A bad promise
The author Philip Yancey talks to Stephen Tomkins
Philip Yancey is one of the United States’ bestselling Christian authors. While that fact may not automatically endear him to all Reform readers, his repeated themes of God’s grace and his own escape from the fundamentalism of the deep south may.
His latest book is an unforgettable memoir of growing up as a child promised to God by his emotionally, physically and spiritually terrifying mother, after a badly judged leap of faith by his parents. It is also another story of escape.
Where the Light Fell is published by Hodder and Stoughton.
Was it difficult to decide to share such a personal story?
Yes. Whenever people asked me, a week ago when it came out here in the US, how I was feeling, the answer was always ‘anxious’. It’s one thing to have your own life and to hold it and keep it; it’s another thing to let it go to other people who will see it differently, making judgements that may not be true. They know now what I have written, but I didn’t write everything, so they don’t have the full picture. It’s a process of letting go control, I suppose.
I have wanted to do it for a long time. I’ve delayed primarily because people will be hurt. People are hurt by things I write. And I just emphasise: this is my perspective. All writers have is a unique point of view. If I had exactly the same point of view that you had, I should find another career because we don’t need two of us, but we have a different slice. I’m sure I’ve gotten some things wrong, but this is as truthfully as I can tell the story.
Your father died when you were a baby. What idea of him did you have growing up?
I had just a few photos. I was born in 1949, so the war was still fresh in everyone’s mind and anyone who served in it was kind of heroic. I had photos of him on a ship sailing to war. Actually the war ended before he got there, but he was kind of a dashing, wild figure in a way. I heard stories of him running away from home to see a zoo in another state and running away from home to find better schools to attend. If I ran out of the yard, I would be punished, but he could just take off and cross state boundaries. So to me, he was this uninhibited, impulsive, brave person.
And that was very hard to fit with my mother who was full of fear. And I’m sure his death played into that. She was the opposite – overly protective and rigid.
And a godly man?
Yes. One of the few things I have from him is a Bible, and in the front of it he tells story after story of people he led to Christ. In the Bible, whenever there are serious verses about presenting yourself to God, holy, he would underline them. He seemed to be a very committed person…
This is an extract from an article published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of Reform