Thinking Out Loud

August 3, 2015

J. Warner Wallace: Another Cold Case Solved

Two years ago here I reviewed the book Cold Case Detective by J. Warner Wallace, in which the principles by which this police investigator has operated in his vocation are applied to fleshing out the reliability of the Bible’s gospel narratives. At the time I wrote,

Every decade or so a great work of apologetics appears which breaks the boundaries of the discipline and reaches a wider audience.

I enjoyed the book, and in the time that has passed since I wrote that review, have enjoyed recommending it to a variety of readers, though at times, I also feel it is Christian apologetics’ best kept secret.

God's Crime SceneA few weeks ago, Wallace returned with God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe (David C. Cook) in which he applies the same skills to the idea of God being behind what we might call creation. But we need to watch using the word creation in describing this book, since creation science is concerned with origins and answering the “How did we get here?” type of questions. Rather, this is more about intelligent design and bypassing the How? and When? questions to look more at What?; or more specifically the complexity that exists in the world pointing to a master designer; a designer who exists outside the realms we can observe or quantify.

The last distinction is important to Wallace’s argument; he compares it to cases where detectives would have to determine if the killer was in the room or came from outside the room. The analogy is very fitting, but the proof isn’t contained in one chapter or another, but in the aggregate of a case built on a foundation consisting of an amalgam of evidence and syllogistic logic.

The evidence “inside the room” points to a very specific “suspect.” He’s not a malicious intruder. Although I’ve titled this book God’s Crime Scene (in an effort to illustrate an evidential approach to the investigation of the universe), God hasn’t committed any crime here. In addition, God is not an unconcerned intruder; He isn’t dispassionate about His creation. (p. 201)

God’s Crime Scene is intended therefore to make the argument for the existence of God accessible to the average reader through the comparisons to anecdotal cold-case detective work, and the use of cartoon-like illustrations. But make no mistake, this is not light reading.

This time around, I found myself gladly absorbing the chapters that were more philosophical and epistemological in nature, but totally over my depth in the sections that relied more on biology and physics. I could only marvel that the author was able to present such a wide swath of material which was so multi-disciplinary.

Still there were elements of the argument that were not lost on me. Even a child could see the resemblance of a machine-like mechanism in the human body and a man-made machine that forms a similar function, the latter being something we know was intelligently designed. Or the logic that if we agree that the brain is distinct from the mind, then it’s not a huge leap to the idea that a soul exists.

This is a textbook-quality product that will appeal to a variety of readers with an assortment of interests in this topic and offers the additional payoff of further insights into detectives’ investigative processes. You don’t have to understand every nuance of every issue to both appreciate and learn from Wallace’s writing; and it is in the cumulative assembly of all the various subjects raised here that Wallace is able to mark the case closed.

I give this a very high recommendation both for Christian readers and those who doubt God’s existence. I’d be interested in seeing links to articles where non-believers have interacted with its various chapters, as I believe Wallace has been very thorough in his documentation and his logic.


At 340 pages in an oversize paperback, this book with ‘crime’ in the title is a steal at only $17.99 U.S.

April 20, 2015

The Trinitarian Connection

Filed under: Christianity, theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:57 am

You don’t actually find the word ‘trinity’ in scripture, which means that you won’t find it in many Bible dictionaries. But that doesn’t mean that the doctrine, the idea, the concept is not presented clearly. The problem is that “God in three persons, blessed Trinity” is easy when you’re singing a worship song, but when you try to explain it, you begin to understand the mystery of God.

Also, some people use “God” to refer to “God the Father;” which confuses things. The solution is found in the term “Godhead,” but to some people, that conjures up some weird image more suited to science fiction.

Today, I want to just look at the actual scripture verses which reinforce the doctrine; though if you do a search, you’ll see we’ve covered this here before. Having all these verses in one place will, at the very least, be helpful to me if no-one else!

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIRV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18  TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a  CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2  NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,  To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:  Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Also included in this list is the passage at I Cor. 12: 4-6, because of the pattern: Spirit, Lord, God at the end of each phrase.

The passage from Acts was on a poster in my bedroom when I was younger.   In the Living Bible, it read, simply, “The Father gave the authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit.”

You might also find these posts helpful:

Finally, this is a good place to insert this diagram, which our pastor coincidentally used on Sunday.

trinity_diagram.jpg

April 17, 2014

Should Christians Speak of “Mother Nature?”

“Everybody talks about the weather but nobody ever does anything about it.”

