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.