Philip Yancey shares his secrets in Norwich
By Mike Wiltshire
2011: Top-selling author Philip Yancey, described as the most inspirational Christian writer of our day, told a packed audience in Norwich last night (May 18) of his own struggles with doubt in his search for the God of love – “if we think we’ve got ‘god’ figured out, that’s not God.”
He added: “With every deep question, I start with Jesus – the clearest expressions of what God is like.”
With book sales of more than 15 million copies in 35 languages, Philip Yancey’s friends range from the singer Bono to evangelist Dr Billy Graham, who says Yancey is the writer he most admires and appreciates in the evangelical world.
“I’m not a radical – only Jesus is radical,” said Yancey, who was speaking at the King’s Centre as part of his nationwide tour which also features the Saltmine Theatre Company.
A former magazine journalist in Chicago who has now written over 20 books, Yancey learned early on how to hold his readers’ attention. His blockbuster best-seller was “What’s so amazing about grace?” – and his latest book is called “What good is God?”
Early in life he hated church, having been taken to “a toxic, mean-spirited, racist fellowship” in Georgia that misrepresented God. “My writing theme has long been how to survive the worst church imaginable and somehow end up the arms of God.”
A keen mountaineer, he has climbed more than 50 peaks in his home state of Colorado. He loves the wonders of natures and likes to quote the words of the English writer, G.K.Chesterton, who said: “The worst moment for an atheist is when he feels a profound sense of gratitude – and has no-one to thank.”
Since the time Yancey came to faith in a loving God, has explored the most basic questions and deepest mysteries of the Christian faith, taking millions of readers with him. Early on he crafted best-selling books such as ‘Disappointment with God’ and ‘Where is God When it Hurts?’
He co-authored three books with the renowned English surgeon Dr. Paul Brand. “No one has influenced me more,” he says. “We had quite a trade: I gave words to his faith, and in the process he gave faith to my words.”
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 ‘Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?’
Four years ago, Yancey survived a broken neck in a major crash when his car rolled over five times off a mountain road.
Yancey describes himself as an “off-the-scale introvert” married to a lovely extrovert wife, Janet, who is a social worker and hospital chaplain. Writing is not easy, admits Yancey. “It is such an introspective act that I found myself looking for ways to connect with the planet bodily. My interests include skiing, climbing mountains, mountain-biking, golf, international travel, jogging, nature, theology (in small doses), politics, literature and classical music.”
He adds: “I write books for myself - I’m a pilgrim, recovering from a bad church upbringing, searching for a faith that makes its followers larger and not smaller. I feel overwhelming gratitude that I can make a living writing about the questions that most interest me. My books are a process of exploration and investigation of things I wonder about and worry about.”
Hosted by Dave Pope, CEO of Flame Trust, the Norwich event was a stimulating evening. The presentation was called “Seasons of the Soul” and was well supported by the Saltmine Theatre Company. Dave Pope described Yancey as “a great story teller and a great purveyor of truth.”
Yancey had tips for aspiring writers – “it’s a very hard and often lonely thing – I know of nothing harder, not even climbing mountains. But it’s a learnable skill. Start with a good sentence, then a good paragraph. Don’t do it alone – try to get feedback from other creative writers, so you must ‘connect’ with people.
“Learn to take criticism . . . and finally, I’ve found the more risks I take, the more success I’ve found.”
Pictured top is Philip Yancey on stage at the King's Centre in Norwich and, above, with wife Janet in Norwich.