Philip Yancey

General Teachings/Activities

-  Philip Yancey is best known as the author of several books dealing with a Christian's relationship with God when undergoing hardship, specifically the books Where Is God When It Hurts? (1981) and Disappointment With God (1988) (see following paragraphs). [Other books by Yancey include Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, In His Image, Unhappy Secrets, Open Windows (1982) [art & Christianity], I Was Just Wondering (1989) [Q&A essays], Praying with the KGB (1992), The Bible Jesus Read (1999), What's So Amazing About Grace? (1998), The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), and most recently, Rumors of a Another World: What on Earth Are We Missing (2004).] Yancey is also an editor-at-large for the neo-evangelical publication Christianity Today and co-chair of the editorial board for Books and Culture, also a Christianity Today publication.

Yancey earned graduate degrees in Communications and English from Wheaton College Graduate School and the University of Chicago. He joined the staff of Campus Life Magazine in 1971, and worked there as Editor for eight years. Since 1978 Yancey has primarily concentrated on freelance writing. More than 600 of his articles have appeared in 80 different publications, including Reader's Digest, Publisher's Weekly, National Wildlife, Saturday Evening Post, Christian Century, and The Reformed JournalHis books have won eleven Gold Medallion Awards from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association and have sold more than five million copies.

Where Is God When It Hurts? was written by Yancey in 1981 while he was the editor of Campus Life magazine (a publication of the neo-evangelical/psychologized Youth For Christ). Though Yancey gives lip-service to the Biblical view that suffering in the lives of believers can be used by God for our benefit (but, according to Yancey, not for our punishment), the underlying theme appears to be that God is somewhat unjustified in hurting those He has decreed to love. This theme is more fully developed in Disappointment With God (see below). (In Where Is God When It Hurts?, Yancey also speaks favorably of the mental health establishment [psychiatric and psychological counseling], Mother Teresa, the "psychological pain of Abraham," the value of pursuing a social-activist agenda, the ecumenical movement, "psychological pain," and positive thinking/self-love/self-acceptance/self-confidence/self-therapy.)

Disappointment With God was written in 1988 and was endorsed by psychologizer Chuck Swindoll and neo-evangelical Vernon Grounds. Yancey attempts to answer three doubting/self-centered questions: (1) Is God listening to me?; (2) Can He be trusted?; and (3) Does He even exist? On the inside front jacket Yancey comments: "I wanted a God who would roll up His sleeves and step into my life with power ... [I] began to understand what God wants from human beings. God doesn't want to be analyzed. He just wants to be loved ... a passionate God -- hungry for the love of His people" (Emphasis added). [In chapter 24 titled, "Is God Unfair," Yancey even quotes favorably from pantheistic New Age psychologist M. Scott Peck (from The Road Less Traveled)!]

Yancey's concept of God is not Biblical. He seems to be saying throughout the book that God acts to bring suffering into our lives because we haven't loved Him properly. He also appears to believe that there are instances in which one can be justifiably "disappointed with God," even to the extent of directly voicing our disappointment to God. This would imply that God could do wrong, or at least act outside of our best interests!

-  Considering both Where Is God When It Hurts? and Disappointment With God, one must ask: Has there ever been a case were a Christian was justified in being "disappointed" with God? If so, would this not imply that God had in some way erred? And can any true believer really believe that God accepts being "raked over the coals" by one of his redeemed people? Is it then okay to get angry with God and "vent" our ill feelings and criticisms in His face and then say we have done no wrong? One can honestly sympathize with someone's pain and frustration when they or their loved ones suffer. Many have been tempted to rage and accuse God of meanness. But shouldn't one instead feel guilty about such thoughts or behavior, not told that this is acceptable for Christians? When we get angry with God, even merely disappointed with Him, we sin.

By telling people that they have done nothing wrong by "venting" their disappointment with God, God is not only misrepresented, but the offender is robbed of an opportunity to glorify God in times of trouble. We must admit that God is righteous and just in all He does, that He is sovereign over everything and every aspect of life, and that he is bringing us to maturity and holiness through painful hardship. Jim Owen, in his book Christian Psychology's War on God's Word: The Victimization of the Believer, accurately states the problem with an approach (like Yancey's) to handling hardship:

"Far too often, however, we resent and resist any interference on God's part that might deprive us of our deepest desires. Many Christians who sing, 'It is well with my soul,' are lying. It is not well with their souls because they are not persevering, and they have no intention of doing so, because they are bitter and hostile toward God and mourn over their 'victimization' at His hands. Others are little better, for they 'persevere' with a cold, stony, stoic demeanor that constantly reminds God how much they are doing for Him despite His lack of reciprocity" (p. 184).

