Thinking Out Loud

August 4, 2017

WWGD?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:35 am

A bunch of things to think about. Well, maybe two. Or one.

First of all, why “What Would God Do?” instead of “What Would Jesus Do?” (Grammar people: Do I repeat the question mark at the end, as in “Do?”?”) (Oh wait, that’s also a question. So the last parenthetic part should be “Do?”?”?”)

And we haven’t even started to consider theology.

The reason I went with WWGD? instead of WWJD? is because I think the subject we want to look at today is more of a God question than a Jesus question.

It all started with a comment by longtime reader (as in from the very first days of this blog) Kathy B. Replying to our subject yesterday, she wrote;

which got me thinking, ‘Do I own a copy of Knowledge of the Holy or was I reading a borrowed copy?’

More seriously, it got me thinking about the many issues and subjects which use up vast amounts of energy on the internet related to peoples’ overarching theology as well as particular doctrines.

The A. W. Tozer line, “I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God;” resonated with me because I’ve always felt at the end of the day, so many of our discussions and debates are reduced to “The Bible says…” when I’ve always felt the issue was more our picture of, “What God is like.”

Now at that point, some people are going to think I’m holding to a low view of scripture. Not at all. The problem is that when you say, “The Bible says…” and someone else with a contradictory view says, “The Bible says…” both are interpreting the texts in a way they believe to be correct and honorable, but coming to totally opposite conclusions. It’s not always peripheral issues, either. I just wish we could take each point of disagreement and find a way to subject it to some broader WWGD-type of filtering.

Women in ministry? What is God like? What general God-picture do we have in relation to gender roles, ministry leadership, etc.?

Divine election? What is God like? What general God-picture do we have in relation to human free will, eternal punishment, etc.?

Pre-Tribulation rapture? What is God like? What general God-picture do we have in relation to God’s master plan, escaping-versus-enduring hard times, etc.?

At this point some will say, “Well, the only way we can get that God-picture is from the scriptures.” Absolutely. I agree. But it’s going to come from a study of the entire Bible, an understanding of the whole counsel of God; knowing the ways of God.

Do that, and then test to see if one particular view you hold is an outlier when it comes to the bigger God-picture.

 

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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.

January 14, 2016

Spiritual Ups and Downs

Filed under: Christianity, personal, writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

Spiritual ups and downs

Several days ago I was introduced to someone who is a relatively new Christian. As she told a bit of her story, I felt led to share some things with her.

This is not a new thing, I do this all the time; but in this situation, even as I was hearing myself speak, I sensed an extra measure of authority in my words which is not always there. As an added plus, although I often allude to various scriptures, I found myself quoting passages more verbatim than I normally would.

It was a good discussion and I didn’t mind at all that it left me ten minutes late for our next appointment.

Flash forward about six hours…

I was alone in the house, and it was like I was having some type of gigantic spiritual breakdown. Overwhelmed with a variety of circumstances; frustrated, stressed out and discouraged; I found myself saying, “God, I can’t pray; I just can’t pray anymore.” (Yes, I realize the irony. By crying out to God I was praying. I was conscious of it at the time, too.)

It was just one of those moments — call it a spiritual warfare attack — where the burden of everything going on just seemed too much.

And that’s the end of the story…

…Okay, I realize this isn’t very redemptive, and it runs the opposite of most the Psalms you’ve read. If you read the Psalmist, you know that there is a lot of raw transparency there. But there is always resolution, a moment of ‘Then the Lord heard my cry’ (6:9; 18:6) or ‘Then the Lord answered me’ (34:4; 118:5).

Hey, I’m a writer. I like to tie up the end of the story with a bow. I want to end each blog post with, ‘and they lived happily ever after.’

So it looks like I’ve got the parts in the wrong order, right?

Well, no. Life is after all, a series of ups and downs, not just downs and ups. Each chapter of our lives is connected to the previous and to the next, and so our lives are more like a sine wave. (If you’re spiritually up all the time, I look forward to reading your book. Most people’s lives aren’t like that.)

And God and I were never that far away from each other. I was just at a low point. And alone at home. And probably especially vulnerable to attack after the spiritual high of my earlier conversation. And things did even out after I was through with my spiritual rant.

Can you relate?

