Idolatry, Then and Now

          Lately I have been trudging my way through The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative by Christopher J. H. Wright (which is also listed under “Books I’m Reading”).  Even though I am only a third of the way through the book, I would highly recommend it just on the basis of what I have read thus far.  On nearly every page there will be something that sparks the thinking for preaching and teaching.  As the author develops his thought, his approach might be best described as “biblical theology” meaning that he is trying to let the flow of the biblical narrative in its historical and theological context speak for itself.

          I have really appreciated his treatment of idolatry and how the biblical writers understood this phenomenon.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I am offering a feeble attempt at sharing it with you ☺.  Wright suggests that by eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sought moral autonomy which meant “not just the ability to recognize the difference between good and evil… but the right to define for oneself good and evil” (p. 164).  The result is a rejection of what makes God to be God and a rejection of his authority.  Thus idolatry finds its origin in the first sin.  From this aspect, Wright offers a very thoughtful and thorough definition of idolatry (pp. 164-165):

Idolatry dethrones God and enthrones creation.  Idolatry is the attempt to limit, reduce and control God by refusing his authority, constraining or manipulating his power to act, having him available to serve our interests.  At the same time, paradoxically, idolatry exalts things within the created order (whether natural objects in the heavens or on earth, or created spirits, or the products of our own hands or imaginations).  Creation is then credited with a potency that belongs only to God; it is sacralized, worshiped and treated as that from which ultimate meaning can be derived.

Readers will appreciate the many biblical texts where Wright shows such idolatry playing out both on the part of Israel as well as the gentile nations. 

          Asking the question of what sort of things we create our gods (idols) from, the author answers this question by turning again to the biblical text to show how such idolatry stems from three factors: 1) things that entice us; 2) things we fear; 3) things we trust (pp. 166-169).  In a humorous sort of fashion, Wright reassures us that the only truth for which we can depend from such gods/idols is their consistency to “never fail to fail” (p. 169).

          So let me take a minute to think about this in a missional way.  I once heard Randy Harris say that we Christians (presumably in North America) are way too sophisticated to bow down and worship a wooden statue, animal, or something of the like.  I think he is right.  We are, or at least I am, too intelligent for such form of idolatry.  But does that mean we are free from falling into idolatry?  If Israel could not keep from falling back into idolatrous worship, then why should any Christian think he or she and all the other Christians could never become idolatrous? 

          It is so easy to recognize idolatry when it takes the form of animal worship, worship of a wooden image, etc…  It is much harder to discern the idols of our time that we can and do worship at times.  Given the above definition by Wright and the three factors out of which make such gods/idols, what has the potency to become our god/idol in our own day?  I am interested in hearing what others think before I formulate my own answer.

12 responses to “Idolatry, Then and Now

  1. Idolatry is so subtle now, that we don’t even reconize it as idolarty. The best example that I comes to mind, is money. Especially today, when it is, so hard to come by, even harder to keep. For most americans today, money is the god ( with a small g.) However, it is not the only god/idol out there; whatever becomes the consuming thoughts of a person, that has become their idol.

  2. Success, ambition and/or career/work is another idol.

  3. I’ve been thinking about developing some discipleship lessons around the ten commandements.

    Number 2 would be centered around this Scripture:

    Ezekiel 14:3
    3 “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?

    I like how Ezekiel speaks of idolatry as setting up “idols in their hearts” – that really helped me reframe what idolatry is in my mind – I agree with Wright’s assertions.

    That sounds like a great book.

  4. Recently I’ve been giving some thought to the “biblioidolatry” that seems to be a prevalent malady within our faith heritage. Historically we’ve placed more emphasis on the Bible itself than on the God of the Bible. So it is particularly interesting to me that Wright would list “things we trust” among idolatry’s catalysts.

    How absolutely delightful for the deceiver. He his able to shift focus off of God while giving those mislead the ability to affirm: “we’re a people of the Bible.”

  5. K.Rex: Check out Tim Keller’s session from the most recent Gospel Coalition conference. The title is “The Grand Demythologizer: The Gospel and Idolatry.” It is excellent. I highly commend it to you and to your readers.

    You can access the video and audio here.

  6. Oops, I messed up on the HTML coding for the link. Here it is in plain english. 🙂

  7. Weldon,
    I at one time battled with the whole “bibleidolatry”. Fighting over versions, out of context verses etc. I lost Christ in the midst of it all.
    After breaking that idol, I started looking at others I had.
    Church (or what we think of it in the west), politics and patriotism.

    My opinion is our idols all come down to the root idol, and that is ourselves.
    btw, had the pleasure of seeing you preach in Ocean Springs Ms. Great job and love the blog.

  8. Pingback: Idolatry, Then and Now: A Follow Up « Kingdom Seeking

  9. Pingback: Idolatry and Scientology « West Coast Witness

  10. Idolatry – Man is the most popular and prominent idol today. It is in movies, music, the news, in the classroom, etc. etc. etc. It permeates even in the church. I believe that what some have called “bibliolatry” is actually a form of what I am going to call “antropolatry”

  11. Yes, Man…from a Christian worldview point, the history of western culture has itself – man – as its god.

  12. Pingback: Missions, Evangelism, and Idolatry « Kingdom Seeking

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