-  More of Yancey's psychologizing can be documented. In Unhappy Secrets, Yancey speaks favorably of psychological self-love counselor Paul Tournier; quotes favorably from psychologist, spiritist/occultist, and anti-Christian, Carl Jung; and holds to the psychological concepts of unconditional self-regard/self-acceptance/self-forgiveness. In Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Yancey encourages us to support the likes of Mother Teresa and Billy Graham, and exhorts us to participate in small-group catharsis sessions, much like those developed by "John Wesley's Methodists."

-  The Chrysostom Society is another New Age group started by Richard Foster (of Renovaré fame). (It was named for St. John Chrysostom, a fourth-century mystic who became the archbishop of Constantinople. He later came to be known by the Romans as the Church Father.) It describes itself as a contemporary Christian writers group. Each year this group of twenty "writers of faith" gather together in a different state to talk about writing, to share manuscripts and frustrations, and to collectively write. They also contribute articles for their official magazine, Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion. In 1990, the Society gave birth to a book called Reality and the Vision, which contains the insights of eighteen members of the guild. Reality pays tribute to each of the writers' mentors -- those who most "stimulated their passion, and changed their lives in monumental ways." [Excerpted in part from The Trojan Horse: How the New Age Movement Infiltrates the Church by Brenda Scott and Samantha Smith, pp. 123-131.]

The editing task for Reality and the Vision was given to Philip Yancey. In reading the book, one finds members of the Society promoting both New Age paganism and Christianity. For example, throughout a chapter written by Karen Mains, we find endorsements of New Age ideas, such as Carl Jung's theory of the collective unconscious and an occultic Time of Beginnings. Mains asks, "And, should not we then cherish those rare few who can help us recover the buried memory, both individual and collective?" Why is this so-called Christian writer promoting the concepts of an occult psychologist? Where is Karen Mains getting this New Age heresy? And why is Philip Yancey the editor of this pseudo-mystical book? If this stuff routinely got by Yancey as editor, can we not say that he is in agreement with the New Age material in the book? Otherwise, wouldn't he have removed himself from the role of editor?

-  Philip Yancey on "Guidance": "The sociologist Bronislaw Malinowski suggests a distinction between magic and religion. Magic, he said, is when we manipulate the deities so that they perform our wishes; religion is when we subject ourselves to the will of the deities. True guidance cannot resemble magic, a way for God to give us shortcuts and genie bottles. It must, rather, fall under Malinowski's definition of religion. If so, it will occur in the context of a committed relationship between a Christian and his God."

NO! True guidance must fall under God's (not Malinowski's) definition of religion as stated in His Word. A major problem in the churches today is that man has become subjected to an inaccurate understanding of who God is and what He wants. This is the result of basing "God's will" on the traditions of men rather than the pure, unadulterated Word of God as it is clearly stated. [Source: Comments/Essays in The Answer To Happiness, Health, and Fulfillment in Life: The Holy Bible (with Selected Writings by Leading Inspirational Authors).] (Comments excerpted/adapted from Media Spotlight, Vol. 14 (1993), No. 1.)

-  Yancey co-authored an article on then President Bill Clinton's "faith" in the 4/25/94 Christianity Today. As expressed in a letter-to-the-editor in the 7/18/94 Christianity Today, Yancey believes that Clinton "appears to be a man of faith in a world that has no regard for faith. He (Clinton) is balancing these conflicting weights with remarkable success."

In the Foursquare World Advance magazine of Jan-Feb '94, when asked why he was among a group of "evangelical Christian leaders" who met with President Clinton on 10/18/93 at a private breakfast in the White House (since Clinton is pro-abortion and pro-homosexual), Jack Hayford said he respects the office of the presidency and "Finally, I believe in the power of presence. Just my being there would leave a deposit of some sort." He also said he has "deep love" for Clinton as "a human being," and views Clinton as "a personable, devoted public servant." Indeed. And it's what Clinton is devoted to that should be denounced by all real Christians. [Among the other attendees with Hayford were social radical and pantheist Tony Campolo, church growth movement guru and psychologizer Bill Hybels (who stayed overnight at the White House and helped Clinton set the agenda), psychologizer Philip Yancey, Bob Seiple of World Vision, and the psychologized president of Taylor University, Jay Kesler.] (Reported in the 4/94, Lofton Letter.)

