In the first half of his excellent book published in 1955, Your God is Too Small, J. B. Phillips exposes “the inadequate conceptions of God which still linger unconsciously in many minds, and which prevent our catching a glimpse of the true God.” Or, to put it in the form of a question, “What are some faulty views of God?” Here are some of Phillips’ (edited/summarized) explanations of inadequate conceptions of God.
1) Resident Policeman. To many people conscience is almost all that they have by way of knowledge of God. No serious advocate of religion would deny the function of conscience, yet to make conscience into God is a highly dangerous thing to do. Conscience is by no means an infallible guide and it is extremely unlikely that we will ever be moved to love, worship, and serve a nagging inner voice.
2) Parental Hangover. In this view, the conception of God is almost invariably founded upon the child’s idea of his father. This view almost always goes hand in hand with fear and/or guilt.
3) Grand Old Man. Some Sunday School children were once asked to write down their ideas as to what God was like. Most of the answers said something like this: ‘God is a very old gentleman living in heaven.’ Children often view their superiors and “old,” which carries over into a person’s conception of God. People use old and archaic language or Victorian expressions to speak about and pray to God, because he seems old to them.
4) Meek-and-Mild. Why on earth do children’s hymns call Jesus ‘mild?’ Of all the epithets that could be applied to Christ this seems one of the least appropriate. What does the word ‘mild’ bring to mind? Someone who would let sleeping dogs lie and avoid trouble; someone of a placid temperament who is almost a stranger to the passions of red-blooded humanity.
5) Heavenly Bosom. Some critics accuse Christianity of being escapist. They do have a point, as is evident in the hymn ‘Jesus Lover of My Soul.’ It is true that there is refuge and shelter in God, but this is not pietistic escapism as if we can be free from life’s troubles.
6) Managing Director. Humans have a tendency to build up a mental picture of God from our knowledge and experience of man. Man may be made in the image of God, but it is not sufficient to conceive of God as nothing more than an infinitely magnified man. This view runs the risk of thinking of God as the Commander-in-Chief who cannot possibly spare the time to attend to the details of his subordinates’ lives.
You’ll have to get the book to read the details of those points (Note: the book is well under $10 on Kindle or paperback). Phillips also talks about these faulty views of God: Projected Image, Pale Galilean, God-in-a-Box, Second-Hand God, Perennial Grievance, and a few others. In the second half of the book he gives a constructive – biblical – explanation of who God is and what he is like. As Phillips notes in the intro,
“If it is true that there is Someone in charge of the whole mystery of life and death, we can hardly expect to escape a sense of futility and frustration until we begin to see what he is like and what his purposes are.”
(This is a re-post from December 2014)
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