Popular Christian author draws large crowds to chapel

Whenever Philip Yancey attended chapel in college, he took a magazine with him.

A dean confronted him about his behavior, inquiring how he thought the speaker felt about seeing him there, reading instead of listening.

Yancey replied that he could read and listen at the same time, but in his heart lay a different answer. Yancey believed the speakers didn’t notice his lack of attention because they weren’t speaking to him. They were speaking to the 90 percent of the student body who listened wide-eyed and attentive; the other 10 percent were seen as inconsequential.

God disagrees with this view, Yancey said.

"He’s got a soft spot for those 10 percent," he said.

Yancey, who has published numerous books exploring the gray areas of theology, addressed that overlooked percentage in a series of talks at SPU on Thursday. He reminded the skeptics in the audience that God allows and encourages questioning.

"The sovereign God, the one being in the universe that has a right to be a control freak, always errs on the side of freedom," he said, and added that all of the evidence is right in the Bible–the very word "Israel" means "one who wrestles with God."

The reason the stories are about the prodigal son and the good Samaritan, not the obedient son and the good Jew, Yancey pointed out, is because God is famous for taking unlikely people and making them into heroes.

Yancey also asserted that Voltaire, Hume and the other great agnostics/atheists were preceded in their anti-God sentiments by biblical characters.

"I have been unable to find any argumentation in philosophy against the existence of God that I can’t find in sacred Scripture," he said, adding that he respects a God who not only gives his people the freedom to doubt, but also gives them the words to do so.

Yancey believes that even when people reject Jesus, Jesus continues to care about them as much as he did before. He cited the example of the rich man who approached Jesus, asking what he needed to do to be saved. When Jesus told him to give up his possessions and follow him, the man said he did not think he could do that and turned away and left. Mark writes, "and Jesus loved him."

Jesus loved a man who had just refused Him to His face, Yancey said, and so it would be reasonable to conclude that Jesus does not turn His back on those who turn their backs on Him.

A temporary rejection of Jesus is not to be confused with blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, according to Yancey. He acknowledged this as the "unforgivable sin" in the afternoon question-and-answer session. To truly blaspheme the Holy Spirit, one must make a final and conscious decision to reject Jesus and embrace the forces of evil. In other words, Yancey said, "if you have a guilty conscience, you haven’t done it."

So, what is a doubter to do?

To begin with, Yancey said, doubters must start by searching.

"Let God know that you care, and that you want it to happen," he said.

He also recommended that skeptical Christians talk to someone on their spiritual wavelength.

"My word of advice is to find ‘doubt companions,’ people you can be safe with … someone who says ‘Man, I kind of know what you mean,’" he said. He described Christianity as a religion that should come with "don’t try to practice alone" labels, similar to the "don’t try this at home" disclaimers on stunt videos, because not everyone operates at the same level, and people can learn things from one another.

In his evening speech at the First Free Methodist Church, Yancey stressed that the doubters, the sinners and the lost sheep are the people who benefit the most from the free and grace-filled nature of God.

"That’s what grace is all about," he told the crowd that spilled from the pews into the aisles and densely populated the floor. "Grace, like water, flows always to the lowest part."

Above all, Yancey emphasized the necessity of realizing that doubt is a natural part of God’s plan, and that the best course of action is to keep trying to find answers.

"All your life you will have two voices," he said, one that says "can’t" and one that says "can …. I think the fact that there are two voices is God’s vote of confidence in humans."

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Title: Popular Christian author draws large crowds to chapel | Author: Melissa Forbes | Section: News | Published Date: 2002-11-27 | Internal ID: 2996