FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Not Judging, Just Stating Facts? Philip Yancey

with Philip Yancey | May 27, 2024
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From critiquing someone's outfit, to dismissing ideas in meetings, or commenting on eating habits--our judgments can shape lives. Philip Yancey explores how grace, instead, can alter lives for the better.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Judging other people’s outfits, ideas, or social media? Philip Yancey talks about the way we can love others and how grace changes everything.

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Not Judging, Just Stating Facts? Philip Yancey

With Philip Yancey
May 27, 2024
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Dave: Hey, before we get started, we've got a question for you: how can we pray for you?

Ann: I love this question!

Dave: I knew you would love it.

Ann: Because we talk about a lot of serious things here on FamilyLife Today and those details about our families—oh, they often need our prayers. So, can we pray for you? We're serious.

Dave: Yes. Here's how you can let us know: text “FLT” plus your prayer request to 80542 to let us know, and it would be our privilege to pray for you. That's text “FLT” plus your prayer request to 80542.

Ann: We want to pray for you.

Dave: Okay, I don't say this every time on FamilyLife Today, and I'm not exaggerating: one of my favorite authors in all the universe [Laughter] is sitting in our studio yet again.

Ann: Who has shaped us in a lot of different ways, and especially you, as a skeptic and a doubter, and someone struggling, when you were younger in your faith.

Dave: Yes, thanks for telling everybody that I'm a struggling doubter. [Laughter]

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: Philip Yancey is sitting in our studio. [He] came all the way from Colorado.

Philip: I love it!

Ann: You love Colorado, too.

Philip:I do love Colorado.

Dave: We're going to talk about one of the books you wrote: What's So Amazing About Grace? What year was that?

Philip: That would have been 25 years ago.

Dave: Wow.

Philip: I spent a good chunk of last year going back and revising and updating it because there's un-grace everywhere in the world right now.

Ann: It's true.

Dave: Yes. Did you have to revise quite a bit? Is it the same book, or is it a lot different?

Ann: Will we recognize it?

Philip: Oh, sure. It's really a matter of coming up with stories that people who were born 20 years ago would understand. For instance, we talk about Yugoslavia because when I wrote this book, there were wars being fought in Yugoslavia. Well, now there is no Yugoslavia.

Dave: Yes.

Philip: There are seven different countries that used to be Yugoslavia. Of course, Jesus told stories, and it's just a matter of retelling some of His stories and updating the ones that are tied to our era. So, it is pretty much the same book, but just trying to make it a little more current, especially for younger readers.

Dave: When you first wrote this topic, because—you know, when I mentioned your books changed my life: Disappointment with God. I love The Jesus I Never Knew. I hate to tell you, but I preached it. I just took a chapter [Laughter] and preached it. I didn't say it was my material. I gave you credit; but I remember doing a Christmas service on your Christmas chapter about the arrival of Jesus. It was so beautiful.

Anyway, I'm getting off on a tangent. [Laughter]

Philip: Okay.

Dave: When you think back to, “I've got to write a book on grace,” can you take us there? Why?

Philip: Yes, I was just struck. I started asking people, in a doctor's lounge or on an airplane: “When I say the word ‘Christian,’ or when I say the word ‘Evangelical Christian,’ what comes to your mind? First thing!” And they would come up with things like “self-righteous” or “moral” or these kinds of words, or “angry” sometimes. But nobody said anything like: “They're people who give you the benefit of the doubt. They're gracious people. They're grace-filled people.”

In fact, from what I gathered, they saw us as kind of a little superior, looking down, holier than thou. I would hear that—“holier than thou,” and I thought, “Man, that's not the gospel at all.”

Ann: It’s not Jesus, is it?

Philip: No! Jesus said [that] there's only one standard of holy and that's the Father. And if you don't match that standard, then you have failed. Yet, we're going around like the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day and saying, “Well, okay. I'm not perfect, but I'm better than 99% of the people over there. Look at that sinner over there!”

Jesus just took that on. When I was writing The Jesus I Never Knew, in historical research, it was clear that belief-wise, and even action-wise, Jesus was closer to the Pharisees than any other group. But—

Ann: —what do you mean closer? Closer in what way?

