Growing up in a strict, fundamentalist church in the Deep South, a young Philip Yancey was impelled to view God as an abusive parent – rigid, legalistic, angry, ready to bring the gavel down for one wrong misstep.
Perhaps the most confusing aspect of Yancey’s early years was that a residue of Christian mercy remained in his church. If a neighbour’s house burned down, Yancey’s congregation would be the first at the scene to show charity – if, that is, the house belonged to a white man and someone who shared his church’s unbending theology. His church leaders even urged Yancey’s ailing father to take himself off of the iron lung machine that kept him breathing, assuring him he would be healed. The elder Yancey died a week later, when Philip was only one year old. Yancey’s only window to the real world as a young man was reading. So, he devoured books -books that opened his mind, challenged his upbringing, and went against everything he had been taught, like 1984, Animal Farm, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The more he read, the more frustrated he became. A sense of betrayal engulfed him. “I was an angry, wounded person emerging from a toxic church, and I’ve been in recovery ever since,” says Yancey. “I went through a period of reacting against everything I was taught and even throwing my faith completely away at one point. I began my journey back to faith mainly by encountering a world that was quite different than I had been taught about; a world of beauty and goodness. As I experienced that, I realized maybe God had been misrepresented to me. So, I went back, warily circling around the faith.” As Yancey researched, pondered, and explored deep questions about faith, he wrote – taking millions of readers with him as he passionately crafted best-selling books, such as Disappointment with God and Where is God When it Hurts? (He currently has more than 13 million books in print.) More recently, he has felt the freedom to explore central issues of the Christian faith, penning award-winning titles, such as The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace? However, in his book, Rumors of Another World, he does not want to focus on toxic churches and abusive religion. “I admit that I’m at times a reluctant Christian, plagued by doubts and ‘in recovery’ from bad church encounters. I’ve explored these experiences in other books, and so I determined not to mine my past yet again in this one. I’m fully aware of all the reasons not to believe. Yet Rumors is my attempt to discover for myself why I do believe.” “I write books for myself,” he says. “I write books to resolve things that are bothering me, things I don’t have answers to. My books are a process of exploration and investigation. So, I tend to tackle different problems related to faith, things of concern to me, things I wonder about and worry about.” Yancey writes with a journalist’s eye for detail, irony and honest skepticism. Yancey spent most of his adult years in Chicago, writing for a wide variety of magazines including Reader’s Digest, Saturday Evening Post, National Wildlife and Christianity Today. He’s interviewed diverse people enriched by their personal faith like President Jimmy Carter, Habitat for Humanity Founder Millard Fuller and humanitarian Dame Cicely Saunders. He earned graduate degrees in Communication and English from Wheaton College and the University of Chicago. So, just how does a man who’s been through all Yancey has, draw close to the God he once feared? He spends about an hour each morning reading spiritually nourishing books, meditating, praying, and enjoying God’s presence. This morning time, he says, is spent simply “aligning” himself with God for the day. Then in the afternoon he reads the Bible, about a chapter a day. “I try to make it less of a study and more of, ‘What can I discern about God speaking to me?’” “I tend to go back to the Bible as a model, because I don’t know a more honest book.” Yancey explains. “I can’t think of any argument against God that isn’t already included in the Bible. So, for those who struggle with my books, I just say, ‘Then, you really shouldn’t be reading them.’ But some people do need the kinds of books I write. They’ve been burned by the church or they’re very upset about certain aspects of Christianity. I feel called to speak to those living in the borderlands of faith.”
Recorded at Greenbelt 2008: Saturday at 16.30 in Rise
Recorded at Greenbelt 2008: Sunday at 10.00 in Centaur
Recorded at Greenbelt 2008: Sunday at 18.15 in Rise
Why is it that God sometimes seems close and sometimes far away, sometimes answers prayers and sometimes doesn’t? Does life with God progress through any predictable stages and patterns? How can you tell an immature Christian from a mature one? Warning: the answers to these questions may be different than you think.