Thinking Out Loud

August 3, 2017

Mistaken Views of God

When listing what might be called ‘modern classics’ the book Your God Is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike by J. B. Phillips is often mentioned This 124-page pocket book is usually remembered for its first 59 pages which focus on a number of “wrong pictures” we have of God, and while I know that Thinking Out Loud readers would never fall into one of these errant views, I believe that we often partially fall into looking at God in one of these stereotyped forms. Here’s a quick paraphrase of the types Phillips lists:

Do you ever find yourself falling into any of these mistaken views of God?

  • Policeman — an image usually formed out of a ‘guilt-based’ response to God
  • Parental hangover — the Father image of God evokes images of an earthly father which is often more negative than positive
  • Grand Old Man — the head of the seniors group perhaps, or president of the country club; but the danger is the ‘old’ part if it implies irrelevance
  • Meek and Mild — an example, Phillips would argue, of a Sunday School chorus influencing theology which we might want to keep in mind when choosing modern worship pieces for weekend services
  • Absolute Perfection — which leads to us trying to be absolutely perfect even though we don’t often grasp what it means; or thinking God isn’t interested in us when we’re not perfect
  • Heavenly Bosom — a variation perhaps on burying our head in the sand; we bury ourselves in God as a kind of escapism
  • God in a Box — what I think Phillips is using describe people whose image of God has been shaped by subjective experience in local churches or denominations; or conversely, is defined by the beliefs of his or her denomination
  • Managing Director — with an emphasis on God as “controller,” this image evokes another metaphor: puppet string God
  • Second-Hand God — a longer section; it might be summarized as variations on the God-picture we would get from having seen a single movie or read a single book about God and built everything else up from there; somebody else’s vision
  • Perennial Grievance — whatever the God-view the person holds, this one is ever mindful of the time that God let them down them; disappointed them; etc.
  • Pale Galilean — an image Phillips uses to describe people whose faith is lacking vitality and courage; or whose loyalty is fragile
  • Projected Image — which we would describe today as “creating God in our image.”

While the terminology might not be readily used today; the book is fairly thorough about describing the full range of false views about God that can exist. I felt led to share this here, but then needed to come up with some resolve to this. Phillips views the first half of his book as deconstructive and follows it with a constructive second half. What I want to do here instead, is end with a quotation I’ve used before, but which I believe everyone should commit to memory:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

~E. Stanley Jones

Further reading: If you find reading older material less engaging, see if you can get your hands on this out-of-print book, Jarrett Stevens’ The Deity Formerly Known as God (Zondervan, 2009) which is an updated version of Phillips’ classic. It still exists as an eBook and audio download; another example of where promised print-on-demand books simply failed to materialize. If not, the original by Phillips isn’t all that difficult.

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September 6, 2013

The All-Time Most Influencial Christian Books

I had this all set up to post on my book industry blog, but felt it really deserved the wider readership here also…

I found this rather awesome list at the blog James’ Mirror – Christian Discipleship Guide. I’d like to think that if I posted the link most of you would click through, but experience teaches me it’s better to reblog the item; however, I hope a few of you will give the author some traffic, and click through (click the title below) to read this at source.

Most Influential Christian Books

After a search across the internet for the most influential texts in Christian history came up empty, I decided to create my own. It is admittedly biased toward western, evangelical, Protestant books with a skew toward more recent publications. I’m sure there are a lot of gaps, so I’d love your ideas for how to improve the list. It’s ordered by date and includes texts such as creeds and Bible translations.