 

Here’s a classic from Maranatha Music which came to mind as I wrote this:

December 6, 2015

With Christmas Coming, Do Your Kids Feel a Sense of Entitlement?

We never gave our kids an allowance. Not once. Working for ministry organizations and then owning a commercial ministry where we don’t pay ourselves a salary may have precluded it somewhat. But at the end of the day, I just didn’t see the point. Some kids are paid for being good. Our kids were good for nothing. [Rim-shot!] I just didn’t want them to think that we owed them anything.

We rarely bought our kids much of anything when we went to the mall. Perhaps never is a bit strong. The general presumption was that we were going to look, that the mall was a recreational destination where we would also do some comparison shopping and if the mood hit us, actually make a purchase. There was never the expectation that we would emerge carrying packages. The kids never thought that they were going to come away with increased personal possessions.

As a result, I think my children have a balanced perspective when it comes to materialism. In their mid-teens, they learned to pick up the tab for the things they needed or wanted on their own. It helped that both had paying jobs in high school. A part-time job at that age in our town is nothing short of a miracle.

Now they’re in their 20s. Both have a VISA card, and are well-versed in online banking. My youngest told me he feels guilty when he makes a large purchase. Maybe we need to tweak that attitude a little.

I felt both of them had a head-start when it came to money given the part time jobs. Some start even earlier. I wasn’t ready for the young girl who came into our store with a debit card. I think she was about nine years old. Okay, maybe ten. Not much more than that. It was one of those split-second moments of seeing something almost comedic, like when little boys would dress up in their father’s jackets and ties, back when their fathers actually wore jackets and ties. Maybe the analogy today is wearing their father’s shoes. (Not sure what the girl equivalent is; can tell me?)

The other side to consumerism is that I’ve tried to do is encourage our kids not to waste, because I believe the issue of materialism and the issue of waste go hand-in-hand. Maybe rationing the squares of toilet tissue is a bit much,* but certainly there’s no need for the second glass of the expensive treat we bought, such as Welch’s Grape Juice — the real stuff, not the Grape Cocktail their flogging now — or even a second glass of the cheaper apple juice.

Mind you, they’ve inherited that from me. I see food on the table and feel this desire for more. I had no siblings growing up, yet I seem to be in this constant competition for my fair share. At church potlucks, I tend to position myself close to the food table. I have a sense that all the other people in our congregation are people who will eat my share of the dinner if I do not guard it carefully. Not sure where I got that. But like father like son(s); the kids don’t like to miss out.

My youngest, aka Kid Too, was usually the first to take a piece of chicken or roast beef from the platter, a luxury of choice I was always taught is reserved for the cook, aka Mrs. W. He chooses well. He has taken a culinary course and knows the good pieces. The tender pieces. I always complain at that point that he just took “the best piece.” I am not trying to cause trouble. I sized up the platter before we said the blessing and already saw the piece that I considered the finest, and he took it. More competition.

At this point, I’m thinking of the title of the book by Francis Shaeffer’s daughter, Susan McAuley Schaeffer, How To Be Your Own Selfish Pig. I have been mastering this art for years, but not through actual pigging, but by ranting about the perceived pigging of everyone else.

As I write, it occurs to me that I probably wouldn’t be so obsessed about portion control if my youngest had shown more gratitude during those years. Actually, he does this a great deal, but in other areas. If he were to tell me how much he enjoys the times we purchase the more expensive grape juice, I would probably lavish him with more. He is changing with age however. When he comes home at Christmas I expect his sense of appreciation for all we do to have matured even more, though I still feel I should be saying grace with one eye open…

Then it hits me. That’s what God is waiting for. He has many good things in heaven’s storehouse which have me in mind. But he’s waiting for me to say thanks for what I have been given. As the Biblical story of the ten lepers teaches us, the thank-you rate is about 10%.


 

*I don’t actually ration toilet tissue, though I have been known to do calculations as to the number of squares that — hmmm …too much information?

July 5, 2015

If It’s Not Working, Check the Connections

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

January 29, 2015

When Unbelievers Get It

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:39 am

I Cor 14 is a passage that deals with spiritual gifts that may be interpreted differently by people depending on their take on the reality of those gifts in the 21st century. So I don’t want to focus specifically on the idea prophecy or prophesying as much as I want to focus on the latter part of verse 25:

24 But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. 25 As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, “God is truly here among you.” (NLT)

What a great moment that would be! Imagine someone coming into one of our meetings who is not a believer, but they observe “God is truly here among you.”

