Christianity 201

August 21, 2021

Malformed Views of God

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? – John 14:9 NIV

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 29:13 NIV
 

Almost exactly ten years ago, while looking for something else, a copy of Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips fell into my hands.  He is the same person who did the Phillips translation of The New Testament.

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 C201 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.

Furthermore, it could be argued that many of our doctrinal distinctives resulting in various sects and denominations of Christianity have their origin in the different aspects and attributes of God’s character that were emphasized by different groups. For example, I would argue that the differences between Calvinist theology and Arminian theology have less to do with the individual doctrines, and more to do with the picture of God which gave birth to those doctrines.

(On a personal level, I would say my understanding of deconstructing faith is better expressed in terms of remodeling.)

Getting back to more basic distinctives in our God-view, 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 often more negative than positive, particularly when there was abuse or addiction in the picture
  • 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 intending describes 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; a situation common today where people know “just enough” about God to think they know about God
  • 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.

With the phrase, “deconstructing my faith” being so commonly used in 2021, I think we need to recognize that what is so often happening is better described when we lessen the emphasis on the first word, “deconstructing” and place that emphasis on the second word, “my.” It’s often my version of God that needs to be deconstructed.

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. Say this out loud, placing the stress on the words in italics:

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 by Phillips, which after all these years is still in print!

 

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