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Humanism Hiding Under the Doctrine of Grace: A Biblical Response to Philip Yancey's "What's So Amazing About Grace?"

The greater American Christian church is a mess. When dealing with the problems and challenges of the day, for the most part, the church is irrelevant and tends to prefer obscurity. Although the church claims to have a monopoly on "life-changing" truth, the sad fact is that no one really believes it anymore.

  • Craig R. Dumont, Sr.,
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The greater American Christian church is a mess. When dealing with the problems and challenges of the day, for the most part, the church is irrelevant and tends to prefer obscurity. Although the church claims to have a monopoly on "life-changing" truth, the sad fact is that no one really believes it anymore.

This condition was driven home the other day when my sister asked me about a chapter in a book I had bought my mother for Mother's Day. It was a book by Philip Yancey titled What's So Amazing About Grace? I had purchased it at the recommendation of a preacher whom I regard highly (the last time I give a book "blind").

The chapter my sister inquired about dealt with the Christian response to homosexuals. In it, Yancey tells the story of how a good friend of his, Mel White, left his wife and children to become "whole" (his description, not mine) in a relationship with his homosexual lover. Yancey, trying to prove some bizarre point concerning "grace," tells his friend he doesn't agree with his choice but that he'll continue to be his friend unconditionally despite the fact that the Bible unequivocally demands "you not to keep company if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat" (1 Cor. 5:11); in other words, God commands us to act conditionally! In fact, so unconditional is Yancey's friendship, he even attends a mass homosexual rally in Washington as White's special guest. When White asks Yancey to support his ministerial ordination into the Metropolitan Community Church (a "gay" church denomination), Yancey finds it difficult to say no (although he does, thankfully), but points out that this teaches him much about "different" people, for surely it takes much more grace on Mel's part to continue to be his friend than vise versa.

Further, Yancey attacks Christians for being so tough on homosexuals (the new in-thing among Christian celebrities: bash Christians and make them the source of all the worlds evils and show how we're always to blame for people rejecting Christ and the truth), claiming he has "met celibate, non-practicing homosexuals who wish desperately that another church would welcome them, but have found none." Now, it may be true that the church is, and has good Biblical reason to be, tough on homosexuals, but I've rarely encountered churches that haven't done all they possibly could for those who truly are seeking God's deliverance. But with Yancey, if the church continues to preach that homosexuality is a sin, but need not continue in that sin, we are part of the problem. He "learned" from "Tony Campolo, a high-profile Christian speaker . . . that homosexual orientation is ingrained and almost impossible to change." Why a Christian would base their beliefs on humanistic thought (and Campolo is the leading "humanist" Christian in the spotlight today) rather than God's Word is difficult to imagine. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 lists quite a few sins not just homosexuality that lead to hell, but in verse 11 he assures them of the power of Christ in securing their salvation: "And such were some of you [homosexuals and sodomites, among other things]. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."

While the best a humanistic Campolo (and Yancey, as he's now "learned" by imbibing from the humanistic fount) can hope for is that "homosexual Christians" will remain celibate ("He holds up an ideal of sexual celibacy"), the truly Christian teaching and belief is that they will be set free by being "washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" the Biblical concept of "new creation" comes to mind. Interestingly, Yancey seems to relish viewing his friend as a tortured genius sage who deserves to have people sitting as his feet fascinated by his pseudo-wisdom: "Mel had wild swings between promiscuity and fidelity. Sometimes he would act like a hormone-flooded teenager, and sometimes like a sage. 'I have learned the distinction between virtuous grief and guilty grief,' he once told me. 'Both are real, both are excruciating, but the latter is far worse. Virtuous grief, such as celibate people feel, knows what it lacks but does not know what it has lost. Guilty grief never stops knowing.'" Compare that "wisdom" of sorrow and grief with God's in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11:

Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

The ungodly may feel guilt, but it is only a guilt that comes from not being able to get away with sin, rather than a guilt which produces repentance because they see themselves as sinners before a holy God. White's grief has no redeeming aspect; the person remains in his guilt, "the sorrow of the world produces death." The righteous, however, produce a sorrow that culminates in salvation, not to be regretted.

Finally, Yancey just cannot tolerate the fact that there are those who continue to call homosexuality an abomination and even call for sanctions on those who flaunt their "differentness." After White wrote a book condoning his homosexuality and persisting in the notion that he could be a devoted Christian serving God and man (indeed, Mel is now a "Minister of Justice for the MCC denomination . . . speaking to small church groups of gay men and women," says Yancey in an approving way) many Christians were outraged and sent in scathing letters as protest. Yancey, after reading some "hate mail" (there's no doubt some Christians overreact, but Yancey never considers how they feel about having their faith and Lord dragged through the mud by one who claims to speak as a leader), he responds by protesting, "Wait, Mel is my friend. You don't know him." He raises Mel White, the man who left his wife and kids for thousands of male lovers, to the level of moral titan and even compares him with Jesus Christ: "Knowing Mel, I understand better the dangers Jesus discussed so incisively in the Sermon on the Mount: how quickly we accuse others of murder and neglect our own anger, or of adultery and neglect our own lust. Grace dies when it becomes us verses them."

