The Jesus I Never Knew

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A month or so ago, Steven of Flos Carmeli, did a series of posts on one of Phillip Yancy's books and it got me thinking, as his posts often do. As I think I have written in a previous post, for a period of several years now I have not read many books by Protestant authors. This aversion began about 6 months before I came into the Church and continued until about the last year or so. At the beginning of this period I refused to read anything by any Protestant author, including even C. S. Lewis, and I would read anything by anyone claiming the label Catholic, even William Kiensley (sp?), writer of the dreadful Fr. Kessler mysteries.

But Steven's post caught my attention and I began to question if I shouldn’t change my mind about reading Protestant writers. I wondered if I was missing something. So I began a book by Phillip Yancy, The Jesus I Never Knew. I see Steven has recently posted a comment to the effect that except for the one book of Yancy's that he did his series on, the rest of books were not worth reading. To some degree I agree with this and I hope that this is the first in a series of three or four posts that explains my reasoning. This post likely should be the third or fourth post in the series but I'd really like to explore this topic and so it comes first.

First I would say that there are parts of this book that I would recommend all Christians read. I will explain this in later posts, but Yancy is a good writer and the first section especially of The Jesus I Never Knew is well worth reading. I have serious doubts about most of the rest of the book because, once he has finished the first section about who Jesus was he seems to fall into a pattern of making unsubstantiated statements about the faith that are really nothing more than conjecture or personal reactions.

For example, when Yancy treats of the relationship between the Church and state he seems to get carried away with himself. The root of his problem is one common, almost endemic to those of the Protestant faith -- a totally inadequate understanding of the Church. The passage I am referring to reads as follows:

"I grew up in a church that proudly displayed the 'Christian flag’ next to the Stars and Stripes, and we would pledge allegiance to both. People would apply to the United States passages from the Old Testament that were obviously intended for a time when God worked through a visible kingdom on earth, the nation of Israel. For example, I often heard this verse quoted as a formula for national revival: 'If my people, who are called by name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.' The principle may apply in a general way, of course, but the specific national promise was given as part of God's covenant relationship with the ancient Hebrews; its occasion was the dedication of Solomon's temple, God's dwelling place on earth. Have we any reason to assume God has a similar covenant arrangement with the U.S.?"

God does not have a covenant relationship with the U.S., but he does have a covenant relationship with the New Israel, the Church. But even so, can He be pleased at the way things are going with the popular culture in the U.S.? Is it not possible that, at some point, God may show His displeasure with this culture? Because such a statement in Scripture was made in the context of an Old Testament event does not mean it is less applicable and only applies "in principle." God still has a "visible Kingdom" on earth and He is still working through it, He still has a covenant relationship with the Church. Failing to understand this, or to deny it, leaves one open to all sorts of error. In this case, Yancy seems to deny that the Church has any role in modern society and that conversion must properly me limited to a "me and Jesus" relationship and nothing more.

This passage, and others like it, shows a faulty understanding of what the Church is. It is true, as Yancy points out, that the Church should not try to usurp functions and powers that are relative to the state, but it does have a responsibility to be "the salt of the earth." There are many today who have only been exposed to the idea that there is nothing other than what we see on this earth, that there is no truth, and that it is improper to impose one's "values" on another. They have no idea that there is anything other than today because the Church has allowed herself to be put in the position of being just one among many lifestyle choices. Unless this is changed, the Church will have failed in her duty to bring conversion to the culture in which She finds herself.


No harm in the Roman Catholic reading Protestant writers provided the RC is well-versed in Catholic theology and can comfortably play "Spot the error" (as you did here)in reviewing such Protestant doctrine.

Regarding the scriptural passage and the prot error you discovered, I believe Jesus answered in his question about taxes and the Roman coin - render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but render unto God what belongs to God. Of course, rendering is one thing - serving is another.


It is, indeed, essential, that a Catholic be able to see the error in Protestant literature. After thinking about this a while, I wonder, though, if the errors, for example in Yancy's book are not so fundamental that they should be avoided in any case. I mean that even if a Catholic can spot the error, why spend time reading anything that is fundamentally flawed to begin with?

Still thinking about that one.



I have just finished reading a few comentaries on the JESUS I NEVER KNEW by Philip Yancy.As a protest..tant , it is always interesting to realize what I always thought I knew about most Catholics. That is that they still believe that they are superior in the universal church of Christ followers. I find it interesting aswell, that any "personal" relationship connection that is made by a non Catholic is so readily scrutinized and dismissed as nonsense by the Catholic community. The same Catholic community that will swallow hook,line and sinker any thing that is fed to them by the "CHURCH" whether there is any substantial Scriptural evidences to support the "doctrines " or not.Simply based on the fact that it is proceding from the father of the universal CATHOLIC church .The problem , I am convinced of is that Catholics in general still know very little about the scripture ,about the church as a "whole" including the protestant expression of it and why the American Catholic church (save a few) seem lifeless , stale , dogmatic,leagalistic and irrelivant in this very sick and lost society. I believe that is exactly the kind of religious empire that Christ came to liberate us from. I recently attended Mass with my devoutly Catholic in-laws . The whole experience reaffirmed in me why I need to continue to be thankful and mindful of the fantastic efforts great men and women of GOD have made in coming against the infallable (?) system of religion called the Catholic church.Making it possible for me to have a more complete ,more real ,more "personal " realationship with my creator,savior and keeper of my faith.
A little side note; I wonder why so many Catholics that I know well and associate with , are so quick to dismiss all things "prostestant" in substance, but embrace with open arms shady NEW AGE gurus and their propaganda which is secular humanism at its core and tends not only to fly in the face of sound biblical wisdom but levels most expressions of the great organized religions....Catholic and Protestant alike???????

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on September 15, 2003 8:10 PM.

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