Philip: Closer in terms of honoring the Old Testament laws, keeping them, and being diligent, tithing, doing all these things; the religious things. But they had missed the whole point. The point wasn't to get God to like you more because you tithed more than the guy next to you.

He told that well-known story of the Pharisee and the Sinner. The Pharisee looks around. He's in the temple praying, and he sees this old sinner over there. He says, “Oh, well thank you, Lord, that I'm not like that guy over there.” The Sinner has nothing to contribute and just says, “God be merciful to me.”

Dave: “A Sinner.”

Philip: And Jesus said, “What prayer do you think God listens to?” The answer is obvious.

I’ve come to think that it's an intuitive thing, but I think that's kind of our native sin as Christians, because we're trying to flee away from grace so we can take credit ourselves. We like taking credit. It's easy—when you have an experience where you're connected with God, it's easier—to think, “Oh, that's pretty good. God chose me. I must have done something right to get God to like me.”

In churches, it's also easy to hang around people who are just like you; people who vote like you, think like you, smell like you, you know? [Laughter]

Dave: Yes.

Philip: That's not how you learn grace. It doesn't take much grace to be around people who are just like you. Where the rubber hits the road is when there are people who think you're crazy, who disagree with you, who think you're completely wrong on important issues.

So, how do you handle those people? I go back through the way Jesus handled them. It must have been so offensive to Jesus just to be on Earth and to realize how poorly we live compared to what the Father had in mind by creating the planet Earth in the first place. Jesus looks around, and He sees the violence, and He sees the judgment, and He sees divorce. He sees all these things that grieve Him, and yet, those are the people He goes to. He goes to the people who would be most offensive and doesn't treat them like an inferior person. He treats them like a thirsty person.

Dave: Yes. What do you think has happened? I mean, I'll tell you this: do you remember the book Unchristian? It was a book written by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons—

Philip: —oh, right, right, right. Yes, I do.

Dave: —and it was sort of research [based]. They went out and asked non-church people: “What do you think of when you think of the church, or people in the church?” And, they said just what you said. They literally had maybe 8 or 9 characteristics, and they wrote chapter on each one.

Philip: Right.

Dave: I remember reading it [thinking], “I agree.” So, I took it to our staff—our leadership team. I said, “I propose [we] do a weekend series about this.” The book was really well done.

Philip: Right.

Dave: It was like, “Here's what they're saying about us, and it's somewhat true. And here's what the Bible says.”

So, we decided to do a series called, “I'm sorry.”

Philip: Oh!

Dave: Somehow WJR [Detroit radio station]—they reach out to us and say, “We hear you're a church, and you're going to apologize? [Laughter] We want to ask you about this.” So, I go on a radio show—a live show—and the guy (I thought it was a 5-minute interview) says, “Okay. We're done.” He [says], “Hey, do you have a couple minutes? I'm going to open the phone lines.”

Philip: [Laughter] Oh, boy!

Dave: [I say], “Well, I have got to go to a meeting.” He [says], “Oh, it will just take a minute or two.” I said, “Okay.”

So, they go to break. He comes back on. He [says], “Wow! I don't know how to tell you this, but the phone lines are lighting up. [Laughter] Can you answer a lot of questions?” I [say], “Sure. Let's go!”

Every single caller was a churchgoer, yelling at me for apologizing.

Philip: There you go.

Dave: I just was like, “There it is, guys. Can you not see?”—

Philip: —yes.

Dave: —"This is our spirit. This is what we've become known for.”

Philip: Yes.

Dave: “You're judging me for trying to say, ‘I want to be like Jesus.’ I don't think Jesus was like that. I think if we explain who Jesus was, I think people are actually going to be drawn to that”—

Philip: —right.

Dave: —"rather than repelled.” They’re running away from it, and I thought, “Wow.” So, that's my question: “What has happened?”

Philip: Yes. I think in the United States, we were blessed to have a period in our lifetimes, some of us, back in the 1950s and 1960s, when almost all of the great Christian movements started back then, including Campus Crusade—

Dave: —yes.

