We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What to do About Philip Yancey

Philip Yancey is a well-known Christian author of books and magazine articles.  He writes on various subjects, but often not with a lot of theological “meat.”  But there have been things about Yancey which have disturbed me over the years to the point that I decided to do some research to see if what snippets I’ve read about him are actually indicative of his belief system.  I have to report that the snippets were indeed indicative of Yancey’s often dangerous beliefs.
The first place I looked was Yancey’s web sitewhere I read his responses to various questions.  Here are a few of these for your review:
In regards to a question about trends in the U.S. churches, Yancey had this to say:
“I take hope in the fact that the Spirit always finds a new way of breaking out in the church.  Remember the Jesus movement, in which hippies, the least likely group, led the way to Christ.  And the charismatic movement, which has spread worldwide.  Now the emergent church has emerged, which brings new forms to an old institution.  Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, and that gives me hope.  God will always find a way; all God needs is willing hearts.”
Notice Yancey speaks with approval of these movements, which I find problematic because I don’t think the Holy Spirit was behind all this, especially the emergent movement!  But the follow-up question was also disheartening:
Where do you think the Church will go in the next 10 years?
Sorry, I’m a freelance writer and not a prophet.  You should talk to someone like Leonard Sweet or Phillip Jenkins. 
I don’t know who Phillip Jenkins is, but that Yancey would direct anyone to Sweet, who is known for his New Age and Emergent leanings, says a lot about Yancey’s lack of discernment.
One subject which I find very disconcerting is Yancey’s stance on homosexuality:
Do I agree with gay Christians’ interpretations of the six passages in the Bible that may or may not relate to their behavior?  No. They may be right, but so far I’m unconvinced.  I also disapprove of sexual promiscuity, whether of the hetero- or homo- variety.  I agree that the temptation and the homosexual orientation are not sin.  Beyond that, I stubbornly refuse to answer.  I’ll let others debate the morality and the biblical exegesis, and plenty of people seem willing to do so.
Yancey says these passages “may or may not” relate to homosexual behavior!  And he refuses to take a stance to say homosexual behavior is wrong, which is something I came across often in my research.  

Here is another example from his site:
What do you think about gay churches?
I’ve attended a few gay and lesbian churches, and it saddens me that the evangelical church by and large finds no place for homosexuals.  I’ve met wonderful, committed Christians who attend Metropolitan Community Churches, and I wish that the larger church had the benefit of their faith.  At the same time, I think it’s unhealthy to have an entire denomination formed around this one particular issue—those people need exposure to and inclusion in the wider Body of Christ. When it gets to particular matters of policy, like ordaining gay and lesbian ministers, I’m confused, like a lot of people.  There are a few—not many, but a few—passages of Scripture that bring me up short.  Frankly, I don’t know the answer to those questions.  I’m a freelancer, not an official church representative, and I have the luxury of saying simply, “Here’s what I think, but I really don’t know,” rather than trying to set church policy.
Should the Church “find a place” for homosexuals?  Yes - the same place they find for all other sexual sinners; fornicators, adulterers, etc.  The place is at the foot of the cross as they repent of their sexual sins. What sort of “faith” do Yancey’s “gay” friends have if they think God approves of their sexual behavior? And he approvingly cites the Metropolitan Community Churches, bastions of apostasy that they are!  He finds the subject of ordaining “gays and lesbians” as ministers to be confusing; has he ever really studied what the Bible says on this matter?  It isn’t confusing at all! 
Yancey gives tacit approval to the homosexual community as long as they claim to be Christian.  Apprising Ministries has a good article about Yancey’s involvement with “Gay Christian Network”.  And "DefendingContending" discusses the problems with Yancey being a keynote speaker at the 2011 “Gay Christian Network’s” conference.
An interesting analysis of Yancey’s teachings in his books and other media comes from a site in Ireland, no less!  The author of this site shows how Yancey fits the teacher described in Jude 4.  I recommend this page for your perusal.

