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.

March 6, 2015

Compassion for Calvinists

Soteriology 101

For several months now I’ve been following the Twitter feed Soteriology 101. For those who don’t know the term, soteriology is one of the necessary doctrines which combine to form a whole, systematic theology; and deals with the means and understanding of salvation. I had listened to one of the podcasts but obviously wasn’t paying attention as fully as I did last night as we listened to this particular one. For example, I didn’t know who it was I was listening to, but earlier this morning a quick trip to the related website revealed this:

Leighton FlowersLeighton Flowers is a teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology at Dallas Baptist University, and the Youth Evangelism Director for TEXAS BAPTISTS. In this position he directs a statewide youth leadership training camp called Super Summer, impacting thousands of Christian teenagers with in depth Bible study and discipleship training. Leighton also directs the Youth Evangelism Conference, reaching anywhere between 3 to 5 thousand Texas teenagers with the gospel of Christ each year.

The March 3rd podcast we listened to started off with a song, directed at Calvinists called “Why Do You Have to be So Rude?” While I identified with the sentiment, I wondered if this podcast would be dealing in caricatures, or acting as a response to some of the various (and numerous) anti-Arminian websites, blogs and Twitter feeds.

Instead, the approach was much more compassionate, and in fact Flowers has a very high respect for some of Calvinism’s most known voices, this particular edition including much praise for John Piper.

I wish I had been taking notes, but on reflection, four things stood out. One was the place of Calvinism in the historical flow of what is now Evangelicalism. Flowers notes the trending nature of this doctrinal system, but clearly believes it is about to ebb. At a more micro level, he also dealt with the Reformed position within the Southern Baptist Convention, which some SBC pastors would like to see as the default doctrine.

The second thing was that militant Calvinism’s counterpart — call it militant Arminianism — is rather non-existent. That resonated with my own experience in the Christian blogosphere. (My running joke is that there are no Salvation Army bloggers because while everybody else is writing about it, they’re out there doing it.) On the Arminian side of things, the distinctions are simply not as magnified, and I would argue that most Arminians probably don’t know that they wear that label (or could if they wished).

The third thing was the compassion of the approach toward a young woman who had written in a story of her personal experience, and the compassion and empathy toward people in the Reformed camp in general. While the opening song was a bit extreme, it did serve to set up a contrast between the venom and anger one experiences online and Flowers’ more gentle approach. (For this reason, many confuse militant Calvinists with ultra-conservative Fundamentalists because the tenor of their writing is often so similar.) 

Lastly, Flowers seemed to tend toward grounding his position in terms of an understanding of the ways and nature of God.

Leighton Flowers landed on my radar a few months with a link to a 64-minute podcast, “Why I Am No Longer a Calvinist” which might also serve as an introduction to his perspective. (The podcast page on the website lists about ten different choices, all of which look interesting.) The one discussed here, at 52-minutes, is also reflective of his heart and I would say that overall, this is a most refreshing and balanced look at the two doctrinal patterns.

 

 

February 22, 2015

Greg Boyd on the Nature of God

Filed under: theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:06 am

I guess to get the maximum appreciation of the short video that follows, you would want to know that the underlying theme has to do with the idea of open theology, but I’ll let you Google that one for yourselves!

January 16, 2015

Re-Reading: Classic Philip Yancey

Some time ago, I wrote something to the effect that Christian readers should alternate between currently published works, and what are considered Christian classics. Of course, by classics, I meant something a little older than Philip Yancey, but that raises another issue: So many great Christian books — ones still in print, author still living — predate the internet, which means reviews are fewer than for more recent titles publishes are promoting through social media.

Reaching for the Invisible GodPhilip Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God is perhaps more significant now than when it was published in 2002. It belongs in the conversation among those wrestling with issues of faith and doubt, and addresses the question of skepticism directly that is so prevalent in 2015.

Reaching is subjective. Most of Philip Yancey’s book are more autobiographical than other authors you encouter. They are about his journey, but sufficiently researched and footnoted so as to represent our universal quest to know and experience God in a world where he is physically invisible.

If you’re new to the name, Yancey started out as a journalist writing for Campus Life magazine, which led to co-authoring The NIV Student Bible notes with Tim Stafford and co-authoring three books with Dr. Paul Brand. Though his earlier writing includes books such as Where is God When it Hurts and Disappointment With God, for this reader the journey began with The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace.

He is very philosophical in his writing. I copied this passage from Reaching… a few days ago to send to a friend which deals with the contrast between the God of the First Testament and the Jesus of the Second Testament. I love this analogy:

Love tends to decrease as power increases, and vice versa.  The same power that repeatedly overwhelmed the Israelites made it difficult for them to perceive God’s love.  A parent stands tall to instill respect in his child and stoops low for hugs and affection.  In the Old Testament, God stood tall. (p. 131)

The original subtitle of the book — which appears on my copy — is “What Can We Expect to Find?” It reminds me of Jesus’ words to his earliest disciples in John 1:38,

When Jesus turned and noticed them following Him, He asked them, “What are you looking for?” (HCSB and others use looking, others use seeking)

In a world where people are seeking and looking for God, people often search for a book, but booksellers and their staff are so oriented to frontlist (recently released items) that they forget that Christian publishing is so rich in backlist titles. Publishers revive older books with new covers and even new titles, but sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to find a gem you may have missed. 