Here is the crux of the matter: Yancey has forsaken God's law as the absolute standard and has replaced it with how he feels about any particular situation. Before he discovered his friend was a practicing homosexual he felt strongly opposed to this sin. However, after he found out his friend was homosexual, he felt differently. "He's my friend." He knows he's on shaky ground when he admits that "On the surface [this] may seem a shorthand expression for the fuzzy tolerance of liberalism: can't we all just get along?" so he adds, weakly, "Grace is different, though. Traced back to its theological roots, it includes and element of self-sacrifice, a cost." There may indeed be a cost to grace, but neither Yancey nor White appear ready to pay it. Both are going to indulge their personal desires to the hilt. Their version of grace is identical to the "fuzzy tolerance of liberalism" they claim to reject.

But while this feeling-oriented humanistic faith is blatantly obvious with Yancey (he's the editor of Christianity Today, so I should have known better!), it is less obvious, but equally rampant, throughout today's church. Churchmen despise God's law and do all they can to avoid living their lives on His terms. It is difficult to call homosexuality a sin worthy of punishment when we reject the same law that calls adultery a sin worthy of death. Today's Christians have bought into an evolutionary theory of God: In the Old Testament He was mean and cruel, calling for the death penalty for crimes such as homosexuality, adultery, bestiality, assaulting parents and being a perpetual criminal. However, He changed (evolved) into someone nicer (much more like us) in the New Testament. God no longer cares if men engage in homosexuality as long as they do it with just one partner at a time. God no longer wants us to purge the evil from our land by executing the murderer and rapist; instead He wants us to love them by providing a warm prison cell equipped with color televisions, stereos, law libraries, and state-of-the-art gymnasiums, and with the finest foods. Oh, and don't forget to throw in the Internet for good measure. God no longer cares if we commit adultery as long as we make a therapeutic confession (as a badge of honor?), and we need not even feel all that grieved about it, for no one should judge anyone. Of course, the one thing that's unforgivable is if a spouse were to leave an adulterous mate. How horrendous that is in our current "Christian" culture! A Biblical action like that is a far more serious "sin" in the church today than any number of perverted acts which are quickly forgiven even before the wrong is confessed and, many times, in spite of a blatant refusal to repent.

Yancey and a majority of Christians today are products of what Ann Douglas (no friend of orthodox Christianity, but a keen observer of historical trends) has dubbed, "the feminization of the American culture." Douglas, a self-professing feminist, has noted that American culture began to change dramatically in the mid to late 1800s as Christian pastors shifted their emphasis from "what their members knew and why they knew it, to how their members felt and why they felt that way." Douglas pointed out that the church moved from being a masculine institution to a feminine one; from facts to feeling; from promoting a robust Christian intellect to exalting an emotional prototype from being a faith of objective truth to seeing all things as subjective. Douglas, rightly, called this "feminization," but the theological term for it is antinomian, or "lawless." Indeed, when there is no law, or when there is no concrete right and wrong, then every man and women is their own god, making decisions based upon what feels right. Yancey et al have forsaken God's law, so their emotions rule. Today they are emotionally disgusted by homosexuality. Tomorrow they discover a friend is a homosexual and, gosh-all-mighty, "more than anyone [they] knew, [he] made [them] feel fully alive." On top of that, he was gifted and had an extraordinary "ministry." Now their emotions have swung in the opposite direction. They feel different, so everything changes.

This propensity for humanistic emotionalism isn't limited to the evangelical Protestant churches (though we could wish it were!), but spills over into Catholic Mass and then of course, civil government. In an insightful article entitled "Why Go To Mass?", Amy Welborn writes that "over the past thirty years the central purpose of Catholic worship has been all but lost in a sea of concerns about community building, lay ministry, liturgical language, battles over music and yet more community building." She says that her students (she teaches at a Catholic school) "don't want to go to Mass because they don't indeed, get 'anything out of it' in the way they've been taught to expect. They have been taught by words, and more importantly by silence that religion is basically an emotional response, either to good music, effective preaching or a feeling of belonging to a community." Deciding to expose her students to something more substantive, she took them to visit a monastery and they participate in

...noontime Mass in the monastery chapel. It is by far the most memorable part of the day for them. This is not any high liturgy we're talking about here. It's in a beautiful little stone church, the monks straggle in as the bells ring and there's not a lot of chant, but when they do sing, their voices are clear and strong and unwavering.
After lunch, we gather before we leave to talk about the liturgy. Almost all of them say they like what they experienced much more than Sunday Mass at their parish . . . And, unbelievably, an eighth grader came out with this: "In church on Sunday, it's like it's all about us or something. This was about God."