Yancey again brought up Bill Clinton during a panel discussion at a conference on C. S. Lewis. Some on the panel had criticized other American Evangelicals (and fundamentalists, particularly) for fighting in the "culture wars" on everything from abortion to prayer in the schools to homosexuality. Addressing the 600-plus (mostly) "Evangelicals" present, Yancey ended his remarks by informing us that he had been privileged to meet and interview the president privately. And then he told us how Clinton had shared with him an important point, namely, that there is a difference between private morality and public morality. That piece of wisdom was left in our laps by an Evangelical leader as a saying worthy of all acceptance, though it came from a president with obvious self-interest in separating the two. [Source: "A Feel-Good Sacrament," James M. Kushiner, Touchstone magazine (, October 2000.]

-  Yancey has an unscriptural view of homosexuality and a dangerously perverted view of Biblical grace. In an interview with lesbian Candace Chellew-Hodge, Yancey spoke of his continued close friendship with homosexual Mel White, and said that love compels him to "show love and grace" ("Amazed by Grace: An Interview with author Philip Yancey," What Yancey fails to say is that love for sinners requires exposing their sin and the true grace of God results in a changed life (Matt. 3:7-8; Acts 26:20; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Eph. 2:8-10; 5:11; Titus 2:11-15; 1 John 5:3). Yancey goes on to say: "As I've attended gay and lesbian churches, I'm also saddened that the evangelical church by and large finds no place for homosexuals. I've met wonderful, committed Christians who attend MCC [Metropolitan Community Church -- a church specifically organized by and for homosexuals] churches, and I wish that the larger church had the benefit of their faith." (Source: FBIS, 11/16/04, "Friday Church News Notes.") 

Comments on two other statements by Yancey in the interview: (1) Yancey reduces the MANY PASSAGES of Scripture that identify sexual activity outside the confines of the God-ordained marriage relationship of one man and one woman [Gen. 1:27-28; 2:24] as being sinful, to "there are a FEW PASSAGES of scripture that give me pause"; and (2) Asked how can other evangelical Christians develop an attitude of grace (if not acceptance) toward gay and lesbian Christians? , Yancey says, "The only way is through personal exposure. ... Disapproving conservatives should have contact with those people, and vice versa. " Yancey encourages Christians to tolerate such sinful practices amongst professing Christians by having what he calls "contact" with such people, rather than disapprovingly confronting them. Measuring Yancey's comments against the teaching of the Word of God, Yancey is guilty of what Jude warned against in verse 4, namely of "turning the grace of God into lasciviousness." Yancey is either not equipped or simply unwilling to articulate God's clear views on this moral issue, and as a result, he is giving false spiritual hope and comfort to those who are in danger of suffering the same judgment as their 'sexually orientated ancestors'; as we read in Jude 7: "Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication and going after strange flesh, are set forth, for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." (Source: Cecil Andrews, "Take Heed" Ministries, 7/5/04.)

In a report written by Pastor Gary Gilley of Southern View Chapel, Gilley writes: "Yancey has a fundamental flaw that runs throughout all of his writings -- he doesn't always draw his thoughts and principles from Scripture … this serious flaw of not basing his concepts squarely upon the Scriptures eventually leads Yancey astray. Yancey does not know the difference between tolerance and arrogance; between grace and license; between boldness and harshness. By Yancey's definitions John the Baptist and Elijah would be men of "ungrace"; but God did not seem to think so … Certainly Jesus loved and spent time with prostitutes, but He did so to call them to repentance, not to accept their way of living. Yancey's method of dealing with a homosexual, who is also a church leader, may seem like "grace" to him, it may seem like what Jesus would do, but it is clearly out of sync with the teachings and examples of Scripture." (Source: 7/10/99 Review of What Is So Amazing About Grace?)

