17– 23 September 2007

Issue No. 35

A Response to Philip Yancy’s Reaching for the Invisible God (Philippines: OMF Literature Inc., 2000)

When it comes to delivering answers to difficult questions about living the Christian faith Philip Yancy never seems to fail. With an adroitness that borders almost breathtakingly on “sleight of hand” he always manages to produce convincing arguments for various spiritual dilemmas. Like a magician he coaxes now a rabbit, now a flower, out of his top hat, drawing from a vast pool of intellectual, literary and spiritual resources that few of us will ever be privileged to be acquainted with ourselves.


This is the Yancey many of us have come to appreciate and enjoy. He does us the favour of gathering together the thoughts and ideas of great men of letters and action and serving them up in a neat parcel as answers to difficult questions. After reading a Yancey book we sometimes feel as if we had visited a library ourselves.


It had never occurred to me before to be critical of Yancey’s writing because he works such magic with his literary weaving skills. However, half-way through reading Reaching for the Invisible God I wearied of the surfeit of quotations, allusions, second-hand experiences, borrowed stories. Worse I kept meeting illustrations and experiences Yancey had already used in his other books (Paul Brand, Mother Teresa). I suppose it’s uncharitable to expect a writer to be totally original in every single book he writes but repetition certainly does not a returned reader make. But enough of grousing. Taken charitably the book is worth reading; it is packed full of the most incredible insights into what really matters in living out our faith.


Reaching for the Invisible God is an ambitious attempt to tackle the Christian’s everyday struggle to know God. We long to be close to this God but He is often not to be found. Yancey takes us on a journey that begins with doubt (perhaps God is absent, indifferent or even hostile) to understanding  the nature of God (His personality, His Trinitarian manifestations) to working out a relationship with this God (which involves our own spiritual formation through discipline, service and a dependence on grace).


What Yancey tries to do within 300 pages is to encourage us not to give up on our own inability to relate to a God who is always there. It is our understanding of him that is faulty; the church itself often fails us by “promising more than it can deliver” (p 20). Of himself he writes: ‘Over time, I have grown more comfortable with mystery rather than certainty. God does not twist arms and never forces us into a corner with faith in himself as the only exit. We can never present the Final Proof, to ourselves or to anyone else. We will always, with Pascal, see “too much to deny and too little to be sure …”’ (p 45)


Yancey can only give answers that are perhaps not answers for how do you point to something invisible?. All the difficulty of living “by faith” is exposed honestly. We get a sense that in the end the struggle we face daily is exactly the same struggle of other famous people, except that they have been able to express it more eloquently.  Thus from Kathleen Norris: ‘One so often hears people say, “I just can’t handle it,” when they reject a biblical image of God as Father, as Mother, as Lord or Judge; God as lover, as angry or jealous, God on a cross. I find this choice of words revealing, however real the pain they reflect: if we seek a God we can “handle,” that will be exactly what we get. A God we can manipulate, suspiciously like ourselves, the wideness of whose mercy we’ve cut down to size.’ (p 112)


If I should have a legitimate quarrel with the book I would have to pick the part where Yancey gives a personality profile of God.  He describes Him as “shy”, as someone who “hides” and as “gentle”. By applying human traits to God he hopes to bring Him nearer to us. But it makes me uncomfortable, this capitulation to making God in our image. In the same way when he attempts to compare knowing God to a marriage relationship where intimacy is gained over time the analogy again troubles me. How then are the single and the unhappily married to know God?


Ultimately the answer Yancey gives to the problem of not “experiencing” God boils down to rectifying our self-centred expectations that God is there to do something for us (“Living in faith involves me pleasing God, far more than God pleasing me.” -  p 82), recognizing Him in His three persons as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, cultivating an intimacy with him through meditation and discipline and also expressing  our spiritual nature through service of others.


All very predictable you might say. Don’t we all know this already? Ah, but no one can say it like Yancey. Just for the sheer hard work he puts in to get all those scintillating quotations, insights and illustrations between two covers, he deserves to be read.


(Pauline Koe)


Text Box: Weekly Highlights

Course Announcement

Guitar Course Mod II.   We are opening this up for registration again for class to start in October. This module is for those who have learned to play guitar before. The cost is $400 for 12 lessons. Please contact Jolene at 62276815 or email tanch@bgst.edu.sg to register.


Faculty Movements

Dr Ng Peh Cheng will be in West Asia from 19 September to 1 October. She is with the ATA Visitation Team to evaluate 2 theological schools. Appreciate prayer for good health, safety and wisdom to accomplish the task.


New Admission

Grad Dip in Education for Christian Formation

Billy Wiguna Widjaja worships at the Bukit Batok Presbyterian Church (Indonesian Congregation) and is active as a Sunday school teacher and Deacon. He is an engineer by profession and has obtained his Bachelor of Engineering and Master of Philosophy from the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.




Chapel Summary: 12th Sept

The Chapel Speaker was our alumnus, Joseph Dakhum (GradDip CS, 1994; MDiv, 1996). He spoke on the “Victorious Christian Life” based on Romans 8: 28-37. He strongly emphasized the fact that the victorious Christian life could not be accomplished by one’s effort but by God’s provision (verses 28, 31, 33, 35 & 27).


Joseph  is currently pursuing the MTh degree at BGST.


Chapel Next Week

We bring to you another guest speaker instead of Khamh Cung Nung. We are having Mrs Melissa Tay from A ROCHA (Canada) to share with us. A Rocha is a Christian nature conservation organisation, the name coming from the Portuguese for “ The Rock”. Khamh has been rescheduled to speak on 10 Oct.

Text Box: So long as we love we serve; so long as we are loved by others, I would almost say that we are indispensable, and no man is useless while he has a friend.

- R. L. Stevenson

31 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088454   Tel: 62276815   Fax: 62276816   Email: bgst@pacific.net.sg


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