Monday, August 10, 2009

Modern Idolatry

Greg Dutcher tells the story of a woman he visited in a hospice shortly before she died:

She had read Luke 7:11-14....

The passage had deeply impacted Cynthia because, unlike in most miracle accounts, Jesus does not follow up with a teaching moment or a call to commitment. He simply passes through a town, sees a woman's pain, raises her son, and (the most striking aspect of the story to Cynthia) gives 'him to his mother.' Cynthia was convinced that God put this passage in the Bible for no other reason than for us to see 'just how beautiful Jesus is,' her exact words. And as far as I'm concerned, her final words.

Everything we talked about from that moment on was just a sub-point of that larger theme - the beauty of Christ. From that moment on, the thrust of my ministry was forever changed....the more I immerse myself in contemplating just how beautiful, strong, precious, and awesome my Savior is, the less and less appealing my idols look. (You Are The Treasure That I Seek [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House Publishers, 2009], pp. 98-99)

Dutcher's book is about the sin of idolatry and the solution to it. He defines idolatry as "cherishing, trusting, or fearing anything more than we cherish, trust, or fear God himself" (p. 62). He was motivated to write the book, in part, because he "can't find much material on the subject" (p. 80). He quotes Os Guinness:

Idolatry is the most discussed problem in the Bible and one of the most powerful spiritual and intellectual concepts in the believer's arsenal. Yet for Christians today it is one of the least meaningful notions and is surrounded with ironies. Perhaps this is why many evangelicals are ignorant of the idols in their lives. Contemporary evangelicals are little better at recognizing and resisting idols than modern secular people are. There can be no believing communities without an unswerving eye to the detection and destruction of idols. (pp. 80-81)

What Dutcher and Guinness are getting at is the theme we see in Biblical passages like Ezekiel 14:7, Colossians 3:5, and 1 John 5:21. Idolatry is common, even among Christians, and doesn't require anything like a statue or shrine. Dutcher comments:

A seminary professor of mine had a helpful saying that I've never forgotten, "You know what your idols are by observing this: When they shake, you shake." (p. 71)

He gives many examples of how idolatry can manifest itself in people's lives, and he makes some suggestions as to how to overcome it. His solution consists largely of some of the themes found in John Piper's Desiring God (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1996). He acknowledges his indebtedness to Piper (n. 8 on p. 69), though he also cites and recommends other sources.

Unlike Piper's book, which is a few hundred pages long, Dutcher's is less than one-hundred-fifty, on small pages and with a lot of open spaces. It's a good introduction to some of the themes of John Piper's work, an introduction that would be easier for some people to read and understand. It would be a good book to give to some non-Christians as well, if they already have a significant level of knowledge of Christian concepts and terminology. I would recommend the book as a brief introduction to or reminder of concepts such as the primacy of God and the sin of idolatry.

I suspect that the book would have more of a positive impact on most readers than it had on me. It's been nearly a decade since I read Piper's Desiring God, and I've thought about these issues and read other material of a similar nature over the years. I'm probably not representative of the average reader of a book like Dutcher's in that regard. I did find it helpful, and he made some points that were new to me, but the book's probably most useful for people who are less familiar with the subject. It's shorter and more accessible than Piper's book.

I think and Barnes & Noble are out of stock. But anybody interested in ordering the book should be able to get it from the publisher, here.


  1. Thanks Jason,

    And thanks Dutcher.
    I like that quote by his prof.

    Seems to be validated in a Google News article posted up here today-

  2. Realizing and acknowledging idolatry in our lives requires an awakening, an awakening that requires discernment, and oftentimes a jarring jolt. Such discernment makes me people feel bad and ashamed. Like they have sinned.

    In some parts of modern liberal Christianity it is bad to make people feel bad about themselves. Hence, modern idolatry thrives. And prophetic words against the sin of idolatry go for naught.

  3. I've been reading the book as well, and hope to have a review up soon.

  4. Jason,

    Thanks for this. I've actually been trying to find a book on this subject. If you know of others, please let me know.


    I hope you do write a review. I will be thoroughly interested in it.



  5. BJ,

    Greg Dutcher has a "Recommended Reading" section at the end of his book. Two of the books he recommends are by John Piper. I would highly recommend Piper's Desiring God, which I referred to above, if you haven't read it. You might want to read Sam Storms as well.