Faith & Fiction Roundtable: What Good is God, by Philip Yancey

What Good is God

I read What Good is God for a discussion with the Faith and Fiction Roundtable, though this work is non-fiction. This was my first experience reading this type of book, organized as a series of background articles on different issues like the shootings at Virginia Tech, missionaries in China, and the harrowing results of prostitution. Each article was followed by prepared remarks delivered by Yancy in front of an affected community. I loved the background Yancy provided, but I wasn’t all that impressed with his remarks. I was disappointed to find that they were mostly a collection of older speeches, and I didn’t think they sufficiently addressed the question that he sought to answer. After reading the first four sections fully, I skipped around more and read what interested me and kept my attention.

One of the arguments that I was taken with was included with the section on missionaries and the growing number of ministries that are popping up in China and the growing conversion rate of the Chinese. Through anecdotal evidence, Yancy seems comfortable implying that Christianity causes people to be better people – citing lower crime rates and greater responsibility in areas that have embraced the religion. I read the rest of that section with raised eyebrows. Having been raised in a Protestant religion, my main issues are usually not with the idea of faith, but with it (mis) application in terms of structure, indoctrination,  evangelism, and inflexibility. I think that people can be and do good without religion as well as be led astray within it. Yancy’s remarks prompted a long discussion with my mother on morality and values. For me, values can be apart of morality but they can also stand on their own in guiding behavior. My mother and I both agree that I got the values, but most of the religious indoctrination and ideas on morality, didn’t seem to stick.

When I think terms of fiction, the books where I have had the strongest negative reactions were morality tales, where the main point was to espouse one idea on and way of achieving goodness, or peace of mind, or whatever there is to be gained for doing the right thing. There are many reasons that people and communities exhibit certain traits and behaviors. No doubt, religious beliefs or lack thereof are a factor in that behavior, but to credit it entirely seems a little self-serving whether in religious texts or in the novels that I read.

For more discussions on What Good is God from the Faith and Fiction Roundtable, check out:

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  1. Ooh I have to agree with you being skeptical about that one part. Part of the reason I’m so cynical about that topic myself is because in my work in child welfare I have met so many people who go to church religiously and claim to be christian but they are many times the opposite of being good people unfortunately.

  2. This is what I love about the group….I simply read that and did not see it as you did at all, but now that you mention it here I will need to read that part again.

  3. Interesting thoughts. From what I’ve read about the church in countries where they are persecuted, it seems as if – in some ways – their faith is more real than the faith you find in today’s American churches. I think when you know that you could be killed for making the decision to become a Christian, and choose Christ anyway, it is a 100 percent surrender and decision. I don’t know that I see that depth of faith very much in the US – and I also see a lot of people who say they are believers but in no way do their actions put proof to their words. Interesting discussion!

  4. I love that you brought this up! I definitely didn’t read any of this into that chapter but now that my eyes are open, I would like to go back and read it again. I like that you said this because before I became a Christian, I always saw myself as having strong values and behaving according to my own moral code, and I would have loooong conversations with my very Catholic good friend who couldn’t understand how I could say that I had “values” when I didn’t have Jesus to guide my thoughts and behavior. When I became a Christian, my relationship with Jesus changed (I didn’t have one vs. I now have one) but my actual values the way I think and behave didn’t change all that much. I still try to be a genuinely good person but I mess up often, etc. Just like everyone else. Interesting discussion for sure!

    1. True. I think there are many incentives for being a good person, and it’s also very natural for some people, but I do think there are times when we all struggle with it as well. I think it’s a good thing if religion can provide guidance and assurance in that way, but there are other ways.

  5. “(M)y main issues are usually not with the idea of faith, but with it (mis) application in terms of structure, indoctrination, evangelism, and inflexibility. I think that people can be and do good without religion as well as be led astray within it.”

    I’m right with you on both of those points.