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
A. Writers are strange animals. We leach life off others rather
lives of our own.
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
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
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!
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
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.
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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