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Book Review: When People are Big and God is Small by Edward Welch

Part 1

I wanted to share some of my reading and give you a small book review on the latest book I’m working through, ‘When people are Big and God is small’ by Edward Welch. So far, the introduction has been very enlightening and very thought-provoking. Something that I have come to expect from this author.

He opens the topic by addressing the area of need(s). This area alone is worth the price of the book in my opinion. He easily puts his finger on some very sensitive areas. At least he did for me! So I’m going to list them and give you time to think about it and then I will post a review of chapter two. Enjoy!

He references the following under the heading: Great Awaking and facing the fear of man. When you read the points, I think you’ll understand why and agree with him on it being an awakening.

Quote: “It is true, what or who you need will control you” pg. 14

  1. Have you ever struggled with peer pressure? “Peer pressure” is simply a euphemism for the fear of man. If you experienced it when you were younger, believe me, it is still there. It may be submerged and revealed in more adult ways, or it may be camouflaged by your impressive resume (your perceived success).
  2. Are you over committed? Do you find that it is hard to say no even when wisdom indicates that you should? You are a “people-pleaser,” another euphemism for the fear of man.
  3. Do you “need” something for your spouse? Do you “need” you spouse to listen to you? Respect you? Think carefully here. Certainly, God is pleased when there is good communication and a mutual honor between spouses. But for many people, the desire for these things has roots in something that is far from God’s design for His image bearers. Unless you understand the biblical parameters of marital commitment, your spouse will become the one you fear. Your spouse will control you. Your spouse will quietly take the place of God in your life.
  4. Is self-esteem a critical concern for you? This, at least in the United States, is the most popular way that the fear of other people is expressed. If self-esteem is a recurring theme for you, chances are that your life revolves around what others think. You reverence or fear their opinions. You need them to fill you up.
  5. Do you ever feel as if you might be exposed as an impostor? Many business executives and apparently successful people do. The sense of being exposed is an expression of the fear of man. It means that the opinions of other people-especially their possible opinion that you are a failure and can control you.
  6. Are you always second-guessing decisions because of what other people might think? Are you afraid of making mistakes that will make you look bad in other people’s eyes?
  7. Do you feel empty or meaningless? Do you experience “love hunger”? Here again, if you need others to fill you, you are controlled by them.
  8. Do you get embarrassed? If so, people and their perceived opinions probably define you. Or, to use biblical language, you exalt the opinions of others to the point where you are ruled by them.
  9. Do you ever lie, especially the little white lies? What about cover-ups where you are not technically lying with your mouth? Lying and forms of living in the dark are usually ways to make ourselves look better before other people. They also serve to cover our shame before them.
  10. Are you jealous of other people? You controlled by them and their possessions.
  11. Do other people often make you angry of depressed? Are they making you crazy? If so, they are probably the controlling center of your life.
  12. Do you avoid people? If so, even though you might not say that you need people, you are still controlled by them. Isn’t a hermit dominated by the fear of man?
  13. Aren’t most diets, even when they are ostensibly under the heading of “health,” dedicated to impressing others? The desire for the “praise of men” is one of the ways we exalt people above God.
  14. Have all these descriptions missed the mark? When you compare yourself with other people, do you feel good about yourself? Perhaps the most dangerous form of the fear of man is the “successful” fear of man. Such people think they have made it. They have more than other people. They feel good about themselves. But their lives are still defined by other people and not God.

Enjoy……Pastor Jess

Part 2

I didn’t provide this information in the first post so here it is now. I encourage you to buy the book and start building a solid Christian library. This book will be especially helpful for pastors and ruling elders.

By now the Author certainly has our attention, or at least, he should have it at this point. Of course, his previous list is not an exhaustive one. I can think of more and will only add two for your consideration. Parents fearing their children and pastors fearing their congregation more than God. These two are just as common as those the author listed in his book.

Quote “Fear of man is such a part of our human fabric that we should check for a pulse if someone denies it.” pg.17

This review will complete the first chapter. Here is does a good job demonstrating that this is “a universal problem” and no one is exempt from its clutches.

He begins this section titled “a universal problem” with this paragraph,

“Don’t think that this is simply a problem for the shy, mousy types. Isn’t the angry person or the person who tries to intimidate also controlled by others? Any form of one upmanship qualifies. What about the business executive who is working to be more productive than the associate in order to get ahead? The endless jockeying of egos in the corporate board room is an aggressive version of fear of man. And do not think that the super confident, superstar athlete is somehow above seeking the good opinions of fans and sports writers? Aggressively asserting that you don’t need anyone is just as much evidence of the fear of man as the more timid examples we have seen. Fear of man comes in these packages and many others.” pg. 17

One will find it hard to disagree with the Author at this point. He goes on to addresses the secular movement of “co-dependency” along with its secular counter movement of “co-dependency no more.” The “co-dependency no more” movement’s answer to weaning the masses off of dependency was to “love yourself more” the self-esteem movement. Is there a philosophy more successful than this one in America today? Hardly.

A philosophy many church members have embraced as the answer to having a fulfilled life.

The Author points out the church responded to the self-esteem crowd with “God loves you” but, he advocates that it wasn’t biblical enough to counter the tide of selfishness coming in it failed to meet the real problem.

“The love of God can be a profound answer to just about any human struggle, but sometimes we can use it in such a way that it becomes a watered-down version of profoundly rich truth. For example, sometimes, because of shortcomings in us rather than in Scripture, this answer misses the call to “consider others better than yourselves” (Phil.2:13), or it ignores personal repentance. Sometimes it still allows us and our needs to be at the center of the world, and God becomes our psychic errand boy given the task of inflating our self-esteem.” pg. 18

Well said! In the rest of the book the Author presses the Christian to take this precious truth further. He skillfully argues that Christians must embrace this important truth BUT also must take next step to maturity in Christ. Here are several themes the book will explore in the upcoming chapters.

To really understand the roots of the fear of man, we must begin to ask the right questions. For example, instead of “How can I feel better about myself and not be controlled by what people think?” a better question is “Why am I so concerned about self-esteem?” or “Why do I have to have someone–even Jesus–think that I am great?” These are topics we will look at from many angles throughout this book, but included in the answer is the fact that we need a way to think less often about ourselves. We’ll talk about why–and how.

The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. God must be bigger to you than people are. This antidote takes years to grasp; in fact, it will take all our lives. But my hope is that the process can be accelerated and nurtured through what we will study in this book.

Regarding other people, our problem is that we need them (for ourselves) more than we love them (for the glory of God). The task God sets for us is to need them less and love them more. Instead of looking for ways to manipulate others, we will ask God what our duty is towards them. This perspective does not come naturally to any of us, and many of us need to look at this truth from several angles before we can see it. But the conviction of this book is that this truth is another of Scripture’s divine paradoxes –the path of service is the road to freedom.

So far, the Author has given us many good reasons to read and study this book. Enjoy–and to God be the glory!