If God is your co-pilot, then switch seats. If the devil is your co-pilot, then switch planes!
God is my co-pilot is a Christianese expression that started off as the title of a book, which is just how the expression What would Jesus do? came to be. That’s oftentimes how these Christianese expressions get started. An author (whether famous or not) will use a particularly clever or apt phrase in a book, and if the book becomes a best-seller then suddenly the phrase is on the lips of readers across the country. Many of the various Christianese catchphrases were going viral way before we had the Internet and all these cats who want to “haz cheeseburgers.”
Here’s the scoop on “God is my co-pilot.” In 1943 an air force fighter pilot named Robert L. Scott published an autobiography of his experiences in the military and he titled it God Is My Co-Pilot. The book was a huge hit, and in fact the movie rights for the book were immediately snapped up by Warner Brothers. Only two years later, in 1945, the movie version of Scott’s autobiography came out in theaters, under the same title as the book.
You might enjoy this: Here is the original theatrical trailer to the movie God Is My Co-Pilot:
We see the expression God is my co-pilot in Scott’s book, but we don’t see it being used as a Christianese catchphrase until the 1970s and 1980s. This expression is probably familiar to most Christians and even most people in general, but we usually only see it in print when it appears on bumper stickers. You can identify it because it’s sometimes next to another bumper sticker that says, “In Case of Rapture, This Car Will be Driverless!”
As is the case with most catchphrases, Christians have found problems with the theology being expressed by the phrase. If God is someone’s co-pilot, then does that mean that the person is the pilot? This discomfort with making God only the assistant pilot has resulted in a second catchphrase: “If God is your co-pilot, then switch seats!”
What’s your favorite Christian bumper sticker?
co-pilotn. See run-on entry below.
¶ God is my co-pilot A catchphrase that affirms one’s desire to live according to God’s will; when printed on a bumper sticker, this catchphrase is often used to declare one’s Christian faith to others.
The expression was coined by Robert L. Scott (1908–2006), a World War II fighter pilot, for the title of his autobiography, God Is My Co-Pilot (see 1943 citation). The book was adapted into a movie of the same name in 1945.
Some Christians criticize the catchphrase’s implication that the Christian is the pilot and God is merely the co-pilot; so a commonly heard quip or rejoinder in response to this catchphrase is: “If God is your co-pilot, then switch seats!” (see various citations).
See also *small (your God is too small).
• 1943 Scott God Is My Co-Pilot [title] 1972 Jackson 151 : A book was written by an officer of the Air Force with the title God Is My Co-Pilot. God could not be dispensed with, but he was given the subordinate position of co-pilot. 1983 May Under His Wing: Adventures in Trusting God 31 : We used to throw around that phrase, “God is my copilot.” No more. He’s flying left seat—we are the copilot! 1986 Gwaltney The Dissenters: Voices from Contemporary America 230 : One of the plates on Bob’s 1979 Dodge sedan reads, God Is My Co-Pilot, and religious fervor is a dominant element in his personality. 1991 Lee Affirmations of a Skeptical Believer 26 : Do you remember the bumper sticker that said “God is my copilot”? That reduces God to being an assistant with second-place status. 1993 Harder, Kauffman Doors to Lock and Doors to Open: The Discerning People of God 24 : Christians say things like “God is my copilot” or “God is my best friend,” and I recoil at the implication that they are on God’s level. 1995 Graham Unto the Hills 40 : You have probably seen the bumper sticker which says, “God is my copilot.” It sounds nice and very spiritual, until you think about it. God does not want to share the controls over our lives. He wants us to relinquish them and let Him have control of our lives. 1999 Hensley Misadventures in the (213) 83 : Kathryn is Dandy’s born-again housekeeper. She drives a Toyota truck packed to the gills with cleaning products and the spirit of the Lord. I met her once at Dandy’s and remember asking her about her God Is My Pilot bumper sticker. “I thought the expression was ‘God Is My Copilot,’” I said. “I promoted him,” she said, eyeing me judgmentally, “and you should too.” 1999 Pipher Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders 168 : As I drove out to the farm, I passed bumper stickers that demonstrated the ideological differences among neighbors. One sticker said, “If God is your copilot, switch seats.” 2003 Hall The Walk at Work: Seven Steps to Spiritual Success on the Job 33 : There’s a saying, “If the Lord is your copilot, you need to switch seats.” 2003 Schmidt Lead On: Why Churches Stall and How Leaders Get Them Going 62 : One of my pet peeves is Christian clichés that are sentimentally appealing but theologically inaccurate. One such phrase is “God is my copilot.” It conjures an image of the Christian as being in control while God is simply along for the ride, ready to help in case of emergency. The truth is, God is my pilot, and more often than not He instructs me to keep my hands off the controls! 2005 Rosen My Fundamentalist Education: A Memoir of a Divine Girlhood 17 : The other cars pulling into the driveway weren’t fancy, but many of them had “God Is My Copilot!” and “Jesus Saves!” bumper stickers or strange little fish symbols affixed to them. 2007 Dickow Raising Christian Children in a Secular World: Christian Parenting 17 : When I was in high school in the mid 1970’s there was a popular saying, “God is my co-pilot.” I guess it was a way to reestablish God in the lives of many people who had turned away in the untamed 60’s. And although the saying was cute I never gave it much thought. 2008 Stevens Pop Goes the Church: Should the Church Engage Pop Culture? 47 : What do you think when you walk past one car that says, “God Is My Co-Pilot” and the next one that reads, “If God Is Your Co-Pilot, Switch Seats”? Here’s the truth: when I see a bumper sticker that says “Too Blessed to Be Depressed” or “This Car is Prayer-Conditioned,” I’m embarrassed. 2008 Miller Living God’s Promises 32 : People often will say, “God is my co-pilot.” He’s not the co-pilot, nor is he even the pilot. He’s the air-traffic controller. He’s the one watching the radar and making sure we don’t crash.