Your God Is Too Small: A Review

The “Church” Paradigm a la Phillips

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Mt. 7:20 π Mt. 7:21-23 π Mt. 15:6 π Mt. 20:26 π Mt. 23:8 π Mt. 24:5 π Jn. 15:5 π Acts 20:30 π Rom. 2:11 π Gal. 5:20 π Gal. 5:22-23 π 2 Tim. 2:3 π 2 Tim. 2:13 π 2 Tim. 3:5 π 2 Tim. 4:3-4 π Heb. 8:10-11 π Jas. 1:27 π 2 Pet. 3:16 π 1 Jn. 2:27

All quotes are from Your God Is Too Small, J.B. Phillips, , unless otherwise noted.

J.B. Phillips, an Anglican minister best known for his translation of the New Testament, The New Testament in Modern English, also wrote an excellent, well thought-out description of the various false gods and pseudo-“Gods” worshiped (or at least nominally followed) at most “churches” - Your God Is Too Small. After exposing, in surprising depth, over a dozen of these “Gods” who are woefully inadequate to capture the hearts, lives and willful cooperation of mature, thoughtful adults, Phillips then goes on to produce a wonderfully lucid and rational case regarding the invasion of the Infinite into the realm of time and space. The book ought to be read by anyone who feels the deeper tugging of God to press on toward greater maturity in Christ.

If the book has any defects, they are but relatively slight and can be easily remedied by taking care to apply Phillips’ words to the right area of one’s life and not taking his words as a simple, blanket, one-pill-cures-all-diseases approach to the false “Gods” he exposes. For example, Phillips calls one false, inadequate “God” the “one hundred percent god” and does a decent job of explaining the need for learning or progressing toward (though never fully attaining in this life) spiritual maturity and perfection. (p. 31-32) But certain readers today could glom onto the idea that the real God does only a partial salvation, that one could deny parts of self, take up one’s cross and set it down again when one wants to and follow Christ on the way to crucifixion as far as one wants to go and still be “saved.”

This false “gospel,” which would attract the “flip side” of the personality type Phillips is addressing, would be as much a travesty as is the “gospel” of one-hundred percent perfection that turns the “life of perfect freedom [into] an anxious slavery.” (p. 30) No, God still demands that I surrender one hundred percent of me (on His timetable and schedule of progressive conformity to Christ) so that ever-increasing levels of the life of Christ might pour forth through me as a surrendered, purified and still being purified vessel. Nor should the idea of being surrendered be taken as the “spiritually masochistic” type described in the chapter on the “Pale Galilean.” (p. 52) Again, the “flip side” personality of the one being addressed by Phillips could easily misapply Phillips’ words to their own destruction. But this tactic is as old as the New Testament ( 2 Pet. 3:16; top ) and no book, not even the Bible, can be written to keep it from being misconstrued or misused. It is just that with Phillips’ book, the less one knows one’s own personality, with its own strengths, weaknesses, foibles, etc., the more readily one can misapply what he has written. I rather suspect that Phillips would not object to a caveat such as this one.

Beneath the Conscious Critical Level

There is one deeper flaw that lies half-submerged in his book and it is that of a subtle bias and judgment of others that Phillips was probably not even aware of. This judgment is formed on the basis of Phillips’ own reliance on the “church” paradigm. Phillips was surprisingly free of many deeper aspects of these deceptions but apparently remained unaware of how this paradigm still shaped his thinking.

Phillips wrote:

“All Christians, whatever their Church, would of course instantly repudiate the idea that their god was a super-example of their own denomination, and it is not suggested that the worship is conscious. Nevertheless, beneath the conscious, critical level of the mind it s perfectly possible for the Anglo-Catholic, for example, to conceive God as particularly pleased with Anglo-Catholicism, doubtful about Evangelicalism, and frankly displeased by all forms of Non-conformity.” (p. 38)

Let us pause here a moment to consider a few things. First, “beneath the conscious critical level of the mind” is precisely where the demonic works long and hard to install the deceptive elements of the “church” paradigm. Second, let us recall that J.B. Phillips, at the time of this writing, was a lifelong adherent and minister of Anglo-Catholicism. The only questions that remain is: how much of this description was true of Phillips and did he know to what extent it was true of himself? Could he even entertain the idea that his own preference for Anglo-Catholicism might be keeping him from a deeper understanding of God?

