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Yancey: The Encyclopedia of Theological Ignorance

In view of the mess we have made of crystal-clear commands, I tremble to think how we might act if some doctrines were less ambiguous.

I am the proud owner of The Oxford English Dictionary, which contains every word in our language. Instead of the 20-volume version that retails for $3,000, I got a special one-volume edition for only $39.95 by joining a certain book club. It contains the full text of the dictionary, with the drawback of typesetting shrunken too small to read. Next, I purchased a splendid magnifying glass, the size of a dinner plate mounted on a swivel arm with a fluorescent light built in. When I train the magnifying glass on a word, the tiny marks show up crisp and clear in the center, or focal point, while the edges grow progressively distorted.

In an exact parallel, for me Jesus has become the focal point of faith, and increasingly I am learning to keep the magnifying glass of my faith focused on him. In my spiritual journey I have long lingered in the margins, puzzling over matters like the problem of pain, the conundrum of prayer, providence versus free will. When I do so, everything becomes fuzzy. Looking at Jesus, however, restores clarity. For example, the Bible leaves many questions unanswered about the problem of pain, but in Jesus I see unmistakable proof that God is the God of all comfort, not the author of our pain.

I admit that many orthodox Christian doctrines bother me. Will hell really involve an eternity of torment? What of those who live and die without hearing about Jesus? I fall back on the response of Bishop Ambrose, mentor of Saint Augustine, who was asked on his deathbed whether he feared facing God at judgment. "We have a good Master," Ambrose replied. I learn to trust God with areas I do not understand by getting to know Jesus—and if that sounds evasive, I suggest it accurately reflects the centrality of Christ ...

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Philip Yancey
Philip Yancey is editor at large of Christianity Today and cochair of the editorial board for Books and Culture. Yancey's most recent book is What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters. His other books include Prayer (2006), Rumors of Another World (2003), Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), The Bible Jesus Read (1999), What's So Amazing About Grace? (1998), The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), Where is God When It Hurts (1990), and many others. His Christianity Today column ran from 1985 to 2009.
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Yancey: The Encyclopedia of Theological Ignorance
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September 6, 1999

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