-  Christianity Today, with its blatant New Evangelical philosophy, is a very dangerous Christian publication. This was evident in the October 2003 issue. In the article "Holy Sex," Philip Yancey said, "In one sense, we are never more Godlike than in the act of sex." Where does the Bible support such a view? It does not, of course. This is an unscriptural philosophy that is more akin to Tantric Hinduism than to Biblical Christianity. Yancey spoke casually of having viewed pornography and of giving himself over to illicit lusts. He did not refer to these actions from an attitude of deep remorse and repentance, nor did he describe them as sinful and wicked. He spoke of them, rather, in psychological terms such as "the disconnect technique of sex." (Source: 11/7/03, FBIS.)

-  Liberal left-wing radical (and pro-homosexual) Tony Campolo has said that the people who make up the Christian Coalition represent only a minority of the Christian community. To counter the perception that the coalition is the sole voice for the believing community in the political arena, Campolo, along with other colleagues who do not identify themselves as part of the so-called Religious Right, launched a group called Call for Renewal. On May 23, 1995, Campolo and his group of self-proclaimed evangelicals called a news conference. They said they had had enough of politics as usual and stepped forward claiming to have a new vision for transcending Left and Right. Over one hundred "Christian leaders" from "a diversity of traditions" signed a document called the Cry for Renewal. The Call mounted its campaign both to dissent publicly from the Coalition's policies and perceived allegiances and to develop "a new way" for Christians to engage in politics (10/7/96, Christianity Today; and Renegade Prophet? A Look at the Teachings of Tony Campolo). In actuality, Campolo's organization is nothing but a front for liberal theology, that in effect, wants the Religious Right out of politics.

Campolo was just one of a number of evangelicals to sign on to the Cry for Renewal document. Some well known names include; Steve Haynor, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship; Karen and David Mains, Chapel of the Air Ministries; J.I. Packer, theologian (he also endorsed Campolo's Wake Up America! by Zondervan); Ted Engstrom, World Vision; and Phillip Yancey. These names are posted next to those Professor Ron Nash calls, "militantly evangelical." Some of the clearly non-evangelical names on the list are Marion Wright Edelman, Children's Defense Fund; Dr. James Forbes, Riverside Church; Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches; Mary Dennis, Maryknoll Justice and Peace; Roman Catholic J. Bryan Hehir; Dr. Paul Sherry, President of the United Church of Christ denomination and Edmond L. Browning of the Episcopal Church.

-  Yancey wrote an editorial article in the 7/18/94 issue of Christianity Today, in which he defends (as brethren "inside the tent") a multitude of neo-evangelicals, psychologizers, ecumenical social radicals, and New Agers:

"Everywhere I turn, it seems, I hear of Christians under attack -- not from secular humanists or fundamentalist Muslims, but from fellow members of the Christian community. Charles Colson ... Tony Campolo ... Karen Mains's career ... threatened by a boycott over what she has written about her dream life. And Eugene Peterson's New Testament paraphrase, The Message, has made him a target of those upset with anyone 'tampering with God's Word.' Richard Foster ... [is even] under suspicion as a New Ager.

"What has infected the Christian community with such outright meanness? The tactics used by some of the critics remind me of the worst attacks of Joseph McCarthy and the Reverend Carl McIntire, my heroes as I grew up in Southern fundamentalism. It was only later that I learned to recognize their conspiracy theories as a house of cards based on rumor, innuendo, and guilt by association."

Moreover, Yancey refers to the ecumenical/radically liberal Chicago Declaration II as "the conference of evangelical stalwarts." Yancey also defends Billy Graham, saying, "He [Graham] was savaged for inviting Catholics onto his platform, for golfing with John Kennedy, for meeting with Jews and liberal Christians, for traveling to communist countries. Yet he met all vituperation with soft words, humility, and a gentle spirit. Eventually, Graham's irenic spirit provided an umbrella that sheltered -- and helped to mature -- the entire evangelical movement. What will happen to that movement when Graham's peace-making spirit is no longer with us?"

Yancey seems to have forgotten (if he ever knew) that truth must take priority over love, and that love without truth is a false unity.