Phillips continues:

“The Roman Catholic who asserts positively that ordination in the Anglican Church is ‘invalid’ and that no ‘grace’ is receivable through the Anglican sacraments, is plainly worshiping a god who is a Roman Catholic, and who operates reluctantly, if at all, through non-Roman channels. The ultra-low Church man on the other hand must admit, if he is honest, that the god whom he worships disapproves most strongly of vestments, incense, and candles on the altar.” (p. 38-39)

In a section entitled “God For the Elite,” Phillips writes:

“It is characteristic of human beings to create and revere a ‘privileged class,’ and some modern Christians regard the mystic as being somehow spiritually a cut above his fellows. Ordinary forms of worship and prayer may suffice for the ordinary man, but for the one who has direct apprehension of God – he is literally in a class by himself. You cannot expect a man to attend Evensong in his parish church when there are visions waiting for him in his study!

“The New Testament does not subscribe to this flattering view of those with a gift for mystic vision. It is always downright and practical. It is by their fruits that men shall be known. [ Mt. 7:20 ] God is no respecter of persons [ Rom. 2:11 ]: true religion is expressed by such humdrum things as visiting those in trouble [ Jas. 1:27 ] and steadfastly maintaining faith despite exterior circumstances. [ 2 Tim. 2:3; top ] It is not, of course, that the New Testament considers it a bad thing for a man to have a vision of God, but there is a wholesome insistence on such a vision being worked out in love and service…

“There is, in fact, no provision for a ‘privileged class’ in genuine Christianity. ‘It shall not be so among you,’ said Christ to His early followers [ Mt. 20:26 ], “all ye are brethren.” [ Mt. 23:8; top ] (p. 56-57)

Phillips is precisely correct that “it is characteristic of human beings to create and revere a ‘privileged class’” but he does not seem to have been aware that the people who claim to follow Christ had already created, exalted and revered that privileged class commonly called clergy or ministers, the class to which Phillips himself belonged. And Phillips, though he recognizes very early in his book that an “artificially trained conscience” (p. 16) goes a long way in maintaining “taboos” (those human traditions and values and notions that imitate and war against the word of God – Mt. 15:6; top ), he does not seem to recognize that the idea of a minister as an exalted part of the body of Christ is as repugnant to the true gospel as would be a rogue (breakaway, sectarian) mystic.

But just as Phillips offers up the defense that “every cause must be organized if it is to be effective” (p. 38), it is also true that the very organization can allow for a larger scale of destruction than any mere individual can achieve. The “minister” over a large flock can lead hundreds (or even thousands in a mega-“church”) astray. The “mystic” who calls on his hearers or readers to hear what the Spirit of truth is saying to all members of Christ’s body, on the other hand, is doing a far greater service to the body than is the one who climbs into a pulpit every week to scratch ears, soothe consciences and demonstrate his own spiritual “superiority” and therefore his own “greater” worth to humanity. It is not to be supposed that this abomination is practiced consciously but rather it is neatly concealed “beneath the conscious critical level of the mind” – precisely where the demonic installed it when the “minister” pursued his seminary or Bible-school education in rhetoric, eloquence and sophistry under similarly deceived men with “greater experience” in these matters. It is the “pastor” of an established “church” or denomination (sect – see Gal. 5:20; top ) that is far more divisive than any supposedly “mystical saint,” those “non-conformists” that Phillips’ pre-supposed “God” is “frankly displeased by.” (p. 38)

But let us look more closely at Phillips’ underlying presumption: It is right and proper for men to stand over a crowd and instruct them about God. But the New Testament, in places that Phillips does not quote, says, “For this is the [second] covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD, ‘for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” ( Heb. 8:10-11 - emphasis added; top)