Philip: —and World Vision, and you could list—

Dave: —Billy Graham, the whole—

Philip: —dozens; yes.

Ann: Yes.

Philip: And there was a Christian consensus: kind of an agreement in mainline churches, and Catholics and evangelicals, whatever. They all kind of agreed, “Well, this is good, and this is bad; and this is wrong, and this is right.” As culture changed, it's becoming a much more diverse society.

Ann: Right.

Philip: So, how do you—how do you live?

Ann: How do we be a light in that?

Philip: Yes. Well, actually, that's what the gospel is all about.

One time, a Muslim man said to me, “I've read the entire Koran, and I can't find anything in it on how to be a minority as a culture. We like being the majority. So, when we take power, we want the court system, and the legislative system, and the religious system to all be one. That's just the way we are.”

Dave: Yes.

Philip: And he said, “I've read the entire New Testament, and I can't find any advice on how to be a majority”—

Dave: —yes.

Philip: —"in a culture.”

Dave: We're aliens.

Philip: Yes. Look at the images Jesus used of the Kingdom: it's like a sprinkling of salt to keep a whole hunk of meat from going bad. It's like the smallest seed in the garden; not the largest, but the smallest. And it's like a little bit of leaven that causes the whole loaf—He said that's the way the Kingdom of God is. It falls into the ground, but it creates a tree, and it blossoms, and the birds of the air come and nest in it.

It changes society, and the United States was a beautiful example of that. Seeds had fallen; they prospered. But then, the tree started producing strange fruit. [Laughter]

Dave: Yes.

Philip: What do you do about that? Well, we haven't handled it very well.

Because I get to travel internationally, especially as a journalist reporting, I can see places where the Christian community really stands out. I heard a statistic the other day that, even today, in sub-Saharan Africa, south of the Sahara, more than 50% of all the medical work is done by mission hospitals. Wherever the gospel went where it had not been before, you could just follow a trail. You see clinics and orphanages and hospitals and educational systems. That's what the gospel does. It's like throwing those seeds in the ground, and they sprout.

Yet, in the United States, that's kind of true in our history. You go to most big cities, and there's a Baptist hospital or a Catholic hospital or a Presbyterian hospital. They're still there, but there's no religious part of it left.

Dave: Right.

Philip: We've got that recent historical memory, and, as the callers would say, “It's being taken away from us.” And you're right. So, what do we do about that?

My reading of the Bible is, we do exactly what Paul told people to do: “Show how different you are.” In Second Corinthians, there's a person who's not being very obedient, and he's not in the church. Paul says, [paraphrase] “What business of that is ours? We're not judges of the world. Our job is to be different than the people around us.” That's how the early church spread.

In the Roman Empire, if you had laid odds in 33 AD—okay, here's this guy; He came to Earth; He claimed to be the Messiah; and then He was crucified. There are a few people out there who think He actually rose from the dead [ha, ha, ha]. You know, that was kind of the attitude.

Dave: Right.

Philip: If you had laid odds, what would be the chance of that becoming a religion, 2,000 years later, that has three billion adherents? They would say, “What? Are you crazy? How did that happen?”

Well, it took about three centuries—not that long a period of time—to become majority in the Roman Empire. How did it happen? So, theologists tell you this: they've tracked it out that when plague would hit a Roman town, which was pretty common back then, everybody would run into the hills to get away from it so they didn't get sick. The Christians would stay behind, and they would nurse not only their families, but their Pagan neighbors’ families.

That kind of gets your attention. You come back and your mother is still alive because these Christians nursed her. What was birth control? They didn't really have abortion back in Roman times. They had this practice called “The Abandonment of Infants.” They would just take a baby and leave it out by the side of the road, and either the weather or wild animals or whatever; it would die. That's how you got rid of babies you didn't want. In Roman times, it was not a moral issue, but the Christians said, “No, I think that is a moral issue. I think God wants us to love those people.”

So, they started inviting them in. They had platoons of wet nurses to keep milk flowing to keep these babies alive. Then, they would adopt them and have foster children. That's a good thing for church growth: picking up all these babies [Laughter] that nobody else wanted. In about 300 years, what happened was, people looked at these characteristics and said, “I'd rather be like they are than like I am. I want what they've got,” you know?

