PHILIP YANCEY: VANISHING GRACE IS KIND OF SERMON TO THE CHURCH
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Philip Yancey is the author who dares to challenge the church with his books. His open words ask many questions that are still unanswered about the human nature. With 20 books behind our next feature guest published the latest one in September 2014 Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News. In one of the most interesting Land of Books’s interviews ever in Philip Yancey welcomes us to his personal world of writing.
– Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News was published four years after your previous book. What is the different in it compared to your previous books?
– Every book is different. Most of my books come out of my own questions and struggles, over issues such as “Does prayer matter?” or “Why does God allow so much suffering?” Vanishing Grace came out of my concern that in much of the world Christians are getting a bad reputation, as elitist, or as “holier than thou” as we say in English. I wrote a kind of “sermon to the church,” a reminder that we have very good news to offer a world in need.
– The reviewers often are using the words “Best book by Philip Yancey”. Do you agree with them?
– I’m probably the worst person to ask. The books I enjoy writing most and feel best about often are not the ones that are the most well-received by readers. I worked hard on individual chapters and in crafting the book. Yet as I look back, it seems too broad, tries to cover too many topics. It doesn’t have the tightness of theme that I prefer. It’s funny: writers tend to judge their work by things such as structure and images and good sentences. Readers care mainly about, “Does this book speak to me?” We have different expectations.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process of your last book?
– This book was a wrestling match. I wavered between writing to a religious audience and writing to a broader audience about Christians. As I wrote, I kept stepping back and asking “Yes, but…” questions, and then I would start a whole new section. At the end, I had to find a way to pull together the various parts. The process felt like herding a flock of wild animals.
– Would you explain how you construct the ideas in your books? Do you have some kind of system to inject your suggestions into the readers?
– I work with outlines, the old-fashioned way. I start putting down all my ideas and the topics I want to cover, and then as the notes grow I subdivide them into sections, chapters, subheadings within chapters, paragraphs. Often my outline ends up half as long as the chapter itself. It’s my way of beginning with “left brain,” logical function. When I start writing, the “right brain” takes over and, to my surprise, the chapter very rarely follows the neat scheme I had devised in the outline.
– How much time did you need to finish a book and to publish it?
– If I stayed home and worked steadily, a book would take about a year. Instead, I travel and speak, often in different countries. This takes time, so my books often take longer than a year to complete. I need the outside stimulation though. If I never met readers, I would wonder if my books made any difference. And speaking about a topic helps me to develop my thoughts.
– Disappointment with God will be rereleased in October. Will be there something different compared to the first edition from 1988?
– You are well informed! Yes, the book will be re-released, and we will add discussion and study-guide questions for each chapter. These can be used either in private study or in a book group or study group. Also, I plan to go through and make revisions to parts of the book that may be dated.
– Who are you?
– I am a freelance writer who specializes in questions of faith. True to my journalistic background, I present myself as an ordinary pilgrim in the pew, one who searches for answers, rather than as an expert or pastor or authority figure. I live in the beautiful mountainous state of Colorado, which allows for many outdoor activities such as climbing mountains and skiing. And I am a husband of 45 years with a wife who keeps urging me to take more international trips!
– What are your writing habits?
– I spent ten years as a magazine editor and publisher, during which time I developed a good work ethic. I would go to the office early and work all day. When I became a freelancer, working at home, I kept those habits. I never sit around waiting for inspiration. I can always do research, plan my book, or edit it. The middle part, composing, is the hardest part of the process, the crazy-making stage. For that, I usually go away into the mountains and work for days at a time, free of distractions.
– With 14 million copies sold, did you expected such success when you start writing?
– Writing is a strange business because it is done in isolation, with no one around. When I emerge from that isolation, and blink in the light, I find that other people have somehow bought my books and connected with my thoughts. For the writer, the work process is the same whether a book sells a hundred copies or a million. The two groups are distinct. We writers do our work; readers in the outside world decide whether or not to respond to it. I try not to write in a way that attracts numbers; rather, I focus on what I am most passionate—or confused—about.
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– We live in a time of social media, and publishers leaned heavily on me to start a website and a Facebook page. (I’m resisting Twitter, however!) With this book I went on a seven-city book tour in the U.S. I have done scores of interviews for magazines and radio programs as well, some by email and some recorded over the telephone.
– When we will see your next novel and what will be the theme?
– For many years I have been planning to write a memoir that looks back over my life and tries to stitch it together. Now is the time, and I have begun. Looking back, I have experienced some of the worst that the church has to offer…and some of the best. I understand those who turn away from the church, who doubt and question. Yet I have learned much from people of faith who are made larger and more alive because of their faith, especially those who use their skills to serve those in need. A memoir represents a new kind of writing for me, using more of the techniques of fiction, so don’t expect a new book for a couple of years.
– You are spending a lot of time hiking and climbing. Do you think that the humanity will be punished by some way for not saving the nature and destroying it piece by piece?
– For sure. Those who live by seacoasts are already experiencing the threat of storms and higher ocean levels. Up in the mountains, we are safe from that, but my state has seen the destruction of huge swaths of forest because rising temperatures have spread disease and insect infestations. Because I love snorkeling, I’m especially saddened by the loss of coral reefs and the beautiful tropical fish that exist there. And people who live in places like Beijing, China, don’t even know what a pure blue sky, or a view of the Milky Way, looks like. These are aesthetic “punishments”—of course, scientists warn us about far more severe consequences to come.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be? (Don’t forget to answer)
– Have you ever been to Bulgaria? And the answer is, No! I have been to nearby countries such as Romania, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have had one book published in Bulgaria, however: What’s So Amazing About Grace? So at least some of my words have preceded me there.
Special thanks to Mr. Yancey’s assistant Joannie Barth
Take a look at Philip Yancey’s books:
What’s So Amazing About Grace?
The Jesus I Never Knew
Where Is God When It Hurts?
Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?
Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud
Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?