Rumors Of Another World
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 neighbor'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.
Badlands of Unbelief
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 new book, Rumors of Another World, he does not want to focus on toxic churches and abusive religion. "I admit that I am at times a reluctant Christian, plagued by doubts and 'in recovery' from bad church encounters. I have explored these experiences in other books, and so I determined not to mine my past yet again in this one. I am 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 has 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.
Bastions of Fundamentalism
Yancey has heard from scores of readers who were brought up in hyper-conservative congregations with manmade rules that God never intended to impart. "It's a cultic mentality that says, 'We have a corner on the truth, and only we have a corner on the truth. You've got to follow us.' In the church I attended as a boy, there were about 150 people and we believed about 160 people would be going to heaven!"
Often these churches are filled with well-intentioned people who feel they have all the answers, but in reality they do not. Yancey says his travel all over the world has introduced him to many church-going Christians who find it difficult to articulate why they believe as they do, a question he realized he needed to answer himself. "If I were asked to explain my faith to a Muslim or an atheist, what would I say? That question prompted this book. I wrote it not so much to convince anyone else as to think out loud in hopes of coming to terms with my own faith. Does religious faith make sense in a world of the Hubble telescope and the Internet? Have we figured out the basics of life or is some important ingredient missing? C. S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book titled Mere Christianity, and I have narrowed that range even further, to Even More Mere Christianity."
Life Without Walls-or Borders
Yancey insists that a spiritually healthy person is "fully alive." "He or she is not closed off, with blinders on, pulling in, afraid to sample the world. Instead, this person is utterly convinced this is God's world, and he is here to explore and to reach out and to try to represent God and His hands in this world. Of course, that does involve care for the needy, but it also means flat out enjoying the great goodness of this world around us. I look at the spiritually healthy people in the Bible and they are some real characters, every one of them! They're wild people. They're out of the box. We're not supposed to be cookie cutter, uptight people."
In his own extensive travel to dozens of distant countries, Yancey believes it is vital for Christians to understand grace, embrace diversity, and have an international perspective. "When you start viewing your own life through different eyes, it helps expand vision. That's been very helpful for me. Encouraging curiosity is good. I worry about Christians who turn on Christian radio when they get up and watch Christian TV and go to Christian bookstores, and have Christian yellow pages to determine where to get their car repaired and their rug shampooed -I don't think that is what Jesus had in mind at all. If anything, He was going away from people like Him and reaching out to others. That keeps you from being in-grown and shakes up your faith."
In the Borderlands of Belief
His newest book, Rumors of Another World, is destined to become the title that catapults Yancey's works firmly into the hands of hungry, but unsure faith-seekers. "This book is for people in the borderlands of belief," he says, "those who probably have a strong hunch there is something real about the whole spiritual thing, but who haven't found that realized in a fruitful way in a church setting. It is the people who are suspiciously circling the church that I have in mind with this book, those wondering: 'Is there a God? How can I know? What difference does it make in my life?'"
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 are very upset about certain aspects of Christianity. I feel called to speak to those living in the borderlands of faith."