If you already own a copy; join me in a re-read. If not, get yourself a copy. I think you’ll find it is perhaps even more relevant more than a decade later.


Related: A few years back I wrote about rich text, which is of course now an HTML computer term, but I appropriated it to mean books that are rich in substance.  You can read that article by clicking here.

Philip Yancey Books

 

August 26, 2013

Faith Follower Ridiculed in Science Class

Filed under: Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:12 am

Science Classroom

Maybe you’ve seen this before; I hadn’t.  Found it on Facebook on the weekend. It delineates the limits of faith rather clearly, but unfortuately, some people try to get this little story — which may or may not have ever happened in this form — to over-reach its bounds by attributing the role of the student to a particular figure from science. So please be aware that I post it here for consideration recognizing the controversies concerning its origin, and comments suggesting who the student in question was, will be deleted. Be sure to read the section at the end, as well.

Professor : You are a Christian, aren’t you, son ?

Student : Yes, sir.

Professor: So, you believe in GOD ?

Student : Absolutely, sir.

Professor : Is GOD good ?

Student : Sure.

Professor: Is GOD all powerful ?

Student : Yes.

Professor: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to GOD to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But GOD didn’t. How is this GOD good then? Hmm?

(Student was silent.)

Professor: You can’t answer, can you ? Let’s start again, young fella. Is GOD good?

Student : Yes.

Professor: Is Satan good ?

Student : No.

Professor: Where does Satan come from ?

Student : From … GOD …

Professor: That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?

Student : Yes.

Professor: Evil is everywhere, isn’t it ? And GOD did make everything. Correct?

Student : Yes.

Professor: So who created evil ?

(Student did not answer.)

Professor: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don’t they?

Student : Yes, sir.

Professor: So, who created them ?

(Student had no answer.)

Professor: Science says you have 5 Senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son, have you ever seen GOD?

Student : No, sir.

Professor: Tell us if you have ever heard your GOD?

Student : No , sir.

Professor: Have you ever felt your GOD, tasted your GOD, smelt your GOD? Have you ever had any sensory perception of GOD for that matter?

Student : No, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t.

Professor: Yet you still believe in Him?

Student : Yes.

Professor : According to Empirical, Testable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says your GOD doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?

Student : Nothing. I only have my faith.

Professor: Yes, faith. And that is the problem Science has.

Student : Professor, is there such a thing as heat?

Professor: Yes.

Student : And is there such a thing as cold?

Professor: Yes.

Student : No, sir. There isn’t.

(The lecture theater became very quiet with this turn of events.)

Student : Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don’t have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.

(There was pin-drop silence in the lecture theater.)

Student : What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?

Professor: Yes. What is night if there isn’t darkness?

Student : You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light. But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and its called darkness, isn’t it? In reality, darkness isn’t. If it is, well you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?

Professor: So what is the point you are making, young man ?

Student : Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.

Professor: Flawed ? Can you explain how?

Student : Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good GOD and a bad GOD. You are viewing the concept of GOD as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, Science can’t even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing.

Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. Now tell me, Professor, do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?

Professor: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do.

Student : Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?

(The Professor shook his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument was going.)

Student : Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor. Are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher?

(The class was in uproar.)

Student : Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor’s brain?

(The class broke out into laughter. )

Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor’s brain, felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established Rules of Empirical, Stable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says that you have no brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?

(The room was silent. The Professor stared at the student, his face unfathomable.)

Professor: I guess you’ll have to take them on faith, son.

Student : That is it sir … Exactly ! The link between man & GOD is FAITH. That is all that keeps things alive and moving.

So what about the argument itself? The website that debunks the possible identification of the student in question actually dives in to the theological issue, albeit for a single paragraph:

The [article] draws upon yet another area of consideration: That evil is the absence of God, in the same way that cold is the absence of heat, and dark is the absence of light. This argument has been around for a long time as has the legend about the pious student using it to squelch an atheist professor.

What do you think?

Go deeper on this topic with an illustration that’s a small part of a 30-minute message by Andy Stanley preached just yesterday: “Sea of Glass” from “Starting Point: The Series.”  Click here.

March 28, 2013

Rob Bell Talks About God

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:22 am

Once you get past an extended section dealing with various disciplines of science, there are a couple of chapters in the middle of Rob Bell’s What We Talk About When We Talk About God, where he seems to be making a strong case for the centrality of God in every conversation, and when he says God, he’s clearly talking about God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Rob Bell - What We Talk About When We Talk About GodBut if you’re expecting the evangelism to reach a crescendo in the final ten to twenty pages, Bell doesn’t exactly deliver. The ending is disappointingly soft. There’s certainly no organist playing “Just as I Am” behind the final paragraphs. So what are we left with?