I think that's the beauty of the images Jesus gives us: the Fruit of the Spirit. You look at somebody and say, “Boy, they're different. Other people get mad; they don't. Other people have trouble apologizing; they don't. Other people judge; they don't. I want to be like one of those people.” 

I'm concerned, when I hear the description of a book like Unchristian, because I don't see a lot of people going around saying, “Boy, I like the way Christians live.” In fact, in our culture today, it's become so politicized.

Dave: Right.

Philip: The New York Times [and] The Washington Post, when they say the word “Evangelical,” they're really talking about a voting bloc.

Ann: Yes.

Philip: They're not talking about—

Dave: —right.

Philip: —theology. They're talking about politics.

Dave: So, when you think, “What's so amazing about grace?” How would you define it?

Philip: Let me just talk about it, because Jesus’ parables are parables of grace, but He never defines it. The classic definition is “unmerited favor.” What's that mean? It means you get something you don't deserve. You get the opposite of what you deserve.

In our society, we're kind of ornery, independent Americans. We like to pull ourselves up our own bootstraps, and we're a very ranking societies. You want to know right away, “Okay, what's your job? Where'd you go to school?”—

Ann: —yes.

Philip: —"What kind of car do you drive? What part of town do you live in?” You're making this kind of mental picture of this person.

Dave: Yes.

Philip: Grace is the opposite of that. You don't climb. You don't achieve. You don't get it by scrambling. You get it by receiving.

Henry Nouwen, the author, used to say, “Grace means having your hands open. It's a gift of God. It's absolutely free. You can't do anything to deserve it, by definition.” But you just have to have your hands open, because if you don't, like the Pharisees, if they're closed tight like a fist, the gift will fall to the ground, unreceived.

That's a hard thing for us to do: to say, “We can't make it on our own. We've really messed up our lives. We need help. We need outside help.” Frankly, the recovery movement (people who struggle with drugs and alcohol) kind of illustrate that in secular terms, as well as anybody I know in religious terms, because I attended some 12 step groups with various people. When you hear them, they all start out with what's wrong with them: “Hi, I'm Bob. I'm an alcoholic.” [Laughter] “Hi, I'm Judy. I'm a drug addict.” I said, “Whoa!” [Laughter] But that's where you start, and you can't fudge—

Ann: —it’s kind of refreshing.

Philip: It really is.

Ann: Yes.

Philip: And they can spot a lie a mile away. You can't say, “Okay, I'm an alcoholic, but Judy over there, she's a drug addict.” [Laughter] They're all over you, man.

Dave: Yes.

Philip: They know. Christians aren't known like that. They're really known as people who are just a little better; good people, the kind of people you want as your neighbors, but “don't cross them because they're judgmental, and they'll go after you.” It's so hard.

I remember reading Chuck Colson's biography for the first time. Here he was, working in the White House, right next to the President's office. Then, he was put in prison because of Watergate stuff, and this whole Christian thing; he couldn't figure it out. He was reading CS Lewis, and CS Lewis said, “The worst sin is…” (and he expected it to say some sexual thing or murder or whatever). He said, “The worst sin is pride.” And that's at the root of so much of what we do.

Grace doesn't know what to do with pride. It doesn't force itself on you. They say, ”Okay, you're not ready for grace. Your hands aren't open. They're closed tight.” And unless we get to the place where you say, “God, help! I am a sinner. I need you!” then the grace could fall to the ground.

Ann: Philip, when do you feel like you have experienced grace? I know, as a believer, over and over, it takes me to my knees because it feels so undeserved. Can you just recall, when do you feel like, “Man, this is when I felt it so powerfully”? I'm sure there are multiple times—

Philip: —right.

Ann: —but does anything come to your mind?

Philip: Yes, the last time I was with you guys, I was talking about my memoir, this book called Where the Light Fell.

Ann: If you haven't read that, listeners, it is so good!