“Whether it’s cold
Or whether it’s hot
We’re going to have weather
Whether or not”

We plough the fields, and scatter
the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered
by God’s almighty hand.
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft, refreshing rain. 1

… He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:45)

In North America in terms of weather, this has been a rough winter, and possibly also where you live, but for different reasons. So it’s not surprising that many conversations over the past six months have been meteorology-related.

In Christian circles though, I’m always surprised to hear people speak of what “Mother Nature” has wrought. It seems contradictory that we would be monotheistic and yet invoke the possibility of a weather god, or weather goddess, even if in jest.

So what do I believe about the weather?

I do think that much if not all of the weather phenomena we experience is the natural consequence of living in a fallen world. When we speak questions like, “How could a loving God allow so much evil to exist?” we are usually talking about genuine evil, and not snow or drought; but it all comes under the same category. This world is broken, and we are continually adding to that brokenness through our disregard for the environment.

Is God powerless in all this? Not for a moment. I believe that God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to intervene each time someone prays, but that sometimes he holds back his hand and allows things to proceed naturally. A miracle is a miracle because it doesn’t happen every day. I don’t know if Pat Robertson really “prayed a hurricane back” from the Virginia coast in the ’70s, but I do believe that God is intervening in our planet more times than we realize. I don’t subscribe to the “clockmaker” theory that God simply “wound up” the planet and left it “ticking.”

So back to our subject.

The personification or anthropomorphizing of someone else or something else being in charge of the environment simply grates on my spiritual conscience. Sure, it’s said almost randomly when said by Christ-followers, but is it any different than the Greeks ascribing natural forces to a series of gods and goddesses each dealing with winds, and rains and heavenly signs?

In scripture this was Israel’s great failing. Their neighbors believed in gods that were specific to various aspects of life (but not all) and had power over a certain geographic area (but not all areas); and then they found themselves sometimes falling into the mindset of the dominant culture. (Thus the Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one.”)

So how do we speak of the fury of natural forces unleashing tornadoes, hurricanes, ice-storms, great heat or other manifestations of extreme weather? I have no answer. I simply don’t want to confuse things — especially among those who have not crossed the line of faith but know that I have — by invoking either Mother Nature or Father Nature or Jupiter or anyone else.

What do you think?

Do you use this phrase in conversation?

On New Year's Day 2009, Ippswich in Australia was expecting a high of +38C, which is about 100F.  Meanwhile, back at home, my Weather Network indicator on my computer is showing that we’re heading to a low of -18C, which is about -1F.   Their high temperature on a summer mid-afternoon Thursday would be occurring at the same time as my Wednesday mid-winter night. That's 101 degrees F difference. That day I was asking, "Are we even on the same planet?"

On New Year’s Day 2009, Ippswich in Australia was expecting a high of +38C, which is about 100F. Meanwhile, back at home, my Weather Network indicator on my computer was showing that we were heading to a low of -18C, which is about -1F. Their high temperature on a summer mid-afternoon Thursday would be occurring at the same time as my Wednesday mid-winter night. That’s 101 degrees F difference. That day I was asking, “Are we even on the same planet?” (The left picture was actually Bondi Beach.) Where I live, houses, cars and our collection of clothing has to withstand wind chill factors as low as -50 C (which was reached in Winnipeg several times this year, almost not needing the chill factor) and humidity index temps higher than +40 C.

1Classic hymn based on a poem published in 1782 and set to music in 1800; also the basis of the song All Good Gifts from the musical Godspell; section cited based on Psalm 147:16.

Surely, if Mother Nature had been consulted, she would never have consented to building a city in New Orleans. ~Mortimer Zuckerman

July 30, 2013

Guest Post: An Engineer Looks at Doctrinal Systems

My guest writer today is my son Chris, who I should describe more accurately as an engineer in training. He brings a scientific mind to a study which divides people, the issue of the Calvinist doctrinal system versus the Arminian doctrinal system. He is trying to show here how each of the core beliefs of Calvinism is rooted in the belief which precedes it. To that end it is a systematic theology. Since Arminianism is historically a response to Calvinism, he contrasts each doctrinal element with the corresponding Arminian perspective. For someone not trained in such matters, I personally think he does an amazing job here, even inventing a few new words in the process.

In yet another of history’s attempts to diffuse the unending debate between Calvinists and Arminianists, I would like to summarize my experiences with the dispute.  This caused me a great deal of grief in my first years of university, and I will be quite happy if I can immunize anyone to the arguing by informing them about it before it becomes a “stumbling block” to them.