We’re left with a book that I would be more than happy to have at least one atheist I know read. Yes, there are better books of Christian apologetics, but I don’t know if they would connect with those outside the inner circle as well as What We Talk About…  This book and all Bell’s book are now published under the HarperOne imprint, and  seem tailor-made for browsers in the religion section at Barnes and Noble in the US or Chapters in Canada. I have to say, he gets his audience.

We’re left with a book that — at least in the middle — contains sufficient allusions and direct quotes from scripture to place it safely within the Christian book genre. There were several pages I thought would fit in well at my devotional blog, were it not for the expected backlash.

We’re left with a book that generously acknowledges the range of religious belief in the marketplace, but chooses to deliberately focus on a faith rooted in the teachings of Jesus.

Having said all that, this is not the book for the average Christian book reader. But if you want to think about faith from a different perspective, or you want to hone your own apologetics, I would suggest it’s far better to own a copy than to rely on those who criticize the book from the safe distance of never having skimmed a chapter.

If there’s someone in your household, your workplace, your neighborhood, your school or your extended family with whom you want to engage a deeper faith conversation, you should read this, and then pass on the copy to them to read. I guarantee it will get you both talking about what it is to talk about God.

July 6, 2012

God’s Will But Not God’s Desire

Several days ago at Christianity 201, I shared an audio clip of someone reading  C.S. Lewis on the subject of free will. Lewis talks about that are freedom actually is God’s will, but within that freedom we can choose wrongly, or choose the thing that God would not necessarily desire.

Rob Bell approached this subject in a chapter titled, ‘Does God Get What God Wants?’ in his controversial 2011 book, Love Wins:

In the Bible, God is not helpless, God is not powerless,

and God is not impotent. Paul writes to the Philippians that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

Once again, God has a purpose. A desire. A goal. And God never stops pursuing it…

…God in the end doesn’t get what God wants, it’s declared, because some will turn, repent, and believe, and others won’t. To explain this perspective, it’s rightly point out that love, by it’s very nature, is freedom. For there to be love there has to be the option, both now and then, to not love. To turn the other way. To reject the love extended. To say no. This perspective allows that while God is powerful and mighty, when it comes to the human heart God has to play by the same rules we do. God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end, even at the risk of relationship itself. If at any point God overrides or co-opts or hijacks the human heart, robbing it, and us, of our freedom to choose, then God has violated the fundamental essence of what love even is.

So here, with all its British flavor, is the 3-minute C. S. Lewis reading.  As I stated to C201 readers, this was posted on YouTube on the ‘Islamic Worldview’ channel. I’ll leave it for you to ponder that one.  (For those of you reading on mobile devices or dial-up or limited data plans, this takes mere seconds to upload.)

I’ve watched this several times now, and would love to memorize this so that I could present it others.

The version of this at C201 also contains a full video clip from Ravi Zacharias.

June 3, 2012

Two Audiences, Two Responses

If you spend any amount of time in the Christian blogosphere, by the time Christmas rolls around, you are going to have had enough of the discussion of Christianity and Homosexuality. This blog is no exception.  Some of you are glazing over even as you read this, and a few of you have already clicked away.  Bye, bye. Try again tomorrow…

However, I was very impressed with an exercise that took place at Team Pyro (aka Pyromaniacs) (Gasp, yes, a reformed blog) over the past week, where readers were asked by Frank Turk to compare and contrast two different approaches to this problem, one from John Piper, who is speaking largely to a very loyal Christian following, and second from Timothy Keller, who attracts secularists, skeptics and seekers in rather refreshing numbers; people who, as Team Pyro pointed out, will never venture into the Christian blogosphere.

I decided the videos were worth posting here as well, but you need to (a) read Frank’s introductions and (b) read some of the comments.  So here are the links to part one and part two.  As huge as this issue is, it’s a microcosm of how we deal with similar issues within and outside the church. Jesus was rather rough on the Pharisees, but had a great deal of grace for sinners. I like what Keller did here especially and think it’s worth watching a few times. (And don’t remind me about Joel Osteen’s response.) 

Please remember if you decide to comment here, that this is about the nature of the response depending on who is the audience. Comments here (and at Pyromaniacs) should be limited to this particular focus or will otherwise be deleted.

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.

May 23, 2009

God Prints

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, God — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:11 pm
God Prints

You’d expect him to make himself known,
to appear at our party, you might say,
if God is really out there.
He wouldn’t travel the cosmos incognito.
And if he is at all good,
interested in our questions and needs,
for sure he’d step out of
the shadows, identify himself
and share his strategy for a better life.
Wouldn’t he have one, after all
if he were God?
Perhaps that’s why religions
of all major name brands
have always figured
God would somehow let us in on his secrets.
You’d just expect him to.
Maybe he would write a book.


~Jim Long


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