For as long as I’ve been writing, I have wanted to produce a memoir. I’ve read great memoirs on other religious groups: Frank McCourt’s account of Irish Catholics in Angela’s Ashes, Chaim Potok’s memoir-like novels on Orthodox Judaism, Tara Westover’s bestseller Educated about fundamentalist Mormons. Yet my own tribe of evangelical/fundamentalists, hardly a fringe group, is often misunderstood and portrayed by the media in ways that seem tone deaf.

Scholars of religion estimate that 90 to 100 million people in the U.S. identify as evangelicals. Another 25 million count as “ex-vangelicals,” raised in the faith but later rejecting it. Many of their accounts of dysfunctional families and churches end in bitterness and hostility to faith. My own life story is different. Although I experienced some of the worst that the church has to offer, I also experienced some of the best. In the end, grace melted the bitterness.

I’ve decided it’s time to tell my story, which includes painful detours, and yet has a redemptive trajectory. “I not only have my secrets, I am my secrets,” wrote the pastor and novelist Frederick Buechner. “Our secrets are human secrets, and our trusting each other enough to share them with each other has much to do with the secret of what it means to be human.”

Here are a few things revealed in my memoir that you probably don’t know about me:

I took my first airplane trip at the age of thirteen months, sitting on a millionaire’s lap as my father lay in an iron lung battling polio.

I went to five different elementary schools in six years, having to start over with a new set of friends each time.

During adolescence I shared a tiny bedroom with my brother in an aluminum trailer eight feet wide and forty-eight feet long.

I kept an ant farm and a large collection of beetles and butterflies, and wanted to become an entomologist. After all, there are a thousand pounds of living termites—and around twenty million flies—for every person on earth.

My Atlanta high school was named for a Civil War general and was all-white. Now it’s named for an African-American astronaut and is all-black.

A quack dentist pulled all of my 16-year-old brother’s upper teeth without Novocain; he’s worn false teeth ever since.

The church I attended refused membership to an African-American Bible college student named Tony Evans, who went on to pastor a megachurch in Dallas with 10,000 members.

My brother dropped out of Wheaton College his very last semester and became one of Atlanta’s early hippies. Meanwhile, I was preaching on a “chain gang route” to prisoners in zebra-striped uniforms; each had a chain around his ankle attached to what looked like a cannon ball.

All of my previous books have been “idea books” centered on a theme. This one, Where the Light Fell, is purely narrative and includes some big surprises. It represents a sort of prequel to my two dozen other books. Reading it, you’ll learn why I return so often to the themes of pain and of grace.

I’ve Been Busy

Where the Light Fell: A MemoirWhere the Light Fell will be published in October. As I was finishing that three-year project, I also took on another. In search of some perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic, I returned to one of my favorite books on suffering: John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, written during the bubonic plague pandemic of 1623. Donne wrote a profound account of his ordeal that became a classic of English literature (“No man is an island…”; “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”) The Guardian newspaper in England ranks it as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time.

I’ve given away copies of Donne’s classic, but not one of my friends has made it through the entire book. The language is Elizabethan, the syntax complicated (one sentence has 234 words), and the medicine and science are simply bizarre. And yet the heart of the book—a Job-like wrestling match with the Almighty—deals with the very issues stirred up by a global pandemic. I spent several months doing a modern paraphrase, taking the best portions of Donne’s Devotions and paraphrasing them for a contemporary audience. The pandemic of the 2020s, I found, has much to learn from the plague of the 1620s.

You may have seen my blog “A Time to Fear” posted on this website page in February. Some 60,000 readers engaged with that blog. That excerpt represents just one of the meditations by Donne included in the new book A Companion in Crisis. As of this week, that book is available as a 160-page paperback for a retail price of $14.99. You can shop for it here: A Companion in Crisis

A Companion in Crisis

There will not be a digital version for sale. HOWEVER, our friends at PenguinRandomHouse, the publishers of my memoir, are offering a free digital download of A Companion in Crisis to anyone who pre-orders Where the Light Fell—two books for the price of one!  [Scroll to the bottom for offer details and instructions.]