First, I have identified the most fundamental difference between the two systems of belief to be that Arminians believe that sinful humans possess “free will” or “freedom of choice,” while Calvinists believe that sinfulness precludes choice.  All further differences can be extrapolated from this one point and a few obvious observations about the world.  Therefore, the most core difference between the two theological systems is a disagreement about man, not about God.  (Total Depravity.)

The different views of choice lead to different views of the lead-up to salvation:  The Arminian sees God approach a sinner and offer him a chance to change his ways, and the sinner willfully ceases his rebellion, consents to being changes from within, and agrees to begin working for the Kingdom;  while the Calvinist sees God selecting a sinner and going to work in him without any questions or profferings.  (Irresistible Grace)

The different views of choice also lead to different views of the lead-up to non-salvation:  The Arminian sees God approach a sinner and offer salvation, but the sinner declines to accept it, much to God’s dismay;  while the Calvinist sees no dialogue take place, as God has already rejected that sinner for reasons he has not disclosed.  (Unconditional Election.)

The different views on the distribution of salvation are mirrored by different theories about the available supply of salvation:  Arminians believe that Jesus took up the sins of everyone so that the door might be open to everyone;  while Calvinists believe Jesus only took up the sins of those who would, in fact, ultimately be saved, because it would be pointless for Jesus to suffer for sins whose committors will carry them in Hell anyway.  (Limited Atonement.)

(The remaining Point of Calvinism is Perseverance of the Saints.  Whether or not someone can lose their salvation depends purely on how the word “saved” is applied, which is not really part of the overall disagreement.  It’s purely a difference in terminology.)

The different views of non-salvation, a topic people naturally feel strongly about, lead to different descriptions of God’s character:  The Arminian describes God as unconditionally loving and with arms always open, constantly wooing people to come home;  while the Calvinist may perhaps describe God as a mighty ruler building his kingdom, purposefully and with discernment, to glorify himself.

The Arminian’s favorite word is “love,” while the Calvinists’s is “sovereign.”  Due to differences in rhetoric, each side believes their favorite to be absent from the other’s theology, creating caricatures of each:  Calvinists think Arminians don’t take God’s rule seriously, while Arminians think Calvinists believe God holds humans to be worthless unless useful.  Any contestation that develops between the two sides serves to further polarize the rhetoric.

Both of these caricatures are sometimes correct:  There are people in the church who believe in works-based salvation (whether consciously or not), and there are others therein who think God hates them.

Calvinism versus ArminianismThe caricatures cause “straw men” in any argument that takes place between Calvinists and Arminianists:  The Arminianist thinks he’s arguing about the scope of God’s love, while the Calvinist thinks he’s arguing about the scope of God’s rule, when in fact the two are in agreement about both.  The argument typically doesn’t resolve, but is terminated by an exclamation of, “Well, at least we can agree that we’re both saved by grace through the blood of the Lamb!” or something to that effect.

Both descriptions of God’s character can be taken too far:  God’s love, taken too far, leads to universalism, while God’s sovereignty, taken too far, leads to fatalism.

The different views of choice stem from different individual conversion experiences:  One Christian, who came slowly to understand and accept God’s work in their past, will find that Calvinism describes the process better;  while another, who had salvation explained to them by an existing Christian and then wanted to get in on it, may find that Arminianism describes the process better.  Likewise, I imagine there are nonbelievers who have understood and rejected Jesus, and others who die without ever knowing.

You will encounter people on both sides who acknowledge the correctness of both — either believing that each correctly describes the same God with different terminology, or believing that they serve as a sort of Yin and Yang that describe God well complementarily but poorly individually — and you will encounter those who adhere fiercely to one and war against the other.

~Chris Wilkinson


June 26, 2013

Wednesday Link List

So, is Pope Francis a revivalist?

Saved - Pope Francis

Now, on to the links…

Some very, very high profile Christian sites and at least one radio show get their news stories here. We know who you are…

The Wednesday List Lynx might be getting a new home as early as next week.

The Wednesday List Lynx might be getting a new home as early as next week.

Stop the presses! Is this the last link list?

We’re cooking up a partnership that could mean more people than ever would get to share in what we’ve been doing here for five years. Just think of the larger number of people who would get saved just clicking on these same stories. They might not even have to click; conviction might come just by reading the teasers. 

Really, why are we considering this? It’s about power and the ability to take bribes to promote various blogs and websites.

So stay tuned. Same bat time. Same bat channel. But maybe not actually same bat channel.

January 26, 2013

Defining Charismatic

Yesterday afternoon, I ran a post at Christianity 201 where the author gave seven reasons why he believes that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have not ceased to operate.

