Cover image for Dumb things smart Christians believe : ten misbeliefs that keep us from experiencing God's grace
Dumb things smart Christians believe : ten misbeliefs that keep us from experiencing God's grace
Kinnaman, Gary.
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Publication Information:
Ann Arbor, Mich. : Vine Books, [1999]

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215 pages ; 21 cm
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BV4501.2 .K496 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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What we think about reality affects our relationship with God. And many of us are infected with lies that, like spiritual viruses, attack our mind, soul and spirit. Here Gary Kinnaman exposes ten false notions that are obstacles to our receiving the fullness of God's grace. With humor and pluck, he rescues readers from stubborn religious lies, such as "The better you are, the bigger the blessing." And whoppers like "If God leads you to something, everything will work out just great." To top it off, Kinnaman teaches six ways to change our faulty thinking to become a stronger, more vital Christian.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Kinnaman (Angels Dark and Light) contends that many Christians are blinded by what he calls "popular and nonbiblical notions" of God. Applying personal anecdotes, stories from the lives of others and a large dose of humor, the author challenges 10 beliefs that are obstacles to the experience of God's love and providence. For example, he asserts that many Christians believe that "God is love, so He'll overlook what I'm doing." Kinnaman notes clearly that the biblical God will not condone disobedience outright, for God's love and forgiveness require a truly contrite heart. Some Christians also believe, he says, that "what [they] believe about God is more important than how [they] treat people." Kinnaman argues that these Christians want to have their physical and social needs met, yet they ignore the needs of the community around them. The author uses the story of Jesus' feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:30-44) as an example of how individuals can overcome the selfishness that is so prevalent today. Kinnaman also challenges the popular notion, often promoted by Christian preachers, that "God wants me to be happy, so he will protect me from suffering and pain." He maintains that a biblical view of God teaches that suffering leads to an experience of God's grace. In conclusion, Kinnaman suggests that daily reading and reflection on the Bible, frequent prayer, "exposure to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and quality time with godly people" can help Christians overcome their "misbeliefs." Witty and engaging, Kinnaman may offend Christians of all traditions as he provokes them to think more deeply about their faith and their behavior. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Misbelief 1: God Is Eternal, But Mostly I Worry About What He Thinks of Me Now You thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face. Psalm 50:21     "Mommy, what's that in the sky?"     "That's an airplane, dear."     "A `airpane'?"     "Yes, an airplane. You've seen an airplane before. Remember when we took Grandma to the airport and she flew away in that big plane?"     "Oh." (brief pause) "But how did they make all those people so small?"     All of us have trouble grasping what God is really like. I know I do. The biggest problem, I believe, is our tendency to think that our very big God is a lot like us tiny creatures. Or to think we can fit him and his limitless universe into our micro brains. Or to think that the way we think is the way he thinks.     Instead of thinking and becoming more like God, we drag God down to our level and make him out to be somebody more like us. Even God complains about this: "You thought I was altogether like you" (Ps 50:21). What Do We Know About God? On the other hand, theologians like to say that God is "wholly other," entirely unknowable except in what he chooses to reveal of himself. Listen to Israel's most eccentric prophet, Ezekiel, labor to describe an indescribable God. Pay attention to his vocabulary of vagueness, which I've italicized for emphasis:     "Above the expanse over their [the heavenly beings'] heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord" (Ez 1:26-28).     Notice that Ezekiel didn't see the Lord. He didn't see the glory of the Lord either. In fact, he didn't even see the likeness of the glory of the Lord. All Ezekiel could see was "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." And when he saw it, he adds, "I fell facedown" (v. 28). Ezekiel makes no effort to explain anything. His response is worship, not a treatise.     Whatever human language can tell me about God, it tells me precious little. I can't make a lot of assumptions. If I do, my thoughts about God might be pretty dumb. It's been a human problem since the beginning of time, and Job, the oldest book in the Bible, is an example.     Elihu has just finished filling Job's ears with his "knowledge" of what God is like (six chapters' worth!). At last God grows tired of listening and says something: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.     "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone--while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? ...     "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!" (Job 38:1-7; 40:1).     Can you picture the scene? Both men facedown on the ground, Elihu wishing very hard that he had stayed at home and not come to "minister" to Job. In thundering silence, God waits for an answer. His voice barely more than a whisper, Job responds: "I am unworthy--how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer--twice, but I will say no more" (Job 40:4-5).     Now, that's more like it. But God is not quite done. He still needs to get at the heart of the matter and give Job a vision of who he is and what he is like.     First, God says: "Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.     "Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?." (Job 40:7-8).     Then Job replies: "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, `Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.     "You said, `Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:2-6).     It's encouraging to know that misguided thoughts about God are as old as Job. Godly, smart people have believed dumb things about God for thousands of years. So, What Is God Really Like? What we can know about God is what he makes known to us--through Scripture and through what he has revealed to us in his Son, Jesus Christ. To think less or to imagine more is mental idolatry. In his classic work The Knowledge of the Holy , A.W. Tozer wrote, "What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.... Humankind's spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God....     "Wrong thoughts about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.... Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere ... she simply gets a wrong answer to the question, `What is God like?'"     So, what is God like? Using the Bible, Christian theologians commonly answer that question by compiling a list of God's attributes, things that describe what he is like. One generally accepted definition of God goes like this: God is an eternal Being, omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (everywhere present), and omniscient (all-knowing).     This is pretty basic. God is all-knowing; he's eternal. He's not restricted by the time and space boundaries of human life.     I can't imagine any Christian not agreeing with this in principle. And yet many Christians, for all practical purposes, think and act in ways that strongly suggest they think God is not eternal and all-knowing. And what we misbelieve about God in this regard can be the source of extraordinary pain and shame.     An example of this is the overwhelming sense of guilt we experience when we do something we swore to ourselves we'd never do again. And you wonder--no, you don't just wonder, you're terrified about--what God thinks of you now, as if God is just as surprised as you are that you did what you did.     As if God didn't know it was going to happen! God Stuck in Time If it is true that God is stuck in time, if he doesn't know what we are going to do next week and is horrified when he finds out what we did today, then our salvation is day-to-day and time-bound. This misbelief dismantles the assurance of our salvation because daily we have to question if the matter is really settled forever in the heart of an eternal God .     Here's how, in one place, the Bible addresses this tension between eternity and time, and how it applies to your walk with God: "By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Heb 10:14).     The first half of the verse teaches that your salvation is complete. From God's perspective in eternity, the work is done. Through the sacrifice of Jesus you have been "made perfect forever ." The second half of the verse, "those who are being made holy," touches on the time dimension of your salvation. Salvation is an eternal moment and a process in time--both at once.     The problem for us is that we tend to think about the process in time much more than the assurance of eternity. And worse, we more often let time-related events shape how we think about eternity, rather than let our eternal God shape how we think and feel about time-related events.     When I struggle with this, I jerk myself out of my shame by confessing my sin openly to God, and I remind myself that the eternal God is never shocked by the stupid and sinful things I do. This brings great peace to my troubled soul. Certainly, what I do in the present may affect the rest of my life because there are temporal and sometimes terrible consequences to my behaviors (see Gal 6:7-9). And yet I know that my eternal relationship with God does not teeter-totter on the ups and downs of my daily life. Promises, Promises Remember the infamous incident of Peter and the rooster? Hours before the cock crowed, when Jesus and his disciples were huddled in the Upper Room for the Last Supper, Jesus warned Peter, "Simon, Simon [whenever someone calls your name twice, you know you're in trouble], Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (Lk 22:31-32).     Full of self-reliance, Peter blurted out, "Lord, I'm ready to go with you to prison and to death" (v. 33).     What we have playing out here is a common distortion of the grace of God, the false idea that God really doesn't help the helpless. God only helps those who help themselves. On the one hand, Jesus promised Peter that his faith wouldn't fail. Why? Because of Peter's promise and effort? No! Jesus had already anticipated Peter's personal future (remember, our eternal God is never surprised) and had prayed specifically that Peter's faith wouldn't fail. Grace, all grace, nothing but grace.     In contrast, Peter stood up for himself: "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will" (Mt 26:33). Never? You'll never do that, Peter?     Have you ever made a promise to God like that? Are you going to keep that promise with your whole heart and soul and mind? And what if you don't? What's the God of eternity going to think about you then? And if you do manage to keep your promise, are you going to take credit for it? Will you make quick judgments about people in your life who don't keep their promises? Are you better than they are?     Was Peter better than all the other disciples? I think he thought so: "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." If it had worked out Peter's way, he could have been pretty proud of himself. But within a few hours he was feeling like a real jerk. He did exactly what he promised he would never do.     Been there. Done that.     Do you think Peter felt like his faith failed? Do you think it crossed his mind, I wonder what Jesus thinks of me now! Whimper, whimper.     And what about all the people who heard him cursing? Did it seem to them that his faith failed? No doubt.     But tell me, in the end did Peter's faith fail? No! Why? Because that's what Jesus prayed. God's grace was sustaining Peter, not his own self-effort. The Fruit of Personal Failure Not only did Jesus know and predict Peter's denial, but he even suggested that his disciple's humiliating failure would be a wonderful example to others. "When you have turned back," Jesus added, "strengthen your brothers" (Lk 22:32).     How is it humanly possible to strengthen and encourage others right after you've made an utter fool of yourself?. It's not. That is, it's not humanly possible. It's not humanly possible for you to do a lot of things, but "what is impossible with men is possible with God" (Lk 18:27).     The profound lesson here is that Peter's testimony had absolutely nothing to do with anything human. When you encourage somebody out of your own personal success, you're teaching them law and self-efforts, not grace. And if they fail, it puffs you up and puts them down.     In his best-selling book Grace Walk, Steve McVey calls this a "vicious cycle, moving from motivation to condemnation to rededication." And you think it all depends on you. Sure, God's there to help you, but you believe it's your effort that counts in the end.     