Phillips admits that “centuries of Christian tradition have so permeated our life that we forget how our moral sense has been conditioned by a dilute, but genuine, Christianity.” (p. 17) But he does not recognize how early Christianity was diluted when men holding the title of bishop, in the name of bringing visible organization and unity, arose over the rest of the presbyters, deacons and saints and drew followers aftger themselves – precisely as Paul prophesied that they would. ( Acts 20:30 ) Though God’s new covenant with men contained a clause that none shall need to teach his neighbor or brother to know God, the diluted Christianity that has persisted since the second century must have its exalted and privileged clergy class. Anyone who spoke against the clergy class and its routine abuses was routinely persecuted and even executed! Surely this should tell us something about the roots of the clergy class! The clergy class will culminate in a heaping amount of teachers each claiming to hold God’s special, sacred anointing and using their eloquence, rhetoric and sophistry to scratch ears and draw their followers away from sound doctrine ( 2 Tim. 4:3-4 , Mt. 24:5; top ) but Phillips is seemingly unaware that genuine Christianity has suffered from this dilution nearly from its inception

John also wrote of this aspect of God’s dealings with men. “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone [continually] teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” ( 1 Jn. 2:27 ) Those who interact with and operate in the Spirit’s anointing – which will be evidenced by “the fruit of the Spirit” ( Gal. 5:22-23 ) - abide in Christ. Apart from Him we can do nothing of eternal worth or of spiritual value. ( Jn. 15:5 ) One must then wonder on what basis then Phillips or anyone else could consider a “dilute” Christianity to also be a “genuine” Christianity. Only by the grace of God is there anything genuine about it and that only because He remains faithful to Himself no matter what we do! ( 2 Tim. 2:13; top ) According to the New Testament we are all supposed to have “direct apprehension of God.” (p. 56) Phillips, in a section where he denounces “the god in whose bosom we can hide ‘till the storm of life be past,’” admits that there must be “the legitimate periodical retirement of the Christian into conscious contact with his God.” (p. 35) Certainly, the “mystic saint” whose conscious contacts with spiritual entities causes his life to cease to be of service to his brothers and sisters around him has stayed too long in his private study! But it is also true that “ordinary forms of worship and prayer [that] suffice for the ordinary man” are simply not found in the New Testament as this is just using plain language to describe the clergy-laity division and abomination! Which is worse?

Let us also consider well Phillips’ complaint against the “ultra-low Churchman’s God” – that He “disapproves most strongly of vestments, incense and candles at the altar” (p. 39) – and his complaint that the “mystic saint” cannot be expected “to attend Evensong in his parish church.” (p. 56) When we carefully and thoroughly check the New Testament, we do not find vestments, incense, candles, altars or Evensong “services” at all as part of God’s new covenant with men. By what right, then, can Phillips, who stands in a Nicolaitan position, who fails to practice as well as fails to lead others into a fullness of God’s new covenant, pass judgment on a “mystic saint” who doesn’t measure up to certain other aspects of God’s new covenant? Only by blindly using the standards as Phillips supposes and sees them to be! What a tangled web we weave when we suppose ourselves to already have all the “right answers” and ways to follow God – all conveniently held just beneath the conscious critical level of the mind and not out in the open where we’d instantly reject them as the putrid stench that they are.

Phillips is absolutely correct – “There is no provision for a ‘privileged class’ in genuine Christianity.” (p. 57) Neither the minister nor the mystic are to be treated any differently than any other member of Christ’s body. If either the minister or the mystic are not really a service to the body, they should be exposed as fraudulent workers who dispense darkness rather than light. But there is no room to presuppose that any one certain class or kind of person is completely right or completely wrong in how they follow after Christ. That is simply to embrace whatever form of godliness seems right in one’s own eyes. (see 2 Tim. 3:5 , Mt. 7:21-23; top )

Phillips’ book is well worth reading – his dozen or so false and inadequate “Gods” and his description of “the focused God” (p. 72) are priceless gems that will serve any genuine follower of Christ in these days of apostasy and rampant deception. But let the reader take care according to the cautions and caveats described above. Phillips, as is true of every other teacher and preacher on the planet, did not have all the answers and had not yet attained to full perfection. Nor did he seem to pretend or play act as if he thought he had arrived. His is just a deep, honest and forthright discussion of a very broad and deep subject – the real nature of God.

I’d love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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