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Winter 2003 | Volume 26, Number 1

Grace: The Last Best Word

A Conversation With Philip Yancey

PHILIP YANCEY SPEAKS OF GRACE as a vast aquifer underlying the whole of Western civilization. It is grace that reminds us that every blessing comes from the hand of God “free of charge to people who do not deserve it.” Grace is, he says, “the last best word” because in more than 20 English usages, it always retains some of the glory of the original.

But for Yancey, the word is perhaps most important not because of what it means as much as what it did in his life. Grace changed him from an angry, hardened, even bitter person, into a passionate piper who, through his writings, “pipes the tune of grace” into appreciative readers the world over.

In an interview with Response, Yancey talked more about his own journey to grace and the important role that a Christian university such as Seattle Pacific, which strives to be grace-filled, plays in the lives of its students:

Q. In print, you sound restless and not easily satisfied. Are you?
A. Writers are strange animals. We leach life off others rather than have lives of our own. We’re always looking at the world, not living in it. I’m searching myself, and writing fits my personality. I hope I always struggle, always examine. I hope I never “arrive.” But I am more settled about my faith today than I was 10 to 15 years ago.

Q. Is your most recent book, Soul Survivor, in some way a culmination of everything you’ve written before?
A. Soul Survivor is personally revealing of my own search. Many of those who have read it are in the borderlands of belief. They have grown up in the church and have been wounded and misused by the church. Suspicious of classical Christianity, they are coming toward faith in other ways. These are probably not the same readers that (Max) Lucado and (Charles) Swindoll hear from, the people who are more settled in their faith.

Q. Do you correspond with your readers?
A. I respond to all my mail. It’s a burden and consequently my least favorite task. But Disappointment With God came out of that correspondence. Readers spark questions in my own life, and it’s about those that I write.

Q. Do you intend to be a burr under the saddle of the church?
A. I’m not the radical; Jesus is the radical. (He laughs.) These aren’t my ideas. Pick your quarrel with Jesus!

Q. What do you see as the role of the Christian university in the life of its students?
A. Not until university do kids see themselves as individual moral beings. Until then, it’s do what your parents say, do what the church says. Christian universities such as SPU provide the environment for personal decision-making to happen in a healthy and constructive way. They provide kids with a faith perspective in a variety of fields, be it science or psychology.

But the Christian university needs to make room for the doubters, the deviants, who in a sociological sense are those who deviate from an imposed norm. God has a soft spot for the rebel. I still have a lingering resentment that my Christian college practiced a kind of mind control. If you didn’t think like they did, you were made to feel like someone with leprosy. Crazy rules like hair length were justified with contorted scriptural reasoning. When a student finds out that the scriptural justification is untrue, it’s easy for him to throw his faith out along with the cultural trappings.

Q. How can SPU students find balance between the desire to make a living and the desire to be Christian servants who “give away their lives”?
A. There is a tension there. I make a living off what I do. I live in a comfortable place in Colorado with soft music in the background, not in the Sudan helping the starving. But I know that the most fulfilled people give up the good life in order to find the Good Life. I keep sounding that note because our culture barrages us with images of financial security, comfort and luxury as the symbols of success. My role is to further the work of people like Millard Fuller and Habitat for Humanity, or the medical work of Dr. Paul Brand, to give them money to do their work and to write about them. The culture of success won’t honor them.

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From the President SPU aims to take its vision to new spheres of influence and effectiveness. "I love finding those strategic, economic levers that allow us to allocate, align, realign and increase our resources — so that our vision might bear fruit,” says President Philip Eaton.

Homecoming 2003!
On Homecoming weekend, SPU’s campus lights up with music, theatre, high-flying hoops, the Talent Show and much-anticipated class reunions. [Campus]

An SPU Icon
Danna Wilder Davis completed what few others ever did at Seattle Pacific: Between 1924 to 1939, she went from first grade to college graduation in consecutive years on campus. [Alumni]

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation
Three faculty-led initiatives received SPU’s 2002-2003 Faculty Grants for Theology and Vocation. The grants will support projects that weave vocational themes into the curriculum. [Faculty]

My Response
“I’m the father of an AIDS orphan,” says Tim Dearborn, dean of the chapel at SPU, as he recounts his teenage daughter’s trip to Uganda. There she visited an AIDS orphan sponsored by the Dearborn family.