Christianity Info

Inside my own revolution.

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If French atheists rarely become evangelical Christians, how much rarer it is for one to become an evangelical Christian theologian. So what happened? One might argue that with 66 million French people, I’m just a fluke, an anomaly. I am inclined to see it as the work of a God who says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (Rom. 9:15). Hearing the facts may help you decide for yourself.

I grew up in a wonderfully loving family in France, near Paris. We were Catholic, a religious expression that seemed to arise more out of tradition and perhaps superstition than conviction. As soon as I was old enough to tell my parents I didn’t believe any of it, I stopped going to Mass. I pursued my own happiness on all fronts, benefiting from my parents’ loving dedication. It allowed me to do well at school, learn to play the piano, and get involved in many sports. I studied math, physics, and engineering in college, graduated from a respected engineering school, and landed a job as a computer scientist in finance. On the sports front, after I grew to be 6 feet 4 inches and discovered I could jump 3 feet high, I ended up playing volleyball in a national league, traveling the country every weekend for the games.

An important part of young male French atheist ideals consisted of female conquests. Here, I was starting to have enough success to satisfy the raunchy standards of the volleyball locker room. All in all, I was pretty happy with my life. And in a thoroughly secular culture, the chances of ever hearing the gospel—let alone believing it—were incredibly slim.

New Life Goal

When I was in my mid-20s, my brother and I vacationed in the Caribbean. One day, returning from the beach, …

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The author lays out a way to witness after churches have lost their cultural privilege.

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In his landmark 1997 book What’s So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey challenged fellow evangelicals to act in a way that matches their language and beliefs about grace. He returns to this theme in his latest book, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? (Zondervan), updating the call to grace-filled living within a culture whose Christian consensus has frayed. Author and Christianity Today blogger Amy Julia Becker spoke with Yancey about putting grace into action in contexts where Christianity no longer holds sway.

Why did you choose to revisit the subject of grace?

Sociologist and researcher Amy Sherman has said that Christians tend to have three models for interacting with society: fortification, accommodation, and domination. To put that in layman’s terms: We hunker down amongst ourselves, water down our witness, or beat down our opponents. For many reasons, those aren’t New Testament models.

So what should we be? We need to create pioneer settlements that show the world a different, grace-based way of living.

We have been spoiled in the United States because of our religious heritage. There was once a common Christian consensus. A few generations ago, Billy Graham would fill the largest stadium in any city, stand up, and say “the Bible says,” and have the audience nod along. Today, belief in the Bible can’t be taken for granted, so appeals to the Bible won’t have the same power. The new paradigm, in this culture, is that you reach out with acts of mercy that touch people’s hearts, and hopefully they want to know why.

We hear nowadays about Christian groups losing university recognition or public prayers and Christmas displays being banned. We feel …

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What behavioral economics has to do with scary statistics.

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Surely by the time Elijah wandered off into the desert to die, he would have been a hard guy to discourage. He had stood up to some of the most memorable (and pathetic) murderers in the Bible, survived a long famine, and sacrificed alone as a servant of God vying against Baal’s priests. Throughout his life, God had vindicated his faith and kept him safe.

But in the little speech Elijah prepared for God to tell him why he had gone off alone and prayed to die, he reveals something: he doesn’t want to be the only one obeying God. “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” Elijah was using his exaggerated spiritual isolation as an excuse to quit. Someone else in his place might have said, “Less than one percent of the people of God worship you exclusively!”

He might have been exceptional in almost every way, but Elijah wasn’t the only faithful believer in Israel, and he wasn’t the last faithful believer to demonstrate an irrational response to statistics. We’re all more likely to act faithfully when we think we’re in the moral majority rather than in a moral minority.

If you’ve heard a call to moral reform, you’ve likely heard a statistic that goes with it. Half of Christian marriages end in divorce! (Debunked here and discussed here.) The vast majority of single evangelical Christians are sexually active! (Corrected here, and apologized for here.) Less than a quarter of families in churches tithe! Most Americans can’t name half of the Ten Commandments!

Imagine that you’re a Christian, frustrated with your low salary, but a faithful tither. How would you react if you heard that 75 percent of your congregation …

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