But Michael Patton, ever analytical, had blogged just the day before at Parchment and Pen about six characteristics he believes identifies Charismatic Christians. (He used a lower case ‘c’ but I have chosen to capitalize this where it refers to an admittedly diverse denomination, in the same way some are now arguing that Evangelical needs to be capitalized.)

1. Unusual attention given to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer

2. The tendency to seek and expect miraculous healings

3. The tendency to seek and expect God’s direct communication (dreams, visions, experiences, personal encounters, etc.)

4. Unusual attention given to the presence of demonic activity in the world

5. Very  expressive worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

He spells out each of these, and then describes the entire spectrum of belief as to the gifts of the Spirit, ending up with this chart.  (I do appreciate his calling both extremes as unorthodox; you can tell me that the tongues and interpretation aren’t for today, but don’t try to tell me they never happened!)

Belief Spectrum - Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Read the entire article here.

I think his analysis is good, though his terminology is a bit intense.  Perhaps the charismatics I know are more conservative, or possibly he is envisioning charismatic believers in Africa or South America. I would rephrase his six points this way:

1. A distinct emphasis on the limitless power and work of the Holy Spirit in the world today

2. Expectant, faith-consumed prayer even in the face of great odds and obstacles

3. A belief that God speaks into the hearts and minds of his people through dreams, visions, circumstances and a ‘still small voice’

4. An acknowledgement that the Christian is always embroiled in spiritual warfare

5. Passionate worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

The problem with any doctrinal emphasis is that it always takes place at the expense of something else. So if you speak of an “unusual emphasis” on the Holy Spirit, or on demonic activity, are you doing so at the cost of not emphasizing the work of redemption on the cross, or the call to love our neighbors, or the priority of world missions? (Points 1 and 4)  The Charismatics — albeit with a few exceptions — that I know haven’t thrown the baby out with the bath water.

And if you believe that God is still in the business of impressing things on his people (Point 3) that doesn’t mean it is at the expense of not prioritizing the role of scripture. Most of the Charismatics I know have a good working knowledge of scripture.

I did leave one (Point 6) intact.  Good comments on the blog, too; one more time here’s the link.

September 19, 2012

Wednesday Link List

I appear to have spent my link list capital this weekend by turning links I had banked for today into full stories. Sigh! Please have your link list suggestions in by Monday night around 7:00 PM EST. (For my European and Aussie/Kiwi readers, that’s 19:00 New York City time.)

  • Jeremy Mann writes at The Evangelical Post on the lack of good pastors and why this is happening. 
  • Somewhat related, Perry Noble unearths a year-2000 email from the early days of New Spring, where he is averaging 60 people in attendance and running out of room! He encourages struggling pastors to remain faithful. 
  • A rather complex article by Bruce Epperly that is, one one level, an examination of the theology in James MacDonald’s Vertical Church, but also deals with the contrast between God’s transcendence and God’s immanence, and also how we translate scripture and update hymns. So basically, you want to read this twice.  
  • Frank Shaeffer is blogging and has chosen Patheos as his blogging home.  The Blog is titled, Why I Still Talk To Jesus  – In Spite of Everything — if you know his story, you’ll get that — and he kicks off with a four parter titled, The Blessed Hypocrisy “Method Acting” of Salvation. (Link is to part one.) 
  • Okay, something a little lighter… from this week’s blog discovery, Annie Blogs, a piece about God’s love with a video embed of Love Came Down a Bethel Live song covered acoustically here by Brian and Jenn Johnson.
  • If you can’t get enough of the whole link thing, Rachel Held Evans usually has a great list every Sunday, like Ben Howard’s Christian Denominations are Like NLF Teams (sure you have to be American to get it fully, but the premise is interesting), or at The Axiom Monastic Community blog, a motorcycle pilgrimage in search of St. Francis of Assisi
  • But of course, that would force us to mention Rachel’s own rather shocking re-examination of Esther (yes, the “for such a time as this” Esther) who RHE sees as far from a Disney Princess; sparking over 100 comments. Quote: “And if we’re going to be faithful to scripture, we must learn to love it for what it is, not what we want it to be.” 
  • Most popular at GodTube this weekend, Unlike Christ, a church/sermon video clip from Worship House Media.
  • And since one good sermon clip deserves another, here’s the one they showed in one local church on the weekend, simply titled Masks. (Well, the first three minutes, anyway.)
  • Christian Week (Canada’s Christian news source) story of the week concerns a Kitchener MP who wants to reopen the debate about human life and origins with a call to define the term “human being.”  
  • Christianity 201 marks 900-posts.