For Welborn the greatest attraction of monastery worship is "because, even though the monks are friendly, they really don't care whether you're there or not. There's no need to welcome you and make you feel at home and involve you because that's not what they're there for, and they're assuming you're not either, so they treat you as a mature adult who doesn't need to be manipulated and cajoled into a religious experience." It's interesting to note that what Welborn, a woman, yearns for is exactly what Yancey, a man, has rejected. Yancey craves emotion and a religion that "is all about us or something" and tries to legitimatize it by calling the "something" grace. Welborn recognizes that the church is self-destructing precisely because we have been building on the wrong foundation Yancey is striving to maintain: we're man-centered rather than God-centered.

This surge to operate in the purely emotional realm has been identified even by contributors to the Wall Street Journal. In a recent editorial, "Britain's Mourning Sickness," Frank Furedi, lamenting the "vulgar emotionalism" on display ever since Princess Diana's death, writes:

The Diana cult reflects a profound moral malaise in British society. The loss of authority by the main churches has led to a major decline in collective worship. If present trends continue, by the turn of the century the Anglican and Catholic Churches will have lost more than a quarter of their membership just since 1980 . . . At a time of popular disengagement from British political, social and cultural institutions, mourning has become an opportunity to display public solidarity.
Almost any funeral will do. Recently, crowds of people lit candles as they gathered in Trafalgar Square during Linda McCartney's memorial service. Some held placards that read "Viva Saint Linda" and declared that, although they had never met Linda, she had "changed their lives forever." These post-Diana gestures have become the defining rituals of British public life. Despite some misgivings, the British establishment has sought to cash in on Diana's popularity and has thereby helped legitimize this cult of emotionalism.
. . . George Carey, archbishop of Canterbury, spoke of how the response to Diana's death pointed the way toward a more "caring society" . . . and just last month the Anglican bishop of Salisbury informed the public that mourners will now be encouraged to place teddy bears or favorite books on coffins and talk about their feelings.
. . . [P]oliticians have been sensitive to any suggestion that they might be uncaring or unemotional. Party leaders say little about policy and even less about principles, instead using their platform to display feelings.

Furedi sums up this incredible phenomena by labeling this the "institutionalization of emotionalism." As he documents, the church is the leading institution that others take their cue from.

One last, albeit, different point that should be made is that Yancey's humanistic worldview actually comes through early in his book. For instance, to set up the premise for his book he quotes Gordon MacDonald: "The world can do almost anything as well as or better than the church. You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace."

Now, conceding the point that the world cannot offer grace, though it does offer an imitation complete tolerance of any deviant behavior under the sun, the first part of that quote is patently ridiculous! The world does almost nothing as well as the church (assuming the church is functioning as Christ intended it to). It cannot build houses as well as the church take a look at H.U.D. It cannot feed the hungry as shown by our current welfare state. It cannot heal the sick Jack Kervorkian and the push for euthanasia come to mind. The fact is MacDonald and Yancey are viewing a culture and society deeply conditioned by and through Christianity. Non-Christians do, or attempt to do, all the things listed above precisely because it is "the Christian thing to do." The non-Christian influenced world never housed the poor; they killed them or enslaved them. They never fed the hungry; they used hunger as a tool to manipulate the masses and allowed hundreds of millions to starve (Stalin starved up to 20 million of his own people to death and today hunger is used as a weapon in Ethiopia, Sudan, Haiti, and numerous other non-Christian countries). The Christian church is the one who built the hospitals and labored among the destitute, who rescued the dying and comforted the afflicted. Non-Christians promote abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. Christians create a culture of life abundant life, while the natural course of fallen man is death and destruction, of unchecked power plays and unspeakable atrocities. Christians built the school systems and the great universities of the world, educational institutions that raised the quality of life for all. Non-Christians are in the process of destroying those very pillars of our culture.

There is no excuse for a man, a Christian no less, to make a statement like MacDonald's. It is an absolute slander on Christ and His church and should not be passed on in an approving way by Yancey, a man who edits the largest circulation Christian magazine in the country and is a best-selling author. It not only exposes the depth of their ignorance of the power of the gospel and the power of Christ's visible kingdom here on earth, but it deceives many Christians and allows heresy to thrive within the church. Yancey not only fails in his bid to provide a meaningful book about grace (a very worthy topic of great importance), but fails to present even a basic Christian understanding on anything. Our prayers should be that no one reads this book and that Yancey repents before further damage is done to the body of Christ. That, my friend, would be a great manifestation of and testimony to the true grace of God that's so badly misrepresented in this book.

  • Craig R. Dumont, Sr.

Craig R. Dumont, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Okemos Christian Center, a “Reformed Charismatic” Church of God (Cleveland, TN) near Lansing, Michigan. You can read more about Okemos Christian Center at Craig can be reached by phone at 517-336-4148.

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