Sunday, July 13, 2014

Idols of the mind

Some preachers have popularized the notion that you can make an idol of anything. You can idolize sex, money, prestige, or your career, and so on and so forth. You can make anything your "God." 

This loose definition of idolatry is not without insight. However, that expansive definition (or redefinition) runs the risk of deflecting attention way from the essence of idolatry. An idolater is someone who entertains a false or fictional idea of God, an idea that corresponds, not with what God is really like, but with what the idolater wants God to be like. Taking their opinions, desires, and prejudices as the starting-point. Basing their concept of God, not on God's self-revelation, but on make-believe and wishful thinking. Their "God" is a figment of the their own imagination. A self-projection. "God" is the apotheosis of their opinions, desires, and prejudices. 

It's important to keep that definition in sharp focus, because that's a perennial temptation both inside and outside the church. Take "progressive Christians," who remake God in the image of leftwing fads. Take freewill theists, who refuse to countenance certain Biblical representations of God. Or pluralists. Or annihilationists. Or universalists. 

Christians who affirm the inerrancy of Scripture are sometimes branded as "bibliolaters," but ironically, it is God's self-revelation in Scripture that's the antidote to idolatry. That's the touchstone. 


  1. How, in your mind, does this relate to Colossians 3:5? Are preachers trying to extract too much from this passage?

    1. i) I don't object to the broader definition of "idolatry" so long as that doesn't obscure the narrower definition. There are people who use the broader definition, but ignore the narrower definition. People who complain about the "idolatry" of the profit margin, who wouldn't give a second thought to inclusivism or pluralism, &c.

      ii) The connection between idolatry and greed/covetousness, both in Col 3:5 and Eph 5:5, is intriguing:

      a) To begin with, there's a literal connection inasmuch as pagan idolatry was lucrative. A major source of revenue (e.g. Acts 19:21ff.).

      b) In addition, greed/covetousness is "idolatrous" in the sense that the wealthy tend to trust in riches rather than prayer and providence for their material security. They don't think they need God, because their wealth is a buffer. A classic illustration is the parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:13-21).

  2. Thanks for the explanation, Steve!