwen, and others.  While, I wish that Yancey had spent more time discussing his own journey and recovery, it was a great read.  Each chapter made me want to spend my life researching and drinking from the spiritual overflow of their walks with God.

While reading, I realized four things you must know in order to survive the church.

1.  You are not alone.

Tired Man Sitting on Bed from Flickr via Wylio

© 2008 Mic445, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

The authors of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse describes the isolation of those affected by spiritual abuse,  “since most have had so much pressure to not talk about their experience, they feel alone, even crazy.”  (Johnson and Van Vonderen, 40)  In the midst of my deepest hurt, I was threatened and shamed into silence.  When you are forced to ignore your pain, and receive no affirmation that it even exists, you begin to wonder if you have lost all sense of reality.  As a fellow-traveler, Yancey’s presence inspires me to press forward.



2.  People inside the church act no different than those outside.

Part of my childhood church culture included a fear of outsiders, and naive trust towards insiders.  Yancey says, “As I think about individual Christians I know, I see some people made incomparably better by their faith, and some made measurably worse.”  (120)  Those outside our community were sinners. Their hearts were darkened.  Their minds polluted.  They could do no good.  They were heathen.  While I still hold to the depravity of mankind and gospel’s power to change lives, these concepts developed an unhealthy mistrust outside the church.  When I developed my first friendship with a non-religious person, I remember wondering, “How is he so nice?”  We must understand that the affects of sin are located within and outside the church.

3.  God and the church are separate.

© 2014 Alachua County, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Yancey says that while seeking healing, he “began the lifelong process of separating church from God.” (45)  I had never experienced God outside of the church.  I grew up within the church, and attended a religious school.  As a pastor, my life had been completely interwoven with the organized church.  This book showed me that there are aspects of any religious community that are unhealthy, and need to be stripped away in order to better see God.  Yancey said it was a lifelong process.  I hope he is wrong, but I fear he is not.

4.  God is with me – still.

Rejection by a church leader, board, or community does not mean God’s rejection.  Their words do not equal God’s.  As we separate the words and actions of a church from God, we can begin to rediscover God’s love, and displace the anger that grips us.  The journey of healing from spiritual abuse can be difficult and is ridden with potholes of emotions and bandits of faith.

Remember He is with you in the darkest of times – as our source of Light, providing hope.

David - Prof 2Dr. G. David Boyd is a survivor of church abuse, and yet dedicated to equipping and serving the Body of Christ.  He is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources, a non-profit designed to equip churches and parents to understand emerging adulthood.

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