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Small gods we fall for

Ron Frost has written a cracker on some of the domesticated gods we Christians buy into:

...There is the fire insurance God. His greatest concern is to find as many policy holders as possible. His premiums vary, depending on the Christian community that sells his policies, but the payments are usually behavioral: mainly church attendance, a monthly tithe, and a midweek Christian book discussion or prayer group are the cash he requires. This is a pragmatic God, with pragmatic followers. For policy holders the real ambition is to avoid the fires of hell—a negative goal—rather than to know and enjoy God above all else. What God gets out of this arrangement isn’t clear but he seems to be a bit needy, looking for as large a following as possible. Lower premiums are always possible if an additional follower or two can be coaxed into the community that way.

Another much rarer version of God is the brainiac deity. His greatest capacity is intelligence so that his ideas and doctrines are great, complex puzzles. He invites chess champions, debaters, and logicians to compose and compare doctrinal statements about him. He is altogether different to the fire insurance version of God in that he is more interested in compelling ideas than in numbers of followers. His audiences are small but impressive, even if most of what they do is talk and write. Access to this God comes through Christian versions of the Mensa Society—churches, parachurch groups, and theological centers that elevate intellect over practice; a knowledge about God over a love for God and people.

Still another small version of God is the self-absorbed deity. He can think only of himself and wants everyone else to think only of him. The biggest fear for this God is what philosophers call “contingency”—that he is not fully in charge of everything but in some manner has a real involvement with his creation. If, for instance, he actually loves his creatures in a way that causes him to respond to them, he has somehow lost his mojo and is less than truly God. Instead he wants glory at any cost. Access to this God is virtually impossible because we are products of his will and live downstream from his first decrees and plans—a bit like dominoes that are now being tipped over by other dominoes, all started before the creation. He looks on with some sort of pleasure because everything is under his glorious control and control is his greatest ambition.

One additional, and final, version of a miniscule God is what we might call a stubborn Genie. He has a bag of tricks and powers to tease us—offering promises to heal us, to make us wealthy, to make us wise, to make us more powerful—but we first have to learn how to rub him right. What kind of rub is needed? At a minimum he looks for effort from his followers, real effort! Disciplines, devotions, tasks, duties, and best-efforts are needed. Accountability is the name of his game: the harder we work, the more likely it is that we can finally coax a benefit or two out of him. Some seem to get more out him than others, so he is not a very fair God, but ours is not to question him but to keep rubbing the jar of his being and to hope for the best...

Read the whole thing here.

0 thoughts on “Small gods we fall for

  1. theoldadam

    When it comes to sinners who rebel against a righteous God, any god will do.

    We all have them.

    Our Lord knows it, and loves and forgives us anyway.

    Otherwise we would all be toast.

    Thanks, Glen.

  2. pgjackson

    I get the point. And I'm sure he's right about a fair bit of it.

    But I must confess to be being totally bemused by this statement:

    'The biggest fear for this God is what philosophers call “contingency”—that he is not fully in charge of everything but in some manner has a real involvement with his creation.'

    Especially when it comes in the context of his later positive description of 'God in his real size' as

    'Thank him no matter what happens to us! The point is this: he really does run the universe! Even Satan is on his leash so that even evil is God’s resource for accomplishing good in the lives of those who love him (see Genesis 50:19-29; Job 1; & Romans 8:28).'

    In one statement he mocks the idea that anyone should be worried about a vision of God in which he is contingent. In another he claims God is so sovereign that he even controls evil.

    So which is it? A contingent God or a sovereign God? If the latter, then why mock the concern to remove contingency. A contingent God could not 'run the universe.'

    Huh? Egor's brain hurt...

  3. Glen

    Well... maybe the key word isn't 'contingent' but 'philosophers'. There are plenty of people who have a purely philosophical desire to reject 'contingency' and they end up with a very small god. Muslims for one. I always say that my Sunday afternoons at Speakers Corner consisted in Muslims telling me their god is so big he can't do anything. That would make him contingent see.

    But it's not just Muslims. There's always a temptation to be docetic or to think that the gospel events are just pageantry.

    What about this from a sermon I heard 6 months ago from a big-hitting UK conservative evangelical:

    "God does not react. He cannot react. God is pure initiation. He only leads."

    There was not a rich trinitarian theology informing this statement I assure you. It was a philosophical commitment. And the way he used this truth made a nonsense of the inter-Personal life of God - both immanently and in the gospel.