I like how The Message handles this:

But if some unbelieving outsiders walk in on a service where people are speaking out God’s truth, the plain words will bring them up against the truth and probe their hearts. Before you know it, they’re going to be on their faces before God, recognizing that God is among you. (vs 24-25, Message)

There’s a great Old Testament parallel passage to this:

This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ (Zechariah 8:23 NLT)

What a picture that paints!

We had a pastor once whose nearly ten year ministry of us truly came to a dramatic climax with his final sermon. His last sentence of that message went something like this, “I don’t want people to leave here saying, ‘They have a great church;’ but rather, they should say, ‘They have a great God.'”

What a great thing to hear!


About the Blogroll:

This blog has a rather interesting link list in the sidebar. Blogs mentioned are chosen because they are (a) faith focused and (b) posting regularly. The doctrinal flavor of the blogs listed is quite varied, but I don’t include blogs that appear to have more “agenda” than content. Some blogs are listed somewhat permanently, some disappear and return a month later. Together, they represent almost one twentieth or about 5% of the bloggers that I have bookmarked in my computer and read regularly. Some of the blogs appearing in the Wednesday link list end up on this page later on, while others have a key post that I feel is worth mentioning, while at the same time I’m not sure I want to establish them as a link or imply endorsement. Recommendations are invited.

July 4, 2013

When Faith Doesn’t Stick

Recently, my wife and I have had a number of recurring conversations prompted by comments overheard that among some Christian parents we know that their children have arrived at their late teens or early twenties only to reveal that the Christian faith they were immersed in, for lack of a better phrase, didn’t take.

At that point, I usually shake my head in despair and usually lament the time and energy that was poured into their Christian education would appear to have been entirely ineffective, at least to this point. Specifically, my comments repeatedly run along the lines of:

  • “…all those Sunday school classes…”
  • “…all those nights at youth group…”
  • “…all those weeks at church camp…”

and other variations you can fill in. 

The other day when I was finishing up this litany my wife said something that arrested me in my tracks. Now remember that, (a) she is very wise, and (b) she had the advantage of experiencing multiple repetitions of my soliloquy before issuing a comeback.

So when I said, “…all those years in church…” she said, “Yes, but you don’t know what was said in the car on the way home.”

True.

Or over dinner.

I can’t imagine that any of the parents in question would do anything knowing that it had the least potential of undermining the nurture of their children’s faith, but that’s just the point, isn’t it?

How many kids are destined for a young adulthood (and beyond) without a faith component because we inadvertently did a really crappy job of modeling for them what Christ-following looks like?

You don’t want to think about that.

So parents, be careful what you say in the car ride home on Sunday. Your comments are being picked up by little ears.

Coincidentally, The Pew Research Forum has just released a report on the religious life of Canada, my home and native land. The charts and graphs all speak for themselves — two are reproduced below — but the message is clear that an attrition is taking place in the church as we’ve not seen before. Furthermore, in Canada and the United States, the religious landscape is forever changed because of immigration policy.

Pew Research - Canada - 1

Pew Research - Canada - 2

The results are similar to a study done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), called Hemorrhaging Faith, which we reported on here a few months ago. That study looked at four demographic areas: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics in Quebec, and Roman Catholics Outside Quebec; and divided respondents into Engagers, Fence Sitters, Wanderers and Rejecters.

The Pew Study looked only at Protestants and Catholics, as well as respondents from other religions and the rapidly growing category known as “the nones” (not nuns) who check off the “none” box on census and other surveys. Unfortunately in the EFC study, the results for Evangelicals — while showing stronger adherence — did not point to a much brighter future over the long term.

Survey companies like Barna and Pew make money selling reports, and the very nature of the business means that bad news tends to get more attention. So books like David Kinnaman’s unChristian are better known than the counter response found in books like Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve Been Told reviewed here. People will flock to buy a book on how the sky is falling, but not so much toward one which advises the sky is intact.

But the Pew Research study and the Evangelical Fellowship’s study highlight statistics that are undeniable: Kids are leaving the church in record numbers.

