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Your God is Too Small
One of the unexpected joys of studying Church History has been learning about spiritual classics. One of the most recent is J.B. Phillips’ Your God is Too Small (1952). In this short volume—124 pages—Phillips (1906-1982) details what he refers to as destructive ideas about God, which he says leads to “unreal Gods.” In this summary I share some of these.
Resident Policeman “To make conscience into God is a highly dangerous thing to do. For one thing . . . conscience is by no means an infallible guide; and for another it is extremely unlikely that we shall ever be moved to worship, love, and serve a nagging inner voice that at worst spoils our pleasure and at best keeps us rather negatively on the path of virtue.”
Parental Hangover “What we are concerned in establishing here is that the conception of God which is based upon a fear-relationship in childhood is not a satisfactory foundation for an adult Christianity.”
Grand Old Man “But there is nevertheless a very real danger that the child will imagine this God not merely as ‘old,’ but as ‘old-fashioned.’”
Meek-and-Mild “We can hardly be surprised if children feel fairly soon that they have outgrown the ‘tender Shepherd’ and find their heroes elsewhere.”
Absolute Perfection “This one-hundred-per-cent standard is a real menace to Christians of various schools of thought, and has led quite a number of sensitive conscientious people to what is popularly called a ‘nervous breakdown.’ And it has taken the joy and spontaneity out of the Christian lives of many more who dimly realize that what was meant to be a life of ‘perfect freedom’ has become an anxious slavery.”
Heavenly Bosom “The critics of the Christian religion have often contended that a religious faith is a form of psychological ‘escapism.’ A man, they say, finding the problems and demands of adult life too much for him will attempt to return to the comfort and dependence of childhood by picturing for himself a loving parent, whom he calls God.”
God-in-a-Box “But if the Churches give the outsider the impression that God works almost exclusively through the machinery they have erected and, what is worse, damns all other machinery which does not bear their label, then they cannot be surprised if he finds their version of God cramped and inadequate and refuses to ‘join their union.’”
Managing Director “It is to think that the God who is responsible for the terrifying vastnesses of the Universe cannot possibly be interested in the lives of the minute specks of consciousness which exist on this insignificant planet.”
Second-hand God “The conception of the Character of God which slowly forms in our minds is largely made by the conclusions we draw from the ‘providences’ and ‘judgments’ of life. We envisage ‘God’ very largely from the way in which He appears to deal with (or not to deal with) His creatures.” [In other words, reaching conclusions about God apart from studying the Bible.]
Perennial Grievance “To some people the mental image of God is a kind of blur of disappointment. ‘Here,’ they say resentfully and usually with more than a trace of self-pity, ‘is One whom I trusted, but He let me down.’ The rest of their lives is consequently shadowed by this letdown.”
Pale Galilean “Compared with their non-Christian [friends] their lives seem to have less life and color, less spontaneity and less confidence. Their god surrounds them with prohibitions [and boredom] but he does not supply them with vitality and courage.”
©2008 Mark Nickens
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