At first glance, the two books appear to have little in common: one by the pastor of England’s largest church during a time of such contentious faith that Pilgrims fled to the new colony of America; the other by a kid from the racist, fundamentalist South four hundred years later, during a time of increasing secularization. Yet both circle around the universal questions we all ask at times, especially during a pandemic. Some questions never go away.

 

 

 

CLICK HERE, then scroll down for PRE-ORDER & FREE OFFER DETAILS

[ pen icons by Alena Artemova, from Noun Project]

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44 responses to “My Untold Story”

  1. Kent says:

    Hi Sir Yancey. How did you know that it was God’s calling for you to become an author. I wonder about my life if I would resort to become a Pastor or just an author and traveler. Should I consult my passion? Thank you.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Frankly, I stumbled into writing. While in grad school I took a part-time job at a Christian youth magazine, Campus Life, and over the months began to feel a strong sense of calling.

  2. Naomi Swindon says:

    Philip, I have never forgotten your talks on grace at an SUAustralia gathering, when you were in the process of writing ’What’s so amazing about grace?” It was timely and powerful for many in the movement. You re-framed some important scripture for us. I was thinking of you, and that, just today!
    Much grace to you,
    Naomi Swindon

  3. Berwyn says:

    Philip, A Companion in Crisis is wonderful. Donne’s spiritual and personal insights are profound — and so relevant to modern readers. I find myself astonished with Donne’s questions to God, such as, “shouldn’t air nourish us, not destroy us?” and his petitions, “I humbly beseech you to make this illness, which I accept as part of my daily bread, to taste so to me.” I love these moments of wisdom and humility, especially in the context of a pandemic. Thank you.

  4. Heidi says:

    Dear Philip,
    I am looking forward to reading your memoir. Recently, I finished three of your books (Made In His Image, Fearfully And Wonderfully Made, and What’s So Amazing About Grace). I am currently reading Where Is God When It Hurts.
    Your books come in close second to what has helped me understand a God who allows suffering in the world. The number one influence in my (52 year-long) life and in my 25 years of following Jesus, have been two individuals, Bill and Mary Sweeney. Bill died in December 2020 after his 23 year long fight with ALS. He called me his friend. Something I treasure for the rest of my life. The disease left him paralyzed and mute for over 20 years. He communicated via a retinal recognition device on his computer, meticulously typing out one letter at a time. He “spoke” of God’s grace and the hope he had in Jesus on his blog (Unshakable Hope) and in his work with Global Media Outreach. He attracted hundreds of people who shared with him their troubles, often only a tiny reflection of the suffering he had to endure. Mary walked by his side, held his hand all the way to the finish line. Bill and Mary have taught me more about the image of God and the dignity of man, than any other person, preacher, sermon, or seminar. Their devotion to each other was a testimony to a covenant and more impactful than any book on the subject.
    But I guess that’s just the way it is with real-life stories… they are a vehicle and a tool in God’s hand to show us who He is and who we are. For that reason I am looking forward to reading your story, Philip! Praying it will touch many.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Amazing story about Bill. ALS is one of the most difficult, trying conditions for anyone, and few live that long. I can see why his faithful spirit affected you so. –Philip+

  5. Greg Denholm says:

    Hi Philip,

    I have been waiting for this book to appear ever since I heard you were writing it. Then it seemed you had stopped writing it, and I thought it might never emerge. Now, at last, there’s an actual date to look forward to!

    I’m sure the title, Where The Light Fell, is perfectly appropriate for what you have lived through and written. I look forward to discovering in what way this is so.

    I guess you could have gone with Reaching for The Invisible Philip or The Philip You Never Knew. I’m so glad you didn’t go with What’s So Amazing About Philip? 🙂

    But seriously, thank you. Other authors are nice to visit, but I always come home to you.