October 29, 2011

Living Creatures: A Halloween Post

While surfing the blogosphere for material appropriate to Christianity 201, I came across the rather lively blog of Carole McDonnell and a particular post she wrote just in time for Halloween.   The line that convinced me we needed to borrow steal feature it here was,

…I figured I’d do something on Living Creatures who terrify. (Honestly, who fears dead stuff? Maybe corpses bring diseases and contamination but other than that…the dead are not particularly troublesome.)

Is that cool or what? Now then, internet etiquette dictates that you actually click over and view this at her blog, but statistically, most of you won’t which means you would miss out on something truly different…


My Halloween Post: Those Awesome Cherubim
Yep, it’s that time of the year again when folks celebrate dead creatures and stuff that terrify. But since hubby and I finished Revelations last week, I figured I’d do something on Living Creatures who terrify. (Honestly, who fears dead stuff? Maybe corpses bring diseases and contamination but other than that…the dead are not particularly troublesome.) And no I’m not gonna talk about demons either. True, they’re living creatures in their own way because they have immortal life. But they are evil. What I want to right about is Terrifying holiness.

With God is terrible majesty! With God is terrifying majesty!

God made many type of creatures, creatures who can live in the three-dimensional world and in other dimensionalities. And he also made the Cherubim. The Cherubim live in heaven…in fact they live in God’s throne room and are never out of the presence of God. God rides on the Cherubim, He is seated above the Cherubim. (Satan himself was the cherubim that covered the throne while the other cherubs surrounded it or were under it. But I digress.)

The weird thing is that as heavenly as Cherubim are, they are weirdly intertwined in human affairs. What their purpose is God alone (and great Bible students) know. They are carved over the mercy seat…which represents their place in heaven. They represent life forms on earth: tame animals, wild animals, humans, and birds. (No fish or creeping thing, but again, I digress.)

So this is what I want to talk about the Cherubim. Now, on earth we have one way of being: we are spirit, body, mind, but we are all in one visible package. Because God is above and beyond the third dimension, God can see our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.  But we humans can only see each other’s bodies. (Okay, if we have a gift we can see into spirits but I digress.)  Back to the Cherubim.

As we see them in the Book of Ezekiel, (the first time I believe in the Bible) we are told they all have one likeness:

The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the color of beryl, and all four had the same likeness.  The appearance of their workings was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. “ (Ezekiel 1:1, 4-5,15-16, NKJV)

That is: they all look alike.

Under each of their four wings I could see human hands. So each of the four beings had four faces and four wings. 9The wings of each living being touched the wings of the beings beside it. Each one moved straight forward in any direction without turning around.

10Each had a human face in the front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle at the back. 11Each had two pairs of outstretched wings—one pair stretched out to touch the wings of the living beings on either side of it, and the other pair covered its body. 12They went in whatever direction the spirit chose, and they moved straight forward in any direction without turning around.  Ezekiel 1: 8-12

Okay, so we accept this. One being has four faces, feet straight down so they don’t ever turn their face from God, and eyes everywhere just in case…so they don’t miss anything. And then there’s that pesky wheel-within-the-wheel which hints at all kinds of things.

The other thing we have to note is that these Cherubim move about in groups of four. Each four is one entity: a singular entity made up of four sub-entities who all look alike. This is something we can’t even begin to figure out. I mean, on earth a marriage is an entity but the hubby and the woman are not really alike to such an extreme.

Anyway, we accept this…and ponder and ponder. But then what happens when we arrive in Revelation?

In the center and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. 7The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight.8Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,  Rev  4: 6-8

There are two changes here:

The first: the number of wings: two pairs each in Ezekiel’s vision, and 6 wings (not said if they come in pairs) in Revelations.
The second: The cherubim are now separate, kinda. . .and fully themselves but still a unity of four.

They’re still unified but one is fully human with six wings, one is fully a bird (with six wings), one is fully a lion (with six wings) and one is fully an ox (with six wings.

Again, they have all the eyes.  Now if there is any confusion here about these creatures: Ezekiel calls these living creatures “Cherubim” and John calls them “living creatures.”

Ezekiel 10:20 These were the living creatures I had seen beneath the God of Israel by the Kebar River, and I realized that they were cherubim.

Revelation 4:6 Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.