Philip: And I tell the story of growing up in one of those churches. We were a ranking church, and black people weren't allowed in our church; people of color were not. And we thought we were so superior. There were about 100 of us in that church, and we thought heaven may include maybe 125 people, [Laughter] but surely no more. We had the Truth. We were more strict and more theologically pure than any other church.

That was my background. God melted me because I went through that resistant, skeptical stage, too. God melted me with what the theologians would call “Common Grace.”

The three things that brought me back to God were the beauties of nature (because I had a real dysfunctional family), and I would just go out and walk in the woods, and come across the azaleas in the springtime in Georgia, and the butterflies floating around, and bull frogs and turtles. I’d say, “Wow, what a great world!” [Laughter]

The beauties of nature; music really spoke to me—classical music; and then, romantic love; those three things. And when I experienced those things, I realized—well, I had read the statement that's often attributed to G.K. Chesterton. He said, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he feels a profound sense of gratitude and has no one to thank.”

Ann: Oh!

Philip: I was grateful for these three things, and yet, I didn't really believe in God. I had no one to thank. And I realized that kind of scowling, judgmental, “I'm going to get you” God that I had grown up with—every other sermon was about hell fire in that church—the God Who created the Monarch butterfly, the God Who created the porcupine, [Laughter] the God Who gave us romantic love, the God Who gave us beautiful music, could not be that scowling judge in the sky. I needed to scrub up my image of God.

How do you do that? Well, it's really easy. You just get to know Jesus. Because, as Jesus said to His disciple named Philip, He said, “If you have seen Me, you've seen the Father.” If you want to know what God is like, watch. [Laughter] Watch! And He gave us three years and a lot of stories and actions.

So, I got to know Jesus, and Jesus helped me correct and realize what grace is. Grace isn't about how much better I am than other people. It's how much more merciful and forgiving God is than humans could possibly be.

Ann: We talk about marriage and family all the time. What you're describing—that grace, that's what I want [for] our home. I want the atmosphere of our home to be, not one of rules and regulations, not that we don't have those,—

Philip: —yes.

Ann: —but it’s one of, “I'm going to see all the bad—all the negative, all the ugly—in you, and I'm still going to love you by God's power.” There's something that's compelling, just like everyone ran to Jesus. They wanted to be with Him: the sinner, the prostitute, the tax collector, the outcast. They all wanted to be around Him.

Philip: Yes.

Ann: I think that's what grace is. When you experience it, you want to be around that person, or that home, or that marriage; that person that will see. When they see the ugliness in you, they'll say, “Oh, I get that. I've been there, and I'm going to love you through it.”

Philip: Yes. In one of His prayers, in John 17, Jesus said, [paraphrase] “I was thinking the other day, reminiscing about the time before the world began.” [Laughter] He's got a long memory, and I'm sure His disciples were, “Did He—

Ann: —"Did He just say that?” [Laughter]

Philip: —"Did you hear what I said?” [Laughter] Imagine what it was like for Jesus to come to Earth and yet, you're absolutely right. It's the people who are least like Him and least like the people He wanted them to be, who are attracted to Him. They knew: He's got something I need.

Shelby: Isn't that incredible to think about? Neediness is a good thing in God's economy. We have a tendency to push needy people away; at least I do. lf someone in your life constantly wants to borrow your stuff, or ask for your time, or your money, we have a tendency to recoil at constant neediness or overly needy people.

But God is not like us, and Jesus is the proof of that. Jesus constantly welcomed needy people because needy people are humble people. As First Peter 5:5 says, along with several other places in Scripture: “God always gives grace to the humble.”

I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Philip Yancey on FamilyLife Today. What's so amazing about grace? Well, we've only scratched the surface, and Philip Yancey talks about that in his book of the same title, What's So Amazing About Grace?

You can get your copy right now by going online to, or you can find it in the show notes. Or just give us a call at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in (you guessed it) life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

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Now, it was an incredible day with Philip Yancey, and I'm excited because he is back again tomorrow with Dave and Ann Wilson to share some transformative stories about God's forgiveness and, of course, Jesus’ embodiment of grace. That's coming up tomorrow. We hope you'll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a donor-supported production of FamilyLife®, a Cru® Ministry.

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