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I met Philip Yancey when we both were 22, newly minted editors at Youth for Christ's Campus Life magazine. He was of medium height, without a single ounce of fat on him, and had sandy, curly hair that would later puff out into a blond Afro. He was wiry—not naturally athletic, but he made up for it with sheer energy. To watch him swim was like watching the Buckingham Fountain at Chicago's Grant Park, water flying everywhere.

He came to Youth for Christ from a fundamentalist Georgia upbringing by way of Columbia Bible College and an M.A. at Wheaton College. His mother raised him as a single parent while teaching Bible classes; he grew up poor, in a trailer. He and his brother were raised to play the piano and to cherish classical music (as Philip does to this day). They learned to work hard and to respect authority, but most importantly, they learned fundamentalist Christianity. Nothing mattered much, compared to that.

I am sure some people shrug off a fundamentalist childhood like Gore-Tex in the rain, but Philip was not one of those. He absorbed its ardent narrowness, its fortress mentality, and its angry clasp on truth. Then he rejected it. When I met him, Philip had deliberately escaped fundamentalism. (So had his brother, but that is another story.) Philip had left that world, but I do not think he had gotten away clean.

The strength of fundamentalism is its forcefulness and purity. Fundamentalists know what they think, and they are fierce in promoting it. They can usually tell you what you think, too; they are often better at defining and critiquing others' positions than they are at listening to how others understand themselves.

What seems to stick with ex-fundamentalists is a sense of principle, a willingness to fight ...

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April 2008

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