But, what’s interesting here is how these cherubim are part of each other and a unity. Not a trinity but a Quatrinity (I just invented that word, I think.) On earth we can’t begin to understand beings who are part of each other and who can dismantle and reassemble themselves in different patterns….but wow! this is heaven! A spiritual sphere! A world of dimensionalities we cannot begin to understand. Question: do they really “look” like this? Or is the way they look the only way our human minds with its limited understanding of what a “person” is can understand?

And may I say, these are terrifying. I have never seen a cherubim — especially when it/they is in their one from column a, one from column b, one from column c, one from column d — and yet one-single-entity mode  And know what? I do not want to see them.

In Daniel, the angel Gabriel is often called “The man Gabriel.” He stands before God, in the presence of God. Just like the cherubim are always before God. And honestly, if God wants to send anyone to talk to humans, I think he knows enough of human fear to send someone who looks like one of us: Gabriel.

How terrifying and majestic holiness is! I imagine the eyes of the cherubim, always seeing God and yet possibly seeing all on the earth, seeing through the eyes of all on the earth, seeing the evil being done on the earth.

Yeah, no ghost or demon matches the terrifying majesty of God.

~Carole McDonnell


I hope you agreed that was worth it. Even though you didn’t click over to her blog, why not give Carole a courtesy click now and check out other stuff she’s got there.

Next, you need to see some of the other videos over at John8ThirtyTwo’s YouTube channel.

Carole: I think the word Quadrinity has been used elsewhere, changing the ‘t’ to a ‘d’.

October 12, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Here in the frozen north, Thanksgiving has already come and gone, but that didn’t stop temperatures from reaching 30 degrees Celsius on the weekend (mid 80s Fahrenheit) for three straight days which made link-catching less appealing than suntanning.

  • For you worship-leader types, here’s one of the most comprehensive articles you’ll see on the “worship wars” discussed entirely in terms of church architecture.
  • Just nine more days to another Harold Camping end-of-life-as-we-know-it date.
  • If you don’t know what I mean when I say, “Stethoscope Video” then you haven’t seen it.  Take 2 1/2 minutes and enjoy.
  • It’s official: Mitt Romney tells Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress that he thinks that Baptists are a cult.  …Okay, not really, but maybe he should have.  Here’s the original story,  a response from Robert Mouw, and a sample of comments; all from CNN.
  • You’ll want to read the comments to find more links to get the full 411 on this story, but the blogger Tulip Girl has a blog post implying that another child death may be linked to the controversial book, To Train Up A Child by Michael and Debi Pearl.
  • No, what follows is not a typo: Is it possible to hate Jesus but love Christianity?  David Paul Dorr looks at that here and here [part two link to follow!]
  • Are you “crazy busy” all the time?  Pete Wilson hints you may need to invest in the concept of sabbath.
  • This isn’t new, but… here’s one of those church video clips from Igniter media that uses a Facebook theme; naturally, this one’s titled Follow.
  • Canadian Anglican Pastor Leonard Griffith is now 90 and just keeps on going.
  • More from James MacDonald on the decision to invite T. D. Jakes to a forthcoming seminar, aka The Elephant Room controversy.
  • Hey kids!  Wanna learn Biblical Hebrew in just three easy lessons?  Well, you can’t.  But maybe 40 moderately challenging lessons from Charles Grebe at Briercrest College and Seminary. Learn more about Charles at AnimatedHebrew.com starting with the Hebrew alphabet. Shalom!
  • The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) celebrated a 50-year anniversary earlier this month.
  • In a culture focused on the excitement of church planting, we never think about the sadness of church closings that are constantly taking place at the same time.
  • Natalie Grant adds “actor” to her list of accomplishments with a feature role in the movie Decision.
  • From Internet Monk writer Jeff Dunn

There is a story told of an old woman who claimed she and God talked on a regular basis. Her bishop was doubtful of her claims to hear from God. After all, he prayed on a regular basis, but the Lord never spoke back to him. So he decided to put this woman to the test in order to reveal her for either a misguided soul or a fraud. He went to her and said, “The next time you are talking with God, ask him to tell you what my most grievous sin was.” The woman agreed to do so.

A week later the bishop returned and asked, “Did you ask God to reveal to you my worst sin?”

“Yes,” said the woman. “I did ask him.”

“Well,” said the bishop, “what did he say?”

The woman said simply, “He says he forgets.”

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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