-  When Yancey pastored a church in Chicago, he let an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) chapter meet in the basement room of the church building. Yancey tells of one new church attendee who recalled "that a church that welcomes an AA group can't be all bad ..." Yancey goes on to praise the AA concept:

"[AA was] a solution to the church's tendency toward legalism and pride. AA's twelve steps, which have had such a revolutionary impact on so many lives, boil down to two basic principles: radical honesty and radical dependence. These are the very same principles expressed in the Lord's Prayer, Jesus' capsule summary of prayerfully living one day at a time. AA meetings, which do not tolerate a holier-than-thou front, insist on radical honesty from all. Members preface every comment with 'I'm an alcoholic' or 'I'm a drug addict.' Half of the twelve steps relate to human inability to change, a painful admission for any of us; the other half point to cure: radical dependence on a Higher Power and on fellow strugglers." (Reprinted from a Christianity Today article in the 2/20/94 Vista [Wesleyan Church Sunday School paper], "Where the High and Mighty Meet the Down and Dirty," pp. 2-3.)

This recommendation comes in spite of the overwhelming evidence that not only is AA largely ineffective in treating over-drinking, but that the atmosphere of almost all AA centers is consistently unbiblical, if not outright anti-Christian. AA is indeed proud of its ability to lead men to see their need of a Higher Power and encourages group members to discover or define for themselves what or who that Higher Power is. Yancey evidently has no conception of the New Age concepts being promoted by AA that are leading AA members to accept false gods as a substitute for the true, living, personal God of the Bible.

-  In a 2/3/97 Christianity Today article ("My Gallery of Saints"), Yancey again spews his false views about AA and its origins:

"I think of the thousands of chapters based on the Twelve Step program that meet in church basements, VFW halls, and living rooms all across the nation, any night of the week. The Christians who founded Alcoholics Anonymous faced the choice of whether to make it a restrictively Christian organization, or to found it on Christian principles and then set it free. They chose the latter option, and now millions of people in America look to that model -- based on dependence on a 'Higher Power' and on a supportive community -- as a lifeline against addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, and food."

AA's founders were not Christians! See 12 Steps to Destruction: Codependency/Recovery Heresies (Martin and Deidre Bobgan, EastGate Publishers, Santa Barbara, CA, 1991, 247 pages) for the facts on AA and its founders.

-  Yancey continues to be a fan of the AA/recovery movement. In his article titled "Lessons from Rock Bottom" (Christianity Today, Vol. 44, No. 8), Yancey contends that Christians have much to learn from the natural theologies of alcoholics and the recovery movement. He sees them as friendly allies rather than other religions. Yancey begins his article by saying, "In earlier times, some theologians wrote 'natural theologies' by first explicating the wonders of nature and then gradually moving toward theism, revelation, and Christian doctrine." This is a weak foundation on which to rest. Any form of natural theology is severely weakened and distorted by the noetic effects of the fall. Yancey says, "If I were writing a natural theology today, I think I would start with recovering alcoholics." Thus, Yancey builds on this faulty foundation of natural theology by equating fallen, sinful man ("recovering alcoholics") to "the wonders of nature." The "recovering alcoholics," as well as all fallen men, are severely limited by the unsearchable depths of man and the inability of fallen man to accurately know himself without the confusing intrusion of sinful biases. We who trust the Bible as sufficient for life and godliness say that the Bible is the sole authoritative source of understanding the human condition, including values, and the sole authoritative source of prescribing how one is to live. None of the humanly derived observations or strategies of "recovering alcoholics" or others can ever be regarded as possessing certainty or authority equal to that of Scripture.

Yancey says, "Anthropology, original sin, regeneration, sanctification -- the recovery movement contains within it seeds of all these doctrines." This statement is irrelevant and confusing. It is irrelevant as far as Christianity is concerned, because, if you replace the words "the recovery movement" with any one of the many major world religions, it would read equally well. If one believes that Jesus is the only "name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12), one must conclude that Yancey's statement is not just confusing. It is deceptive. It can be used to justify any world religion as well as the world religion of Alcoholics Anonymous. He may protest that he would not do that, but the truth is that AA opens the door to all religions (occultic, animistic, and otherwise). (Source: May-June 2001 and July-August 2001 issues of the PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter.)

-  Yancey claims that in seeking models for his 1997 book, What's So Amazing About Grace?, he "turned to imperfect people imparting love and acceptance in unlikely places: 'I have been to AA groups with friends. As I've been there, I keep thinking: "If only the church was like this." ... What I wish the church would be is a place where we're accepted by our failures ...'" Overall, the book is a polemic for the church as an evangelistic society, rather than the Biblical view of the church -- the pillar and support of the truth. (Source: 12/13/97, Houston Chronicle article -- "'Grace is Christianity's best gift to world,' author says.")

