• Where the Light Fell

  • A Memoir
  • By: Philip Yancey
  • Narrated by: Philip Yancey
  • Length: 11 hrs and 17 mins
  • 4.9 out of 5 stars (613 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In this searing meditation on the bonds of family and the allure of extremist faith, one of today’s most celebrated Christian writers recounts his unexpected journey from a strict fundamentalist upbringing to a life of compassion and grace — a revelatory memoir that “invites comparison to Hillbilly Elegy” (Publishers Weekly, starred review). 

“This stunning tale reminds us that the only way to keep living is to ask God for the impossible: love, forgiveness, and hope.” (Kate Bowler, New York Times bestselling author of Everything Happens for a Reason)

Raised by an impoverished widow who earned room and board as a Bible teacher in 1950s Atlanta, Philip Yancey and his brother, Marshall, found ways to venture out beyond the confines of their eight-foot-wide trailer. But when Yancey was in college, he uncovered a shocking secret about his father’s death — a secret that began to illuminate the motivations that drove his mother to extreme, often hostile religious convictions and a belief that her sons had been ordained for a divine cause.

Searching for answers, Yancey dives into his family origins, taking us on an evocative journey from the backwoods of the Bible Belt to the bustling streets of Philadelphia; from trailer parks to church sanctuaries; from family oddballs to fire-and-brimstone preachers and childhood awakenings through nature, music, and literature. In time, the weight of religious and family pressure sent both sons on opposite paths — one toward healing from the impact of what he calls a “toxic faith,” the other into a self-destructive spiral.

Where the Light Fell is a gripping family narrative set against a turbulent time in post-World War II America, shaped by the collision of Southern fundamentalism with the mounting pressures of the civil rights movement and '60s-era forces of social change. In piecing together his fragmented personal history and his search for redemption, Yancey gives testament to the enduring power of our hunger for truth and the possibility of faith rooted in grace instead of fear.

“I truly believe this is the one book I was put on earth to write,” says Yancey. “So many of the strands from my childhood — racial hostility, political division, culture wars — have resurfaced in modern form. Looking back points me forward.”

©2021 Philip Yancey (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"[Raw], honest, beautifully written, and at times searing . . . We live in a world that is always clouded by ungrace, by strife and anger and division, according to Yancey, and Christians should be on the other side . . . The pain of [Yancey’s] early life gives his words and his witness an authority and authenticity that he would otherwise not have. He has become, over time, a person to whom the wounded and the brokenhearted are drawn, compelled by his message of grace.”The Atlantic

Where the Light Fell is in many ways a classic spiritual autobiography tracing one man’s conversion from cynic to believer. But it’s more. It’s a searing family story as revelatory as gothic Southern fiction. It’s an exposé. It’s a social critique. It’s a tragedy. It’s a tale of redemption. . . . The memoir itself is an answer to the question that looms throughout: What do we do with the burdens, sins, and pain of our past?”Christianity Today

“Searing. Heartrending . . . This stunning tale reminds us that the only way to keep living is to ask God for the impossible: love, forgiveness, and hope.”—Kate Bowler, New York Times bestselling author of Everything Happens for a Reason 

What listeners say about Where the Light Fell

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The full sweep

Thoughtful, honest. The sections where he recounts the hijinks of kids trying to get through the hours and hours of church made me laugh out loud as I listened. I found myself nodding and smiling through descriptions of church services as seen through the eyes of a young boy, then sadly sighing as I listened other passages. I have read and been blessed by a few books by this author. It was instructive to get an idea of the background that informed them. Also, I loved the comparison between church and family, "a dysfunctional cluster of needy people." Seems like a working definition. I plan to read this one again soon, and will probably revisit his earlier titles.

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Do not miss this book!

Philip Yancey is a treasure… equal parts artist, observer, theologian, pilgrim. His story is a gripping, gutting guide for anyone who grew up in American evangelicalism and is today trying to come to terms with the ways it formed them. My experience was not as conservative as his, but the themes resonated and I found myself frequently stopping to let my own emotions freely flow. Yancey’s journey and the honesty with which he writes and recounts has given me much needed encouragement to keep going in the walk of faith. His reading/performance is exquisite and makes the narrative burst to life. I will be thinking about this book for a long time … don’t miss it!

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Achingly Honest

Most of us have a story to tell. Although this isn’t one of the worst stories, it is told with such honesty that I sit here thankful for a God who gave Mr. Yancy the ability to write it.

5 people found this helpful

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The most beautiful book I've read this year



I Had never realised that Yancey had such humble beginnings. His insight, his intellectualism and his articulate delivery give the impression that he has upper-middle class roots.
But no. He lived in a "trailer" for years as he grew up.
In this book, he has been so very vulnerable in the description of his life.
There are some heart-wrenching details, so if you're the type, have some Kleenex handy. But these very personal anecdotes are not gratuitous. They seem to be in the book because the story necessitates it. Without them, the resulting sanitised version would be inauthentic.
I recognise something I see in myself. That one is able to witness so much wrong in the church - to see the evil perpetrated by Christians - and yet believe that God is - and that God is love. That one is able to witness all that Yancy did and still defend the faith publicly in one's speaking and writing.
But its not all grim. Far from it. Yancey has an ability to draw humour out of that which we usually consider routine, everyday life.
The chapter on the South - especially if you listen to the Audible version - is well worth the price of the whole book. He had me laughing alone in my car.