    Leithart's post on passibility in a Trinitarian reformed perspective was excellent.

    http://www.leithart.com/2009/12/15/passibility-and-providence/

    Frost is big on trinity and providence and I take his position to be very much what Leithart is proposing.

    So I think Frost's latter statement should intepret the former. And I still think he's right to warn us away from merely philosophical notions of sovereignty. Without radical trinitarian-gospel orientation - 'sovereignty' produces a very small god actually.

  4. pgjackson

    Fair enough, I might have been not reading him so generously as I ought.

    Yeah I liked the Leithart post too, though much more thinking required.

    I remember something about God as 'maximally alive' from Doc of God that I have a vague feeling fits in with all of this.

    Bit hard to judge the 'does not react' comment without context. The bible contains statements like this, that at the same time don't deny other statements of scripture that seem to (and sometimes directly) state the opposite [God does not relent/ repent for e.g.], I don't see why a preacher couldn't do the same. But then, I didn't hear the sermon and you did. ;)

  5. Heather

    I'm curious as to how that UK evangelical would explain the exchange between God and Moses in Exodus 32? Certainly God knew Moses would beg for leniency when God said He was ready to abandon the Israelites. But it sure looks to me as though God was also reacting to Moses' plea...

    The exchange between Moses and God is also a great "picture" of how Christ stands as our advocate between God's wrath and His people who so regularly deserve it.

    I think I've held to every one of the listed misconceptions at one time or another.

    Loved Mr Frost's solution, though. Keep the eyes (and ears) of our hearts open!

    That's the lesson the Lord continually seems to be drilling into my thick head, so I don't have any trouble accepting it :).

  6. Duane

    Hi Glen!
    I was up late, so surfed over from Bobby's through Ron's.
    Glad to know your here. It's amazing, you can travel halfway around the world with a click of the mouse. You call Bobby "Mate". That would put you down under eh?
    I'm in rural Mennonite Pennsylvania about two hours North of Philadelphia.

    What if God, being eternally omniscient, eternally knew that Moses would "beg for leniency"?
    Then, He would not necessarily have decreed the situation, nor would He react, strictly speaking, but He would have responded out of eternity, to be merciful to Israel. He never would have actually decided, but having always known, was always determined to exact judgement, and was always determined to turn from that judgement upon Moses' plea.

    God is indeed vaster, more immense than our pea brains can conceive. He can glorify Himself simply with one thought exacting jugdement on His creation. I believe Glorification as prime purpose for God is overblown. His Holiness has, does, and will bag all of His infinite Glory, which HE has, does, and will lavish on us by Grace.
    He is Glorified in part by establishing a living intimate relationship with His Church and with each of His children, who would do well do abide in Him like a younger brother wants to abide with his big brother-to do the things He does, to act like He does. To just "hang out" with Him. Of course this sounds mushy, but what does Jesus do? Feed the hungry, heal the sick, the lame, the blind and preach the Gospel.

    Does this help?

    Peace in Him

  7. Heather

    Duane,

    I was kind of thinking along the same line as you concerning foreknowledge and intent. I was just wondering how the speaker would have answered.

    Often, when I read about God's anger, jealousy, etc I think of it in human terms because that is as close as I can get to understanding what God is like. But my emotions and motives are flawed by sin, so I believe I really only get a shadow picture...

    Personally, I think the word "react" has a bad connotation as it tends to suggest that God didn't know something was going to happen so He quickly had to change His plan in order to right a particular situation. Or, in the case of Moses, it might appear as though God was having some sort of temper fit and then had time to cool off as Moses "talked sense to Him". But of course that isn't remotely what was happening.

    Perhaps "respond" would be a better term as it offers a better sense of control. God does answer those who call on Him and interacts with His people as we seek Him.

    Regardless of what God had always determined what He would do, Moses didn't know. I expect part of the plan was to teach Moses something important that he wouldn't have learned any other way.

  8. Glen

    Indeed Pete - because He is eternally trinity. He has always been Initiator *and* Recipient. Without trinity the idea of God being an object/passive/acted upon sounds blasphemous. But with trinity we can say gladly that God is an Object even to Himself. And when the Son takes flesh He unites even creation into this Active-Passive dynamic.

    Hi Duane - I'm Australian but living in the UK. Bobby was the one who got me into blogging in the first place (I was pestering him with so many comments he effectively told me to get my own blog ;-) ) He's a great brother.

    Glad to bump into you!

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