Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey

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Years ago my mentor led a church book study on What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey. I was struck by the concise, direct, but gentle writing. Yancey tackles difficult theological questions, particularly ones hurting people may struggle with. He takes difficult concepts and explains them in a practical way everyone can understand. I wondered how does one learn to write, think, and care about people like this? Where the Light Fell: A Memoir answers that question.


Yancey begins his memoir with his father’s tragic death, which haunts his family and leaves them in perpetual poverty. His father and mother had dreamed of being missionaries, and his father’s death leaves his mother asking God why. She never remarries and in a dramatic graveside proclamation places the weight of living up to that dream on her young sons.

Yancey may write the memoir from his perspective, but it is as much a story about his brother Marshall as it is about Philip. Their mother raised them in a southern, strict fundamentalist home in the turbulent 1960s outside of Atlanta. He recounts in vivid detail what that was like in home, church, and school.

“An upbringing under a wrathful God does not easily fade away.”

He and Marshall both faced all the issues of that highly volatile cultural moment. Add to that their mother’s fundamentalism and bitterness, and you get what Yancey calls “toxicity.” He recounts his first realization that he has been raised racist and his first realization that he’s what others call “white trash.” He ponders what their fundamentalist church has been preaching.

Marshall bears the brunt of his mother’s demands and exceptions. Both boys are exceptionally bright, but Marshall is a borderline genius and a musical prodigy. It’s not until they both are in a Christian college with some separation from their mother that the wounds really begin to fester, and the search for meaning begins. The two boys find very different ways to move forward and attempt to heal.

“The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.”

Where the Light Fell is a page turner. Yancey’s writing is like sitting in the backyard around a fire listening to a friend tell stories. There’s just something simple and beautiful about it. Yancey calls Where the Light Fell a kind of prequel to his other books.If you’ve ever read Yancey’s books, this memoir explains so much about the suffering and grace he makes his themes. If you haven’t read his books, this memoir will make you want to. You can get a copy here.