A little over 8 years ago, I read a book that was a total game changer. It was for my last class of the second year program at Word of Life Bible Institute, and the book was When People Are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch. The premise of that book is that many people’s interpersonal problem result from an overactive fear of what other people think (fear of man) and an underdeveloped fear of the Lord.
That book was my introduction to practical theology and would affect what I ultimately chose to study in finishing my degree (psychology) and how I approached ministry in general.
When my brother in law decided to forego that same second year program at Word of Life, as part of discipling him, I immediately had him read Welch’s book. After all, it had been the most influential book I read during that year long program, so Ivan may as well read it himself right off the bat. In short, it had a similar effect on him, and I think he may have read it in the span of 24-48 hours, and mostly by staying up all night reading.
Because of all this, I was excited to see Ed Welch had written a kind of sequel called What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? As Welch states in his introduction:
This book sounds some of the same themes of an earlier book When People Are Big and God Is Small. After I wrote that book, I kept working with this material, and now seemed like an appropriate time to jot down some of that progress (p.1).
In a way though, Ivan and I both felt this book is more of a prequel. While it represents progressions in Welch’s thought, in terms of its presentation, it is a more accessible version of his first book on the subject. Because this particular book was written with an audience of 15-25 year olds in mind (p. 2), it has a conversational feel to it. This helps it flow well, but also keeps it from getting as deep as his other book. It’s still pretty deep though, but is more of a popular level treatment than his first book.
For Ivan, I think it would have gripped him more had he not just read Welch’s first book. After reading it myself, I felt the same way, but that being said, this is still a great book for someone who hasn’t really reckoned with why they are often so gripped by what other people think of them.
The book is laid out in 5 parts:
- The Problem
- The Heart of the Matter
- Who is God?
- Who am I?
- Who are they?
Following this progression, Welch first details that problem that many of us do not even recognize: we are constantly self-conscious about how other people view us and whether that view is positive or negative. He then explains how this stems from our hearts, and goes all the way back to the beginning when Adam and Eve first sinned and felt shame for the first time. Ever since then, people have been perpetually concerned with what others might think of them, as both the Old and New Testament illustrate.
From there, it’s an easy transition to talk about worship, and how as people we are wired to worship something or someone, and placing to much stock in what a particular person thinks of you borders on worshiping their opinion of you. As Welch points out, “we worship what we love” (p. 44). He then presents two stark categories for the way we live:
To paraphrase Jeremiah 17, all your choices fall into one of two categories: either you do something because you worship God and love him above all else, or you worship other people and love what they might give you.
The path that leads us into the second category is when a good thing becomes something we desire too much. There’s nothing wrong with loving people and wanting to have close relationships, but when we overvalue their opinions of us and reorient our life around them, they’ve quickly become an object of worship whether we realize it or not.
The cure then for living in this problem (which is something we all live with to some extent) is to understand more clearly who God is, who we are, what that means for how we treat and interact with other people. The chapters on God cover his holiness, his care in being creator, his love in being re-creator, his work in redemption, and how we can orient ourselves to worship him.
Welch then shifts to answering the question of who we are, and uses the Lord’s prayer to gain our bearings on what our true needs are. Similar to a theme from When People Are Big, Welch points out that first and foremost we have a need to love each other more so than we have a need to be loved by each other. Working out the implications for this winds the book down and leaves the reader with much to chew on and devote the rest of their life to applying.
Overall, I felt that this book will be very insightful for many readers. It would make a great resource for a small group or for even a youth group to go through. The book reads smoothly and Welch includes numerous blank spaces for the reader to write in an answer to some of the questions he poses. Because I had already read Welch’s other book, I didn’t find it all that personally challenging, but it was still good to be reminded of many of the truths that Welch shares. Readers who are new to ideas about how who and what we worship shapes, how we can held captive to other people’s opinions, or how our vision of God is regrettably small will find this book a great introduction, and will most likely want to pick up Welch’s other book as well.