As Yancey grew and matured, he recognised the lie he had been brought up in. He found the truth about racial inequality and the fallacy behind the "lost cause". It begs a question that I've asked so many times in the past, when I encounter people like Phil Yancey. The question is, how is it that they are able to see the obvious evil for what it is, when so many others of his demographic are simply blind to it?

All in all, this has been one of the most moving books I've read. It's now no wonder to me that Philip Yancey has written so many books that ask the most challenging questions. Books that explain the pain in life, as well as the grace of God and the joy in living.

5 people found this helpful

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Beautifully written.

Breathtaking honesty and compassionate grace woven together as a “prequel,” as he calls it, to all his other books. Highly recommend.

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Excellent Narration by Yancey

Longer Summary: A memoir of coming out of a fundamentalist, racists, and abusive upbringing. One reviewer described this as a prequel to his other books on grace and suffering. 

There are few names in Christian publishing that are more recognizable than Philip Yancey. He started his career writing for Campus Life and Christianity Today but became widely known for his books, most reflections on suffering and/or grace. Yancey has written about 30 books, depending on how you count books he contributed to or edited. And he has sold roughly 15 million copies of those books. He has been widely influential.

Philip Yancey is part of my parent's generation, turning 72 next month, and I think it is natural for authors to think about memoirs and influences at that point. It is not that younger authors can't also write memoirs; Danté Stewart's Shoutin' in the Fire is an excellent reflection of an author in his 30s. But memoirs that are written toward the end of life have a different type of reflective ability.

Where the Light Fell primarily deals with Yancey's childhood and early adulthood before he became a writer. This is a book about what influenced him with a final chapter that grapples with that history, one that I read twice. The book is unflinching but charitable. There is a lot of pain here. And a clear view of the impact of generational trauma. Yancey is not a Christian author that tends to tie everything up in neat bows. At the end, there is still pain and disfunction.

Philip Yancey was the youngest of two children, born in 1949, three years after his older brother. His parents had what appears to be a storybook romance. His father was in the military at the end of WWII. He was invited to the home of a church member after attending church soon after becoming a Christians. His mother was living with that family while supporting herself through college to become a teacher. They met and soon married. He soon became wrapped up with her dream of becoming a missionary to Africa. They finished bible school, and he taught at a black bible college in Atlanta as they raised support. But soon after Philip was born, his father contracted polio and died before Philip had a conscious memory of him.

It was only in his 20s while introducing his wife to his grandparents, that Philip saw a newspaper article that changed his understanding of that death. The article talked about how his father had left Grady Hospital, where he was in an iron lung, and went to a chiropractic rehabilitation center because he believed that he would be miraculously healed so that the family could go to Africa as missionaries. Unfortunately, days after leaving the iron lung, he died. Not long later, his widowed mother committed the two boys to be missionaries in Africa as a kind of consolation for the loss of her dream. She raised the boys in a strict fundamentalist holiness tradition. Her meager widow's pension was supplemented by bible teaching, both paid and unpaid roles.

Yancey is generous to his mother in many ways. Providing context to not just the difficult circumstances but also the culture and family history of his mother's upbringing and deprivation. But there is no question that this was an abusive household, primarily with tools of emotional and spiritual abuse. But within the context of overt racist, hierarchical theology and confrontational KJV-only fundamentalism. In being generous to his contexts, he does not shy away from the implications and harms of that background. Nor does he shy away from grappling with his complicity in racism or cruelty toward others.

Part of what his life of grappling with pain and suffering has meant is that grace is essential because we are in a world of suffering and pain. But grace does not mean that everything gets fixed. His still-living 96-year-old mother has never read any of his books. She still believes that Philip and his brother have sinned against God by not becoming missionaries as she desired. His brother has not directly talked to his mother in nearly 40 years, with only a few letters back and forth and Philip as an intermediary. His brother rejected Christianity in his 20s still identifies as an atheist.

The strength of Where the Light Fell is in the grappling, not just the story. Yancey is a talented writer. The book is gripping and challenging to put down. But the value isn't only the prose; it is also the theological reflection that seeks out grace even when it is hard to see.

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vulnerable and honest

Humans work hard to make God make sense when they are suffering . They are most vulnerable to getting it wrong. Yancey tells his story of his family's journey navigating pain, fear and disappointment.

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Super depressing

I love Yancey’s books, and thought maybe this memoir would offer something uplifting. It’s the opposite. It’s largely a story of immense tragedy with no happy ending. Grueling at times.

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Lots of detail!

I had to force myself to keep listening during the first chapters. There is A LOT of detail about the authors life…some that seemed it could have been left out. But as I continued, I began to see it all fitting together. It was a very interesting book and I would definitely recommend it.

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Things I never knew about Philip Yancey

I have enjoyed every one of Philip Yancey's books but this one opened up a whole new understanding and insight into his difficult and challenging life which made him into the humble, grace-filled man he is today. So if you like Philip Yancey's writing you should read this book because it adds a new dimension of understanding his primary themes of suffering and grace.

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