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Philip Yancey: church is a broken witness

Editor-at-large for Christianity Today Philip Yancey issued a challenge to Queensland. Photo by Bruce Mullan
WITH MORE than 14 million books in print, award winning US author Philip Yancey surprised a Brisbane business luncheon by announcing he didn’t have any answers to offer.

“I don’t have all the answers. I have questions and that’s how I usually choose what to write about – I choose something I don’t know the answer to,” Mr Yancey said.

“If I knew the answer before I started I’d get bored within a couple of weeks, and it takes me more than a year to do a book so I like to choose things I’m learning from.”

Mr Yancey shared observations about the church that he finds puzzling and paradoxical.

One observation Yancy made was that as the gospel penetrates a culture, it tends to create characteristics that are anti-gospel.

“If you ask many people in the world what’s the most Christian country, they’d say it’s the United States.

“By church attendance and other measures, it’s right up there.

“But if you ask a different question, ‘If I say the words United States, what comes to mind?’

“What do people say? They almost always seem to say, great wealth, military power or sexual decadence.”

Mr Yancey believes the more radically Christian a culture gets, the less appealing it gets.

“The challenge is to penetrate a culture in such a way that it still sounds like Good News.

“If we don’t do it right, if we just inherit it from past generations, if we just pass it along and institutionalise it, it stops sounding like Good News.”

Mr Yancey told how, with his wife Janet, he had been visiting each of the 24 churches in the small community of 7 000 people where they live in Evergreen, Colorado.

“The overwhelming question that I have most of the time when I go to these churches is, ‘Why would anyone want to get up in the morning to attend this?’

“They are going through this ritual – there is no spirit, no passion – there is certainly no revolutionary fervour.

“How do you sustain the revolutionary flame of the gospel so that we don’t need to keep having revivals, we can simply have ‘vivals’.”

Mr Yancey said Jesus’ body wasn’t just broken on the cross or at the Eucharist, but is broken every day in the ways we misrepresent who God is.

“And yet the only way the world will know who God is, is through the body that he left – the body that is Christ.

“That’s my challenge to you: to represent God in such a way that even in our confused and broken state we somehow reflect the reality of God’s justice, compassion, mercy and grace.”

Photo : Editor-at-large for Christianity Today Philip Yancey issued a challenge to Queensland. Photo by Bruce Mullan