But when you keep the faith in spite of yourself, like Peter, your personal story is not about you. It's about God working in your life. God, all God, and nothing but God.     Before the rooster crowed three times, Peter could talk about how his faith wouldn't fail. "I'll keep the faith," he assured Jesus, "even if it kills me." After the cock crowed, Peter could only talk about God. Peter failed miserably, but in the end his faith didn't fail because Jesus prayed for him.     So, do you consider yourself to be a pretty good Christian? Why do you suppose that is? Do you look down on other because they are not living up to your standards? Really, now, are you living up to God's? Are you, in the words of my friend Dean Sherman, "doing all the right things at all the right times for all the right reasons"?     Or do you consider yourself a pretty, good failure' How does that make you feel? What does the eternal God think of you now ? Is there any hope? The Peter Principle Peter's personal problem illustrates the core principle of grace: God always cares more about you than you will ever care about him, and he'll never let that come between you.     This is Paul's theme in Romans 8, perhaps the most important chapter in the whole Bible. Indeed, all Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is profitable for instruction in righteousness (see 2 Tim 3:16), but what the Bible says about grace has to be our starting point for understanding everything else. This is the whole point of the Letter to the Hebrews, which teaches us that the Old Testament of the law and human effort can only be understood in the light of the "better covenant," the New Testament of grace.     Just as Jesus prayed for Peter, "in the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness," writes Paul in Romans 8:26. God doesn't help those who help themselves. He helps the helpless, because "we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Furthermore, "the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will" (v. 27). And that's the only reason we can be absolutely certain that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (v. 28).     Peter's faith didn't fail, because Jesus was praying for him. Your faith, even though at times it looks like it might be slipping, won't fail either, because the Holy Spirit is standing by you in your weakness. I'm sure, then, that everything will work together for good, even my Peter-like failures, because God is determined to fulfill his purposes in my life.     This is why Paul opens a big can of worms in the next couple of verses: "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified" (vv. 29-30).     Without getting into all the ins and outs of foreknowledge and predestination, let me just say that all five of the power words in this text--"foreknew," "predestined," "called," "justified," "glorified"--are in the past tense.     As a Christian, regardless of what I can't understand about mysterious things like foreknowledge and predestination, I can at least grasp this: from my time-bound perspective, those are all things that happened in "eternity past." My glorification, though, is in "eternity future." If that's true, why would Paul put that word "glorified" into the past tense too? Because from the point of view of the eternal God, it's all done. If you're a Christian, from God's point of view you are already glorified.     God isn't sitting there on his throne, wringing his hands and wondering what is going to come of you. Those five "power words" are like spokes on a wheel, and when God turns the wheel of his plan for your life, all the spokes turn together, at the same time. ("Time"? There I go again, trying to explain eternity on my terms.)     Paul's point in all this: God is eternal. Believe it and live like it's true. Your fragment of failure in your moment of time will not derail his eternal purposes for your life. But sadly, we more often let time-related events shape how we think about eternity than let the eternal God and his eternal, unchanging plans for us determine how we think and feel about time-related events. Brain Cramps for God I'm a Bible believer. I just accept at face value what the Bible says in Romans 8. Can you? Are you willing to allow the Word of God to challenge your assumptions? Are you more willing to believe what God says about himself than what you think God should say about himself?     Tell me, is God eternal? Yes.     Does Romans 8 teach that? Yes.     Does it have huge implications for the way we understand eternal salvation? Yes.     Does it mean I can come to Jesus with my weary and heavy-burdened soul and find rest? Yes.     Is it difficult to understand? Not terribly.     Is it difficult to accept? Yes, it can be. Many people stumble over this.     Why? Because we're stuck in time and lost in space. We have little or no capacity to understand eternity, even though we readily confess a belief in an eternal God.     So, can we figure it all out? No.     If we can't figure it out, if it all doesn't fit with everything else we think, if it seems illogical, does that make it untrue? A thousand times, no!     "What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us" (Rom 8:31-34).     You're worried about what God thinks of you now? So what's Jesus doing for you right now? He's interceding for you right now. Right now while you're trying to figure out in your head what all this means to you.     That's why Paul can't contain himself: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:35-39).     You have a choice. You can choose what to believe. It won't change God, but it will sure change the way you relate to God and others. God will not change the way he feels about you, even if you believe wrong things about him. But if you believe wrong things about God, it will certainly change the way you feel about him. That's why I've subtitled this book, "Ten Misbeliefs That Keep Us From Experiencing God's Grace."     I've chosen to believe what Paul has written in Romans 8. I am convinced that nothing will separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus, who is in me and praying for me right now. I've decided to let the eternal God and his timeless purposes for me determine what I believe and how I feel about my day-to-day life. Eternal God: Come into my puny world and water the seeds of my hours and days. Help me to be constantly open to enlarging my vision of who you are and how you work. I trust you to reveal yourself to me, one mystery at a time. As I live in the present, make me mindful that the future never holds any surprises for you. Amen. Copyright © 1999 Gary Kinnaman. All rights reserved.