Leanne Payne has an excellent article about the problem of using grace to excuse homosexuality, as she reviews Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace?  Here is an excerpt:
Far more subtle is the influence of White upon Philip Yancey. The prolific writer featured White in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?, showcasing White and his friendship with him as a powerful example of God’s grace. Though the author does not embrace all of White’s choices, Yancey highlights a man who has become the most influential gay Christian of our day. Inadvertently, the author provides an ungodly bridge between a false prophet (White) and thousands of readers seeking clarity in the area of homosexuality. Perhaps Yancey’s inclusion of White in his book is an example of one who has “secretly slipped in among” us in order to “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4).
Grace without truth is deadly. It plays upon our sentiments. “I want to be a nice guy. I do not want to give a hurting person any more trouble. Didn’t Jesus include the outcasts?” Our desire to be merciful is understandable but uninformed. Sentimentalism distorts the essence of the homosexual conflict; it promotes a dramatic view of the self, which only distances the struggler from his cure.
And it distances one from the real good news of the Gospel. To be sure, Jesus first called the religious hypocrites to repentance. But He then called His followers to deal forthrightly with their sin (Luke 7:36-50; John 8:1-12). To ignore the latter is to scramble the witness of Christ and to set up vulnerable ones for deception.
Men and women facing profound same-sex vulnerabilities require the fullness of grace and truth. Without that fullness, we can readily mislead God’s people into powerful deception. What if I had gone to a Manning or a White at the onset of my healing journey? Perhaps we as Christians are far too naïve in what and who we take in.
Another review of What’s So Amazing About Grace can be found here.  Notice the author not only mentions the problem of Yancey’s beliefs about homosexuality, but he also discusses Yancey’s problems with ecumenicism as well as his problems of associating with false teachers (e.g. Tony Campolo) and psychology.
Speaking of Yancey’s ecumenical stance, here is another response to a question on his site, in reference to politics:
What hopes do you hold for inter-faith communication in a world of political and spiritual division?
The three faiths of Abraham (Islam, Judaism, Christianity) have so much in common, including the entire Old Testament, shared stories, and a similar morality.  For one thing, I wish moderate Muslims would speak out more openly against the extremists who are giving their religion a bad name (we Christians have had our turn, of course).  And I wish Christians would be more humble in letting God pick out the weeds from the crops, to borrow a metaphor from Jesus.  I don’t see Jesus twisting arms and imposing beliefs on people.  He won their hearts in a different way.
His favorable support of Islam is unconscionable, and his ignorance of the teachings of Islam is blatant in his belief that there is such thing as a “moderate” Muslim.  
Another example of this ignorance comes from an article in Christianity Today, where he again is calling an ecumenical movement void of doctrine:
Perhaps our day calls for a new kind of ecumenical movement: not of doctrine, nor even of religious unity, but one that builds on what Jews, Christians, and Muslims hold in common, for the sake of mutual survival. ...
As Heschel pointed out, Jews and Christians (and I would add Muslims) share the belief that this world with its history belongs not to us but to God. We disagree over important doctrines, but are united "in our being accountable to God, our being objects of God's concern, precious in his eyes."  Indeed, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have much in common: They honor the authority of Moses and the Hebrew prophets; they believe in the Creator, the God of Abraham; they want to fulfill God's commands of justice and mercy; they see life as sacred. All three acknowledge that we must oppose evil with a holiness that begins with a proper humility before a sovereign God.
Tim Challies reviewed Yancey’s book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?  Challies discusses Yancey’s propensity to respect false teachers and dubious mystics:
A further disturbing theme in the book is Yancey’s respect for all manner of perceived spiritual authorities. He affirms Mother Teresa and Martin Luther as equal authorities on prayer, even in the same sentence (and I don’t think he quotes anyone with greater respect or frequency than Mother Teresa). He often quotes Jewish rabbis as if their theology of prayer should be taken as equal to those who love Jesus Christ and who have submitted their lives and their beliefs to the New Testament. A vast quantity of the answers Yancey provides are based on the writing of people whose beliefs would not align with historic Protestantism and hence with Scripture. And, while this book is not a “how-to” guide, it does include an appendix that lists a wide variety of recommended resources. Among these are a great number of books that promote mysticism, contemplative prayer, lectio divina, Roman Catholic prayer guides and the like. There is a recommendation to a book that “gives guidance to different personalities, following the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test” (something Jesus surely overlooked when teaching us to pray). In fact, the good resources are by far outweighed by the dubious or those that are just plain bad. For example, a section dealing with collections of prayers points readers to the Roman Catholic collection Christian Prayer: Liturgy of the Hours (which, as we might expect includes prayers to Mary) while overlooking classics like The Valley of Vision.
Further evidence of Yancey’s support for secular psychology and mysticism is the fact that he is friends with, and promotes, mystic Brennan Manning,  as well as being part of the Recovery movement.  Yancey is also part of the Renovare group, which promotes contemplative prayer.  And finally, more from Yancey’s own words about his support of mystics comes from The Berean Call,  from which I draw this excerpt:
Now, Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from Publisher’s Weekly, August 28, 2006, with a headline: PW talks with Philip Yancey. The following are excerpts: Publisher’s Weekly: Many of your books have been about how Christians feel the burden of spiritual practice. Which writers most influenced your thinking about prayer? Philip Yancey: No Protestants come to mind, to be honest, so, much I have learned about prayer is from the Catholics. One book I discovered was by Mark Phibido, called, Arm Chair Mystic. Of course, if you want to go deeper, there’s Thomas Merton.
When Yancey has had questions brought to him about his association with mysticism, he has been against correction, even denouncing those who would dare suggest that he is promoting false doctrine.  Again, The Berean Call has a report about this:
Unfortunately, Christianity Today seems to defend error instead of expose it. In a recent editorial, Philip Yancey rejects all correction as "Christian McCarthyism," the title of his article. Numerous leaders are defended for their false doctrine and not by dealing with the serious issues their critics raise, but by a dishonest whitewash.  For example, Yancey says, "Richard Foster dares to use words like meditation ...which puts him under suspicion as a New Ager." In fact, Foster gave detailed instructions on how to practice Eastern meditation to the extent that the visualized image of Jesus comes to life: "you can actually encounter the living Christ in the event, be addressed by His voice and be touched by His healing power....Jesus Christ will actually come to you.” Numerous Christian leaders around the world have joined Foster in his Renovaré movement for reviving Eastern mysticism in the church.  There is a similar exoneration of Karen Mains, who Yancey says has merely "written about her dream life." He fails even to mention the occultic delusion she promotes in her book Lonely No More.
The last evidence against Philip Yancey as a Christian teacher is an article from Biblical Discernment Ministries.   It is a quite thorough article about Yancey’s false teachings and beliefs, which goes much beyond the few things I’ve itemized in this article.  I think a major problem is exposed in this paragraph discussing apologist Gary Gilley’s review of What’s So Amazing About Grace?
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.
My case against Philip Yancey has demonstrated him to be a follower and promoter of New Age mysticism in its many permutations, a teacher of unbiblical secular psychological theories, a teacher of varieties of ecumenicism; that he often fails to base his beliefs and teachings on the clear Word of God, that he defends homosexuality, approves of the Emergent movement, and has demonstrated ignorance of the Islamic faith.  To top it all off, he rejects correction, denigrating those who would dare point out error.
So what do we do about Philip Yancey?  Avoid him like the plague!