    Check out my blog…

    Greg

  6. Eric Lotz says:

    I come back to your writing time and time again. Thank you for so eloquently stating the deep questions of man.
    A couple of years ago, in the midst of a lengthy and difficult adoption journey, I reread Disappointment with God and found peace through it all. I can now see that God used that book to not only help me through that dilemma but also to prepare me for monumentally harder things, losing my wife of 20 years in May 2020. I’m currently reading your book on Prayer and am so encouraged that someone else has the same struggles and questions.
    Thank you for always leading me to Jesus through your words.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      I’m so sorry. It moves me to hear that something I wrote offered help at such a difficult time. Bless you.

  7. Santosh says:

    I can’t wait to read your memoir. You are hands down my favorite living Christian writer. (I interviewed you in 1995 at Regent College! We ate lasagna and caesers salad in the Atrium.)

  8. Cynthia Storrs says:

    Can’t wait to read your new works! Thank you for always pointing me back to God’s grace.

  9. Ana López says:

    Hello, Will there be a Spanish edition of your memoirs? Please, may it be available soon!

  10. Carla Vornheder says:

    Someone above wrote about your writing them back, and I wanted to echo that. Very few people in my world listen to me. I talk too much. It’s something I’m working on. That’s why I was so surprised when not once, but twice, you answered the long, rambling letters I sent to you. The kindness and humility that this showed gave me hope in God’s presence in His church. Some of your books have helped me very much. They have given a voice to God’s wise, loving Spirit. I thought I had wrung as much good as I could possibly get out of Disappointment With God, but I recently picked it up and started reading it again. I’m almost through, and it has yet again encouraged my faith (Faith Matters). Thank you again.

  11. Kevin says:

    I am looking forward to this. I consider Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewis, and you three of the the biggest influences on my faith, especially during those difficult years in college and the decade after. It was definitely a time of soul searching for me. Thanks for writing; it makes a difference.

  12. Jim Rudat says:

    Philip, I’m wondering if the process of writing your autobiography gave you some new insights or “aha!” moments in understanding yourself and your faith journey? Looking forward to learning more about what makes you tick!

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Oh, yes, it was like a 3-year self-counseling session, a chance to pick up loose threads and stitch them together.

  13. Wendy Cunningham says:

    I cannot wait! You kept me sane through a similar college we have in common. You spoke at my graduation, I had a friend get a “John Hancock” at a conference at Willow Creek and I saw you when you came to an alumni banquet. So, you have long been a hero and mentor at a distance. Your books help me help others as an instructor and now counselor (in part because of Hatch’s, you and McKechnie’s foundations that helped me). I am profoundly thankful.

  14. Tom Dean says:

    Philip!
    I am so thrilled to see the final title and cover – it is wonderful! And I can’t wait to read the final version. Congratulations friend, I’m pre-ordering right now!
    warmly,
    Tom

  15. Rodney Teat says:

    Philip,
    I can’t wait to read your memoir. From a legalistic church to summer camp to YFC to double dating, we shared some interesting times together.

  16. I can’t wait to read your story! I’ve read the ones you mentioned and they were amazing insights into ways our lives are shaped. I have many of your books which have helped to shape me into a more compassionate pastor and reflective person. You once stayed in our home while we were away and delightfully signed a few of your books. I later regretted that a few more were not visible on the shelves. ha ha!!

    Your writing profoundly is a gift of light in the darkness, hope amidst calamity, and encouragement to persevere. Thank you!

  17. Cannot wait to read your new book !! Its been awhile ! LOL ! Huge fan,

  18. Bruno Gemeinder Teixeira says:

    Looking forward to reading this new book. God bless you always, PY!

    Hugs from Brazil!

  19. Avenel Faye GraceSE9 5 says:

    Can’t wait to get a copy dear Phillip.

  20. Ralph E. says:

    Philip,

    I certainly look forward to reading your memoir! I suspect my dad may even get his copy before I do! ☺️ (You and he crossed paths quite a bit during part of your story, no doubt!) I appreciate your insights and perspectives as always.

    —RE3

  21. Anita says:

    Any person’s story is sacred, but putting your own in book form is an immense act of courage. I can’t wait to read it!

