The issue of idolatry has been with the human race for thousands of years; the subtle temptation is always to take what is good and turn it into the ultimate good, elevating it above all other things in the search for security and meaning. In this timely and challenging book, New York pastor Timothy Keller looks at the issue of idolatry throughout the Bible -- from the worship of actual idols in the Old Testament, to the idolatry of money by the rich young ruler when he was challenged by Jesus to give up all his wealth. Using classic stories from the Bible Keller cuts through our dependence on the glittering false idols of money, sex and power to uncover the path towards trust in the real ultimate -- God. Today's idols may look different from those of the Old Testament, but Keller argues that they are no less damaging. Culturally transforming as well as biblically based, COUNTERFEIT GODS is a powerful look at the temptation to worship what can only disappoint, and is a vital message in today's current climate of financial and social difficulty.
Keller never comes across as preachy and condescending. Instead he uses real examples and talks about both the issue and solution. It’s a quick read and packs a punch.
Keller combines discussions of modern challenges with illustrative narratives from Scripture to show the human propensity to take good things of creation and absolutizing them as their "god." He explicitly discusses the "gods" of success, power, politics, money, desire, love, and pride, and the principles that govern them and the development of other "gods" in one's life. This is an expansion of the same theme that he spoke of in "The Reason For God."
As a Presbyterian he is committed to the Protestant "grace only" and "faith only" positions, and derives much from Augustine, Luther, and Edwards. He sees everything through the grace only prism, for better or worse, and while there is much to appreciate and agree with in his exegesis, I found some of his connections in some of the narratives to be a bit shaky. He also pursues the idea that idolatry is at the heart of all sin, and while I would agree that idolatry is what drives a lot of sin and sinful impulses, I'm not quite sure if it can be made so absolute.
Nevertheless, a thought-provoking and beneficial read.
Keller may be one of the more important Christian thinkers and writers of our day. His ministry experience in New York City has equipped him with a unique ability to speak to both the secular and the sacred dimensions of our lives at the same time - and to show us how intertwined these dimensions really are. Keller addresses both skeptics and believers and demonstrates a broad grasp of not only biblical studies and theology, but also literature, sociology, philosophy, psychology, and the arts in his writing. In chapters exploring the relevance of biblical stories from Genesis or the Gospel of Luke, we also encounter insights from Ernest Becker and Friedrich Nietzche, illustrations from Madonna, Andrew Carnegie, or the film Chariots of Fire, and commentary from Robert Alter and other Jewish or Christian biblical scholars. This liberal use of sources, plus Keller's engaging yet succinct writing style, make this a very enjoyable read.
There is also a practicality to this book. Keller is not just a great theologian, he is a pastor. And he writes with the heart of a skilled diagnostician of souls. He begins the book with a discussion of the idol factory of the human heart, and ends by showing us how to find and replace our idols. He not only exposes the cancers that are eating us away, he applies the scalpel of the gospel with surgical skill. Like Jesus himself, Keller knows how to both wound and heal.
In Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller exposes the big three idols that attempt to subvert God's role in our lives: Money, Sex, and Power.
This is the second book I've read on this theme. One of Richard Foster's earlier works was originally called, Money, Sex and Power: The Challenge of the Disciplined Life. It's now known by its subtitle (apparently the original title was too shocking for the ears of Christians living in 1985). I have found Keller's little book to be just as valuable as Foster's.
Keller's greatest strength (among many) is his pastoral insight into human nature. He doesn't buy the lies we tell ourselves but digs down to root issues. He has counseled enough people to understand the grip that money, sex, and power have in our lives.
In each chapter you'll find a sermon complete with interesting anecdotes, sound biblical exegesis, and the aforementioned pastoral insight. This is a book worth meditating your way through. After all, it's only when you "pull your emotions up by the roots" that you find your idols clinging to them (170).
This book is about a very important topic, especially for Christians who are worried they might be falling too much in love with the things of this world. I loved how Keller reasons through his topic, not necessarily starting with point A and passing through points B and C to get to D, rather choosing a main point and circling to get to it, if that makes any sense at all. It requires a little extra work on the part of the reader, but the payoff, in my opinion, is enormous. Keller's chapters are packed with examples of idolatry from history both recent and distant as well as a biblical example that manages to both illustrate his point about the idol in question while successfully speaking to the Bible's relevance through the ages as we pursue the same idols our Biblical forbears struggled with. This is a great book for a Christian who wants to grow closer to God by revealing and blotting out the many things we chase after that can't satisfy us in the way only God can.
Keller explores what he considers to be the three main idols in our culture, and that is love, money, and power. Love, he explains, is when we believe that our fulfilment will be found in finding 'the perfect partner'. This, however, never happens, and if we believe fulfilment will be found there it will end up being very destructive to the relationship. We will expect great things from our partners, and when they do not deliver then we will be bitterly disappointed. Putting such high hopes in relationships never works. The same is true when it comes to children, because if we idolise children, then we put tremendous pressures on them to come out how we want them to, and when they don't, then it is destructive not only to us, but also too our children.
The second area is greed. Greed, interestingly, is something that he suggests that we in the Western World do not acknowledge as being a problem. What I have noted is that when we don't have money (and this is probably an Australian thing) then we consider those who do to be bad, and we heap all kinds on accusations against them because of it. Even if we do have money (and if you are on unemployment benefits then you are still wealthy compared to the majority world) then our bitterness will always be directed to those who have more. We hold a belief, and like love and sex, it is something that our society encourages us to believe, that if we have money, if we are financially secure, then everything will be fine. This was not the case to those who were hit by the Global Financial Crisis.
The third area he spoke about is power, and it is in this section that he raises some very challenging things about politics. He has noticed that over the years people have become so much more polarised in their political beliefs (and considering Keller is American, he is referring to American Politics, which over the last ten years is very evident, but it is also evident here in Australia as well). It is like that our hopes and dreams will be fulfilled if only our political party were in power, and anybody who supports the opponent is at best a fool, and at worst, downright evil. I know because I have been on both sides of the fence. While I do hold some passionate political views, his discussion on our response to politics is quite challenging. Granted, I may not like the attitudes and the policies of the otherside, but does that make my side any better – no. Further, if my side were in power, then would it make my life any better – unlikely.
Keller's conclusion, then, is that many of our problems inevitably stem from our idols, and while we may be able to get rid of one, if we do not, or are not, able to replace it with something substantial, such as the Lord Jesus (actually his conclusion is that the only god who can fill the void is the god who revealed himself through the Lord Jesus), then we are destined for an unfulfilled and very disappointing life. However he does acknowledge that even though we may accept that we have idols, getting rid of them is no easy chore, and that is because our heart is an idol factory and it will not be until we are remade in the image of God that it will stop producing idols, however it does not mean that we should just give in, but rather we need to learn to give our hearts entirely to God.