  • Antiquities of the Jews (94) – Josephus
  • The Didiche (~100)
  • Against Heresies (180) – Irenaeus
  • On the Incarnation (318) – Athanasius
  • Nicean Creed (325)
  • Life of Antony (360) – Athanasius
  • Confessions (400) – Augustine
  • Latin Vulgate (405) – Jerome
  • City of God (413-426) – Augustine
  • Creed of Chacedon (451)
  • The Rule of St Benedict (530) – Benedict
  • The Philokalia (400-1500) – Various
  • On Loving God (1128) – Bernard
  • Book of Sentences (1150) – Peter Lombard
  • Summa Theoligica (1273) – Thomas Aquinas
  • Revelations of Love – Julian of Norwich
  • Imitation of Christ (1418-1427) – Thomas a Kempis
  • Gutenberg Bible (1456)
  • 95 Theses (1517) – Martin Luther
  • Bondage of the Will (1525) – Martin Luther
  • German Bible translation (1522, 1534) – Martin Luther
  • Commentary on Galatians (1535) – Luther
  • Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) – John Calvin
  • The Divine Comedy (1555) – Dante Alighieri
  • Acts and Monuments (aka Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) (1563) – John Fox
  • Dark Night of the Soul (1584) – John of the Cross
  • Spiritual Exercises (1522-1524) – Ignatius
  • Book of Common Prayer (1549) – Thomas Cranmer
  • Heidelberg Catechism (1563)
  • King James Bible (1611)
  • Westminster Confession (1646)
  • Death of Death (1647) – John Owen
  • Reformed Pastor (1657) – Richard Baxter
  • Pensees (1669) – Blaise Pascal
  • Pia Desideria (1675) – Philip Jacob Spener
  • Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) – John Bunyan
  • Institutes of Elenctic Theology (1679-1685) – Francis Turretin
  • Attributes of God (1682) – Stephen Charnock
  • New England Primer (1687)
  • Body of Divinity (1692) – Thomas Watson
  • Practice of the Presence of God (~1700) – Brother Lawrence/Joseph de Beaufont
  • Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728) – William Law
  • Religious Affections (1746) – Jonathan Edwards
  • Diary of David Brainerd (1749) – Jonathan Edwards
  • Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1766) – John Wesley
  • Missionary Travels (1857) – David Livingstone
  • Holiness (1877) – JC Ryle
  • Systematic Theology (1871) – Charles Hodge
  • Diary of George Muller – George Muller
  • In His Steps (1897) – Charles Sheldon
  • Lectures on Calvinism (1898) – Abraham Kuyper
  • Orthodoxy (1908) – GK Chesterton
  • The Scofield Study Bible (1909) – Cyrus Scofield
  • The Fundamentals (1910-1915) – RA Torrey
  • Christianity and Liberalism (1923) – J Gresham Machen
  • My Utmost for His Highest (1924) – Oswald Chambers
  • Church Dogmatics (1932 – 1967) – Karl Barth
  • Cost of Discipleship (1937) – Dietrich Bonheoffer
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) – CS Lewis
  • Christ and Culture (1951) – Richard Neibuhr
  • Mere Christianity (1952) – CS Lewis
  • Late Great Planet Earth (1970) – Hal Lindsey
  • Knowing God (1973) – JI Packer
  • The Celebration of Discipline (1978) – Richard Foster
  • Desiring God (1986) – John Piper
  • The Purpose Driven Life (2002) – Rick Warren

…So what did you think? Anything you would want to add? How many of these have you read?

August 26, 2011

Your God is too Stereotyped

This morning while looking for something else, a copy of Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips fell into my hands.  This 124-page pocket book is usually remembered for its first 59 pages which focus on a number of “wrong pictures” we have of God, and while I know that Thinking Out Loud readers would never fall into one of these errant views, I believe that we often partially fall into looking at God in one of these stereotyped forms.  Here’s a quick paraphrase of the types Phillips lists:

  • Policeman — an image usually formed out of a ‘guilt-based’ response to God
  • Parental hangover — the Father image of God evokes images of an earthly father which is more negative than positive
  • Grand Old Man — the head of the seniors group perhaps, or president of the service club; but the danger is the ‘old’ part if it implies irrelevance
  • Meek and Mild — an example, Phillips would argue, of a Sunday School chorus influencing theology which we might want to keep in mind when choosing modern worship pieces for weekend services
  • Absolute Perfection — which leads to us trying to be absolutely perfect even though we don’t often grasp what it means; or thinking God isn’t interested in us when we’re not perfect
  • Heavenly Bosom — a variation perhaps on burying our head in the sand; we bury ourselves in God as a kind of escapism
  • God in a Box — what I think Phillips is using describe people whose image of God has been shaped by subjective experience in local churches or denominations; or conversely, is defined by the beliefs of his or her denomination
  • Managing Director — with an emphasis on God as “controller,” this image evokes another metaphor: puppet string God
  • Second-Hand God — a longer section; it might be summarized as variations on the God-picture we would get from having seen a single movie or read a single book about God and built everything else up from there
  • Perennial Grievance — whatever the God-view the person holds, this one is ever mindful of the time that God let them down them; disappointed them; etc.
  • Pale Galilean — an image Phillips uses to describe people whose faith is lacking vitality and courage; or whose loyalty is fragile
  • Projected Image — which we would describe today as “creating God in our image.” 

Do you ever find yourself falling into any of these mistaken views of God?

While the terminology might not be readily used today; the book is fairly thorough about describing the full range of false views about God that can exist.  I felt led to share this here, but then needed to come up with some resolve to this.  Phillips views the first half of his book as deconstructive and follows it with a constructive second half.  What I want to do here instead, is end with a quotation I’ve used before, but which I believe everyone should commit to memory:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God.   Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

~E. Stanley Jones

Further reading:  If you can get your hands on this out-of-print book, look for Jarrett Stevens’ The Deity Formerly Known as God (Zondervan) which is an updated version of Phillips’ classic.  If you can’t find it, get the original, which after all these years is still in print!

What is the New Jerusalem?

We’ve had an interesting run of comments at Christianity 201 on the subject of the New Jerusalem.  Is the Biblical language literal in its references to a city or location; or is the language more figurative, referring to believers as the people who make up the New Jerusalem?  Visit the discussion by clicking this link.

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