  22. Larry Donnithorne says:

    Having been greatly inspired by both your story and the many wise people whom you said had influenced your faith in Soul Survivor, I am curious how your new book will differ from the story in Soul Survivor? Many thanks, Larry

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Soul Survivor is more of an “intellectual biography,” telling how my mind and spirit were changed by encounters with 13 mentors. Where the Light Fell focuses more on childhood development in family and church, and how my search for authentic faith grew out of unpromising soil. Good to hear from you, Larry!

  23. Kathryn says:

    Years ago (must have been back in the 90s), I wrote you a “fan” letter after “Soul Survivor” came out and you wrote me back a gracious and heartfelt reply that I still have. Although I’ve read just about all your books and love them, that act of grace told me more about your character than anything else. I look forward to reading your memoir. P.S., love the picture of you in all your 1970’s glory!

  24. Sue Coolbaugh says:

    I would very much like to order both of Yanceys Books!

    Thank you!

  25. Howard Peskett says:

    Thank you Philip for your many writings.
    I have specially enjoyed the books you wrote with Paul Brand.
    It seems a pity that the offer for your Donne’s Devotions is only available for US citizens.
    As an Englishman and a lover of Donne and Herbert especially, among the Metaphysical Poets, I would love to receive a download of this book.
    I have pre-ordered a copy of Where the Light Fell today from Amazon.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Publishers have strict rules about e-books not crossing international boundaries, in an attempt to protect the copyright. However, we’re working with a UK publisher to print the Donne paraphrase in a UK edition, so stay tuned.

  26. I’m betting your memoir will be my favorite Yancey text. I am a huge Buechner fan and know that the deepest truths are those wrested in our our inner stories. Even though we may not know some facts, that human quest is always full of tragedy, comedy and a lot of mystery.

  27. Clyde B Austin III says:

    Philip, you are one of my mentors and don’t even know me. I am always waiting for your next book! Your appreciation for “the church downstairs” has meant volumes to me. You help me struggle through a messy world in a messy church and stay focused (well…some of the time) on what is important.
    Thank you

  28. Marshall Cool says:

    Dear Philip. I am so grateful for your inspired writing and sharing your heart over the years. My wife and I have loved your writing. I am embarrassed to be recognized as an “evangelical”. This term is now associated with people who support Trump or political agendas and the term is no longer associated with Christ. This grieves my heart.

  29. Michael E Kunsman says:

    Still glad that I met you Philip, and read some of your books and likely will either or both of these as well. As the amateur writer I am I need to get back to working on my own spiritual autobiography, my story of my journey in faith and this should help to motivate me. Thanks,
    Mike from Centennial

  30. Scott Bolinder says:

    Having had the privilege of publishing several of Philip’s books over the years, I am thrilled to see his memoir coming to fruition. This book will stand out within his portfolio and I predict will become an anchor for the rest of his books that he has shared with us as a fellow pilgrim welcoming us on the journey to finding and following Jesus.

  31. Adriana D'Agata says:

    Felicitaciones! Ya quiero leer ese libro. Le saludo desde Uruguay!

  32. John Holman says:

    I very much look forward to reading your new book when it’s available. I’m just finishing the audio book version of “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made”. Dr. Brand’s knowledge and experience utilized to expand Paul’s metaphor about the human body and the body of Christ is genius! You two made a great partnership and I’m enjoying the book so very much!

  33. Angela Tamayo says:

    Congrats Mr. Philip Yancey on your upcoming book!
    I hope it will be published soon in the Philippines as well.
    May God continue to bless you and your work as you continue to be an instrument of His grace by touching hearts to its core.

    All the best.

  34. Marlene Chase says:

    I so look forward to both of these works, knowing that whatever falls from the lips and heart of Philip Yancey is not only worth hearing to me personally, but is important for the world. No one writes with more openness, freshness, and power. May God continue to wing his message through this unusually gifted and graced author.

  35. Shayne Stephens says:

    Congratulations, Philip! Your writing has been incredibly important to me over the years and I am forever thankful for it. I look forward to learning more about the man behind the pen/keyboard.

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