At the end of the „Growing in Grace” conference featuring Philip Yancey as main speaker, our guest kindly offered us the next interview.
BIG: Usually, a journalist asks questions…well, now it’s the journalist’s time to answer! What was your first reaction when hearing about this speaking engagement in Romania?
P.Y.: First reaction was… I like going to countries I’ve never visited before and this is a European country and I always like to go to Europe. Both of those were positive reactions and probably that’s why we accepted it. And also the person who invited me also talked about the fact that many of my books were published here and I have many readers. I didn’t know. That was positive also.
BIG: You authored “Disappointment with God”. I would like to ask you if you’ve ever been disappointed with God. If you have, how did you overcome this?
P.Y.: Yes, I have. What I have learned to do is not to blame God for something that happens. For example when an illness happens or I had an accident and broke my neck, that’s not a time when I experience disappointment with God. In my book I talk about separating God from life. So if something bad happens in life I don’t automatically blame God as being the one responsible. So when I have experienced disappointments is more like, if I work all day for several days on an article and then I have a computer crash and I lose the article I think: I was doing this for you God and now it’s gone and how could I ever recover it? So it’s kind of an instinctive reaction if something bad happens. But it’s different than most people experience disappointment with God it’s usually on health matters or a tragedy or something like that.
BIG: You are known in Romania for your passion for grace. How comes a journalist like you gets to focus on such a topic?
P.Y.: The church I grew up in was a church in which I never experienced grace. Then I went to a Bible College and once again I didn’t feel grace. I felt laws, I felt judgment, I felt rules. And later I discovered that grace is the heart of the Gospel. So how can I grow up in church and go to a college that expresses the Gospel and miss the most central aspect of the Gospel?! So that was one of the reasons. And most people in America think that we can address our problems through politics, through passing rules, through passing laws so they would start being strong advocates for a cause like abortion or whatever important issues. But because they are doing it in democracy they would have enemies, they would become adversaries and the whole message of grace – loving those who disagree with you – got lost. So that’s why I wrote the book.
BIG: Frankly, some of my fellow nationals have been scared of your visit, due to some rumors I would like us to clarify, if possible. Therefore, I would like to ask what is Philip Yancey’s stance on homosexuals and homosexuality?
P.Y.: I deliberately don’t take a position on a lot of issues there because, you know, if I were a church elder, a church pastor I would have to do that, you have to have a policy. I’m not. I’m a freelancer, a writer, and it seems to me that one thing that is clear is that we need to show grace and love towards people, even to those we disagree with. Now, I have friends who are homosexuals and who are Christians, I truly believe they are Christians, who do not believe what they are doing is wrong. And they have not convinced me when they talk about what the Bible describes is not their version of homosexuality, I don’t find their arguments are convincing. But I’m not in charge, they preach their own conclusion and my job is not to judge them, my job is to express God’s love towards them. Even if they’re wrong and even if what they are doing is wrong, I’m not their judge, God is their judge. And the church by driving away people we disagree with…I don’t think we’ve been an agent of God’s grace and compassion towards these people.
BIG: If you were to summarize your teaching on grace in just one phrase, what would that be?
P.Y.: In what I came up with in my book was ‘There’s nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make God love us less. That an infinite God already loves us as much as is possible for love to be.’ That’s my summary of Grace.
BIG: Listening to your talks at this conference, I recognized in your uncle’s legalistic image, a pattern often found in Romanian churches, dealing with people who throw the sin overboard, along with the sinners. Do you have a short message for them?
P.Y.: Well a lot of them won’t read me and my uncle never did! (laughing) I would say to such people: Be prepared that you may fall. As my uncle did. You know my uncle thought he had all together and then he ends up in prison. Because he has never experienced grace, really, and he was trying to do all by himself. And people who hold on so tightly like that sometimes they just completely fall apart. So part of it is be prepared or else you fall. But even more important, do you realize what you’re missing in life? You know if you think you have to go through it to earn God’s approval through your behavior, you’re going to live a life of fear and insecurities. And we don’t need to do that, we can live a life of confidence and trust.
BIG: You are a prolific author. Is there a topic that is troubling you right now, that might be the birthplace of another book?
P.Y.: I would like to write a book… that is not an accurate description… I would like to write a book about apologetics which is simply a way of saying why I believe what I believe. Because I want to express to the unbeliever, to the one who have questions and doubters, because I was a doubter myself, and I would like to express my faith in a way that a doubter can understand and learn from.
BIG: After many difficult questions, let’s end with an easy one. What made you set this goal of reaching the highest 54 peaks in Colorado?
P.Y.: (Laughing) I’m very goal oriented and I like to check things up a list, for example when I decided to visit every church in the phone book in my town…twenty seven churches. So we did that! 1, 2, 3… And I started climbing the mountains in Colorado to get to know my new state. We have moved there from a city very unlike everything we have known. And I found I can do it, it was a very stretching experience and it caught me we’re just one tiny little speck, you know the mountains are huge and the nature goes on, we’re just one tiny little part of it. Especially when you live in a city it’s easy to think the world goes around me, when you’re in the mountains you realize ‘oh, no!’ The mountains don’t really care about you. And it was a place I was forced to experience long stretches of silence and beauty out of the normal routine. I couldn’t answer email, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t do anything except trying to get up the mountain and down the mountain and I found out to be a very healthy thing!
BIG: Thank you so much, Philip, both for this conference, and for your kindness in answering our questions.