-  Yancey endorsed Bill Hybels' book Honest to God: "Bill has two very strange ideas about the church. One is that Sunday services should be open to (and enjoyed by) people who ordinarily wouldn't be caught dead in a pew. Another is the subject of this refreshing book." (Hybels is a psychologizer [e.g., he extols the virtues of Jungian personality theory in Honest to God] and is one of the leaders in the unbiblical "church growth" movement.)

-  Promise Keepers is the gigantic new (1991) "men's movement" among professing evangelical Christians. Its roots are Catholic and charismatic to the core. PK's contradictory stand on homosexuality; its promotion of secular psychology; its unscriptural feminizing of men; its depiction of Jesus as a "phallic messiah" tempted to perform homosexual acts; and its ecumenical and unbiblical teachings should dissuade any true Christian from participating. Promise Keepers is proving to be one of the most ungodly and misleading movements in the annals of Christian history.  Nevertheless, Philip Yancey is a promoter of this ecumenical, charismatic, psychologized men's movement as evidenced by his writing numerous daily "devotionals" for publication in PK's bi-monthly Men of Integrity ("your daily guide to the Bible and prayer").  

The National Pastors' Convention is an event sponsored by Youth Specialties (America's most influential evangelical organization for youth pastors and leaders), and Zondervan (publisher of The Purpose-Driven Life, the NIV-Message Parallel Bible, and evangelical distributor for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ DVD). The 2004 Convention began its daily program with contemplative prayer (see Richard Foster report) and  "Yoga & Stretching" exercises. Emerging church liturgies based upon Roman Catholic and Orthodox rituals and sacramentals were introduced, including daily "labyrinth prayer" opportunities. The latter is a meditative prayer walk around a circular, maze-like pattern copied from a floor design found in Chartres Cathedral. This mystical Catholic ritual dates back to the Middle Ages, when it became a substitute for journeying to the dangerous, Muslim-controlled Holy Land in order to trace the "Passion route" of Jesus. As Catholics walked the labyrinth and meditated on the sufferings of Christ in their imagination, they obtained the same indulgences (pardons that would shorten their time of suffering in Purgatory to expiate their sins) as for making the actual pilgrimage. The Convention's evening programs included Christian comedy acts, The Jesus Painter (who "paints portraits of Christ in under 20 minutes"), "Tribe Church Drumming Experience," "Personal Emotional Health Discussion," an "emergent Pub with Live Music," and "Late Night Contemplative Prayer Services." 

The greater percentage of speakers were practitioners of mystical Christian prayer and worship forms (referred to as "authentic faith"), and the rest appeared to be advocates of, or at least encouragers for, the development of new methodologies and liturgies for the emerging culture of the 21st century. One topic was titled, "A New Theology for a New World." The double-location conference attracted thousands, and featured many influential church leaders, including Gordon MacDonald, Henry Cloud, Brennan Manning, Dallas Willard, Joseph Stowell, Howard Hendricks, Gary Thomas, Tony Campolo, and Rick Warren. The 2005 convention promises to be more of the same, with Christian contemplative, experiential, and emerging church headliners such as Richard Foster, Calvin Miller, Philip Yancey, Ruth Haley Barton, Doug Pagitt, and Dan Kimball. (Source: 3/2005, The Berean Call.)

More on Disappointment with God: Philip Yancey's extremely popular book, Disappointment with God, ironically is packaged with a little yellow sticker that reads, "100% Money Back Guarantee. If for any reason you are dissatisfied with this book, return it postpaid … for a complete refund." It has not gone unnoticed that a book on disappointment with God promises not to disappoint -- and if it does you can get your money back. If God came with a warranty, perhaps He would fare better with today's "seekers."

Nevertheless, Yancey comes up with an interesting way of handling the "problem" when "bad things happen to good people." Pain and suffering can be laid on the doorstep of the devil, or of people, to be sure. But the real culprit seems to be life itself. Toward the end of the book, Yancey quotes favorably a friend who has learned to handle tragedy by separating life from God:

"I learned, first through my wife's illness and then especially through the accident, not to confuse God with life. I'm no stoic. I am as upset about what happened to me as anyone could be. I feel free to curse the unfairness of life and to vent all my grief and anger. But I believe God feels the same way about that accident -- grieved and angry. I don't blame him for what happened. … I have learned to see beyond the physical reality in this world to the spiritual reality. We tend to think, 'Life should be fair because God is fair.' But God is not life" (p. 183).

