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 site, where 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!