Yvonne said...

Excellent coverage of Yancy's positions, Glenn.

When RBC's 'Our Daily Bread' devotional started including Yancy's writings, it became apparent to me that they were going down hill fast. It was not difficult to tell the difference in what/how he wrote compared to the other contributors. Too bad they do not take the time to do the research on this fellow as you have.

4simpsons said...

Thanks for the thorough research! I used to think he was OK, then a bit iffy, now I see how bad he is.

Committed Christian said...

Here and there I hear his name being brought up and I wondered who he was. I heard about the book What's So Amazing About Grace and thought that sounded like it might be interesting...not any more!

Anonymous said...

I too, noticed the ODB devotionals had Philip Yancey as a contributor. I had emailed them my concern and never heard back from them. I attempted to read one of his books (to give him the benefit of the doubt over what I've been hearing about him), but couldn't get past 2 chapters. All the quotes he used from RCC mystics was just too much for me to bear. It's a shame so many endorse him when he's so misleading and spiritually dangerous.

Anonymous said...

My former female pastor loved his What's so amazing about grace book and wanted everyone to read it and it was a Bible study for long enough. Yet even as a young Christian I didn't like it the study (never read it as a book) yet I couldn't tell you why because although I read the Bible daily I didn't know enough to articulate Biblically my unease. In addition the whole 'Bible Study' of it made me feel I was totally lacking in any grace at all

A few years later that female pastor was stood down by an enforced sabbatical for division and I left not long after at the Lord's direction..for senior pastor's loose theology and God is the father of everybody and God loves everybody plus not protecting the flock from the wolves.

Now I would no longer attend a church who has female pastors and teaches the misshmash of various teachings that I sat under for 5 years. Praise God for opening my spiritual eyes.

Anonymous said...

I just read Yancey's book on Prayer. He has a low view on healing and says we should not have high expectations that God will heal. This man is doing damage to the body of Christ. After only reading one chapter, I am returning the book to the library.

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of what you have said, however you are very one sided. It would seem that you are imposing your opinion about Philip Yancey onto your readers and not letting them think for themselves.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I am not imposing my opinion on anyone. I am giving the details about Yancey and his beliefs. Compare what he says to Scripture.

My whole point of this blog is get people to think for themselves. Compare what they read or hear with what the Bible teaches.

Now, you've called me "one-sided." That is correct - the side I take is the side of truth. If you can demonstrate what I've written here is in error, please do so.

Anonymous said...

No matter hw articulate n gifted,what matters is exposing wrong attitudes like twads homos.He should stop compromising.IT SOUNDS AS homos to b 1 of other sins.but yance's stance about deliverance from this bondage of sin not clear.MIND HOW DEMONS OPERATE IN HOMOS.SO ZEY Nd total deliverance.JESUS HAS NEVER N EVER COMPROMIZED.WAKE UP N FOLLOW HIS FOOT STEPS.homos nd to come at z feet of Jesus with all thier heart for total deliverance.RECOMMEND THEM N ALL CHRISTIANS 2 READ DP.REBECCA BRowns books,"becoming vessel of honor".GOD PUTS HIS GIFT INTO HIS CHURCH.PLZ PHILIP YANCY READ HER BOOKS.NOT TOO good 2 b theologian.C HOMOS FROM SPIRITUAL SIDE.PHILIP YANCEY WAKE UP,READ ROME:1:24-32 PRAYErfully.MAY GOD ENLIGHTEN HIS WORD ON U.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...


Your comment is very difficult to read, so I suggest in the future you be more careful of your spelling and use of caps, etc.

If you are a Christian, then your continued use of "homos" is not proper, since it is used derisively.

You suggest demons "operate in homos," yet I would suggest that there are very few homosexuals in the world who are demonically possessed, rather they are just sinful people who choose to engage in perverse sexual activity.

You suggest/recommend Rebecca Brown's books. Brown is a false teacher and her books are totally unbiblical. It appears that your understanding of demons is from her rather than the Bible.

promote love said...

Yancey is by far one of the most reasonable Christian I have had the pleasure of reading. While you are entitled to your opinion, I think you miss the whole point which he tries to bring out, love and respect for humanity despite differences. I get him. Because, as a person who has lived in a country where I have witnessed people getting murdered for not belonging to the 'right' tribe, then I know better than to regard homosexuals as 'sinful' just because I don't get them. Its not like their is a sin meter that determines which is a lesser or bigger sin than another. I think if we spend as much energy focusing on building each other, promoting love, rather than pointing out the 'flaws' of those trying to promote that, the world would be a much better place. Better use of our energies me thinks

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

“promote love”

Phillip Yancey is a false teacher for the reasons given. It doesn’t really matter what his point is, if he is a false teacher, does it?

Those who practice homosexual behavior are indeed sinning with that behavior. God has called it an abomination to him. So, if this is God’s attitude, should we, as Christians, be enabling people by affirming them in this sin? Should we affirm the adulterer? Or the fornicator?

You said Its not like their is a sin meter that determines which is a lesser or bigger sin than another. Well, since God instituted capital punishment for some crimes and restitution for others, doesn’t that say that God sees some sins as worse than others? Have you read what Paul said in 1 Cor. 6:18 about the difference between sexual sins and all other sins? Doesn’t that say that sexual sins are worse in degree than other sins?

In your next-to-last sentence, are you saying that we are to ignore Scripture which says we are to expose false teachings?