Yancey admits being a bit bothered with this strict separation of "physical reality" and "spiritual reality," but intrigued nevertheless (p. 184). According to Yancey's borrowed theory, God is at odds with life. He, personally, is fair and more than willing to do great things for us, but life (whatever that is) keeps getting in the way. Not only is "God not life," God can't even control life. He is left, along with us, wringing His hands in "grief and anger" at what life has done to His people. If only there was something He could do, but He lacks the power. But it is worse than that, concludes Yancey, "No one is exempt from tragedy or disappointment -- God himself was not exempt" (p. 186). How can we expect God to help us, He can't even help Himself. Yancey's basis for such a statement is the Cross. Just think, he recommends, of the tragedy and disappointment that God faced at the Cross. [How absurd! Without minimizing in any way the pain of the Cross, surely God never viewed it as a tragedy or a disappointment. God had foreordained long before the world was ever created that His Son would die on the cross (Acts 2:16). The Cross is God's power unto salvation for all mankind (I Corinthians 1:18; Romans 1:16,17). Certainly God was saddened at the Cross, as He is with all sin. But He is never disappointed, and views nothing as a tragedy. Yancey's God is far too human; no wonder he is disappointed.]

What kind of God is at the mercy of Satan, or people, or life in general? If we choose to believe in a God who is all-loving and all-merciful, if for no other reason than we cannot bear the thought that He is not, that leaves us with a God of one of two deficiencies. Either He is inadequate in power or He is lacking in knowledge. Either He does not have the strength to pull off what His kind heart would love to do, or He has insufficient "know-how." One might ask, do any Christian leaders who claim to be evangelical believe in such an insipid God? Unfortunately yes.

Philip Yancey speaks of God as One who takes risks. In the case of Job, for example, God was trying a little experiment. He was making a "wager" (Yancey's word) with the devil that Job would stay the course no matter what he had to suffer. God personally did not know if He was right and so He took a chance. As a matter of fact, this wager went so far, Yancey believes, that, "God 'risks' the future of the human experiment on a person's response" (p. 252). 

The human experiment?! Is the human race an experiment with God -- one in which He is uncertain about the outcome; a wager perhaps between God and the devil? Does Yancey believe that God is truly taking a gamble on how the world will turn out? Is God in danger of losing His investment in His children? If God is at risk to lose anything, then He is vulnerable; and if God is vulnerable, He is not the omnipotent One of the Bible.

This type of thinking is known as "open theism." Open theism, in short, is the view that God is bound by time just as we are. As a result, God, who we are assured by the Bible knows all things that are knowable, does not know the future because the future has not yet happened, and, thus, is unknowable, even to the Lord. God is extremely resourceful and can make excellent guesses about the future, but He can neither infallibly determine nor predict the future. In other words, He simply does not know how things are going to turn out. In Disappointment with God, Yancey's thesis is that God's highest goal is for His creatures to love Him freely. He has therefore chosen to limit His own power in order that we might be able to exercise free will in choosing to either love or reject God.

The open theist has chosen to retain the love of God, but at the expense of the power and knowledge of God. When faced with suffering, we can be certain of God's concern and sympathy. He is suffering right along with us -- and wishes He could do more, but simply cannot. In this system, God is not in any way responsible for evil or pain -- so that problem is solved; but we are left with an anemic God pacing heaven's floors as He hopelessly watches our plight on earth. One theologian summarizes it this way, "To abandon belief in the omnipotence of God may 'solve' the problem of evil, but the cost is enormous: the resulting God is incapable of helping us. He may be able to give us quite a bit of sympathy, and even groan along with us; but He clearly cannot help us -- not now, not in the future. There is no point praying to such a God and asking for help. He is already doing the best He can, poor chap, but He has reached the end of His resources" (How Long O Lord, p. 31).

In an attempt to shelter God and His reputation from any responsibility, directly or indirectly, for suffering or pain, Yancey has made Him into something less than God. (Source: Excerpted and/or adapted from "The Pain, The Pain," Gary Gilley, Think on These Things, September, 2000.) [Return to text]

Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 3/2005