June 17, 2012

Kyle Idleman: God Doesn’t Do Boxes

Filed under: theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:13 pm

This morning for Father’s Day my wife wrote a reading that involved some of the kids.  It was an abridged — and slightly Canadianized — version of the following sermon clip from Kyle Idleman at Southeast Christian Church.  (Link is to a generic sermon page.)  For my wife’s version see the comments section.

If you’ve never read the book Your God Is Too Small by J.B. Phillips, it’s a very concise book that deals with our misconceptions about God’s nature.  I’m also always reminded at times like this of this E. Stanley Jones quotation:

When 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 was Christ.

August 31, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Due to an unfortunate accident last week, we have to remind readers: DO NOT PET THE WEDNESDAY LIST LYNX

Starting off this week with something a little un-characteristic for this blog…

  • From Drew Marshall’s Facebook page:  “Saw this somewhere: ‘For all you single ladies who are in such a hurry to find someone, here’s a quick piece of biblical advice: Ruth patiently waited for her mate Boaz. While waiting on YOUR Boaz, don’t settle for ANY of his relatives: Broke-az, Po-az, Lyin-az, Cheatin-az, Dumb-az, Cheap-az, Lockedup-az, Goodfornothin-az, Lazy-az or Married-az….. and especially his 3rd Cousin Beatinyo-az !!!!’ “
  • Okay, that was a strange way to start the link list, but it was actually an excellent lead in to a piece by Donald Miller who doesn’t waste words but just asks, “Ladies, Why Do You Hook Up?”  Closing in on 400 responses.
  • CNN’s tech page reports on a Bible-based video game, El Shaddai, except that the Bible-book it’s based on is The Book of Enoch, not exactly part of the core canon of scripture.
  • Now that we’ve hooked you in with superficial story links, let’s aim for some substance with Confessions of a Former Worship Leader.  Yeah, I know, even that one starts with “confessions.”
  • “Are you busy but not intentional? Do you feel like you are just spinning your wheels and not getting any traction? Does there seem to be a lack of any kind of momentum in your organization? Could be you are dealing with way too much “sideways energy.” So begins a post at Brad Lomenick’s blog.
  • The Brink — an online magazine for twenty-somethings — interviews the voice behind the currently popular “Blessings” song, Laura Story.
  • A former Mormon thinks that Rachel Held Evans gave a Mormon apologist a free pass with questions that were too easy.
  • 150,000 views isn’t much by YouTube standards, but on GodTube it’s fairly significant. Check out Brazilian child singing sensation, Jotta A. singing Agnus Dei.
  • You didn’t know Eugene Nida, but depending on what Bible translation you use, you’ve been affected by his research and ideas.  Nida pioneered the translation philosophy often referred to as ‘Dynamic Equivalence.’ Nida passed away last week at age 96.
  • Your new word for the day: Biblicism.  It means Biblical Literalism.  Of which one kind is Letterism. (Hey, that’s what Wikipedia says; I think it’s a typo: read the section header that follows its mention.) Even though our family played Balderdash on Monday night, I’m not making these words up. Actually this was sparked by this article at Jesus Creed.
  • Rather than wait for a fan to post a lyrics-only video for his song, The Real World, Owl City did the job himself. Nothing new here, just a musical style that obviously works. More important might be his new website, Reality is a Lovely Place.
  • “God moves at three miles an hour because walking pace is the pace of love. Efficiency, hurry and haste do not effectively communicate love, and so a vision of mission centered around haste cannot be carried out according to the character of our God.” Eddie Arthur quoting Simon Cozens at Kouya Chronicle with a link to Cozens’ full article.
  • The activity known as gleaning — look it up — is alive and well as Kevin Rogers notes in a profile of Forgotten Harvest.  (Does anyone else think “The Activity Known as Gleaning” would be a great name for band?  How about “Forgotten Harvest?”)
  • It’s not a Christian movie in the sense we normally use that term, but on Sunday morning, Pete Wilson was gushing about a forthcoming film, Machine Gun Preacher.
  • Visit Zac Hicks blog for a free download of the song “Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus” from the album Without Our Aid by Zac Hicks and Cherry Creek Worship. (Offer ends Sept. 13/11)  Furthermore, get ‘the story behind the song‘ along with the classic lyrics.
  • Zach quotes Tim Chester in 12 Reasons to Give Up Porn. Heck, any two or three of these oughta be sufficient.
  • If you find you need something today to get angry or frustrated about, you could always read the King James Bible Declaration. Posted at SFL of all places!
  • I actually did read some other things this week that were a little deeper, you can find those over at C201.
  • And now for something completely different. Click the image to find the answers to James West’s Bible Puzzle

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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