Book Review: Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller

Title: Counterfeit Gods
Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: Dutton

In recent years Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, has become quite a prolific author. And his latest offering may be his most important book yet.

Counterfeit Gods explores the empty promises by the idols found in the human heart—sex, money, power, pride—and our only hope of experiencing true satisfaction and fulfillment in the gospel.

Making Gods

“[An idol] is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give,” writes Keller (p. xvii). It’s a broad definition, but fitting. As Keller rightly says, “Anything in life can serve as an idol, a God-alternative, a counterfeit god” (p. xvi).

It’s easy for us to think about idols as being statues in a temple somewhere “over there” (wherever that is). But if it’s true that anything can be an idol, it’s not nearly so simple. “The biblical concept of idolatry is an extremely sophisticated idea, integrating intellectual, psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual categories.” (p. xix). Romantic love, sex, physical beauty, moral virtue, intellectual ideologies, profit, self-expression… “There are idols everywhere” (p. xxi).

They are the things we love, trust and obey, even at the expense of our relationship with Jesus. “Idols dominate our lives,” says Keller.

Throughout the book, Keller illustrates the insidiousness of idolatry through the biblical accounts of Abraham, Jacob, Zacchaeus, Naaman, Nebudchadnezzar and Jonah. The lives of each show us a pattern of idolatry: For Abraham, his son Isaac had the potential to be a powerful idol; for Jacob, his grandson, it was love as illustrated by his obsession with Rachel and behavior reminiscent of an addict. For Zacchaeus, it was money. For Naaman, success; Nebudchadnezzar, glory & power. And Jonah—well, his idols were perhaps the most complex of all. [Read more…]

Around the Interweb (03/07)

Blaspheme Your Idols

Jared Wilson shares an excerpt from his next book, currently in progress:

A bride joined to her groom forsakes all others. She writes the spiritual equivalent of Dear John letters to her idols. When God’s love captivates you, you go around spurning all your other lovers. I call this “blaspheming” your idols.

Blaspheme them. Tell them they have no appeal to you any more. Tell them you don’t need their damage, their pain, their anti-glories. Tell them you have no desires to use and abuse them any more. Tell them your heart, mind, soul, and strength belong wholly to God now. And then don’t speak as a lover to them ever again. Sinful relationships must end.

Read the whole thing. It’s well worth it.

In other news

TWO free audiobooks this month at ChristianAudio.comThe Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (code: MAR2010) and Fifty Reasons why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper (code: MAR2010B). Enjoy!

The New Possibilities in Book Publishing and the Implications of New Media

Would you “Friend” the Apostle Paul?

2010 Band of Bloggers: Internet Idolatry & Gospel Fidelity

Timmy Brister has announced the details of the 4th Band of Bloggers fellowship that will take place in conjunction with the 2010 Together for the Gospel Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

The theme for this year’s meeting is “Internet Idolatry and Gospel Fidelity.” With the advent of new media and the increasing influence of technology on our lives, it is important to address the relationship of the gospel to technology, especially the areas where we are tempted with idolatrous desire (power, identity, influence, acceptance, control, etc.).  While the internet, with all of its platforms (such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) can be a powerful tool to leverage our lives for the gospel impact, we want to examine our hearts to bring to light the various ways in which the idol factory of our hearts challenges and subverts the very gospel which we long to embrace.

Go to the Band of Bloggers website for more info and to register.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Tass Saada’s Once an Arafat Man

Jude: Contending for our Common Salvation

How to Build a God

Spurgeon on the fruit of humility

B.B. Warfield reminds us that we can’t move beyond the gospel

How to Build a God

All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

Remember these things, O Jacob,
     and Israel, for you are my servant;
I formed you; you are my servant;
     O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.
I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud
     and your sins like mist;
return to me, for I have redeemed you.

— Isaiah 44:9-22

HT: The Resurgence

My Bible, My Idol?


The other day I was reading a pastor’s blog post about turning the Bible into an idol, specifically with regard to the Conservative Bible Project (while you won’t find the comments section all that helpful, the post itself raises a few good points).

Every once in a while I’ll see the accusation of “bibliolatry” thrown out in a book or a blog—often as a shot at those who would hold to an Evangelical understanding of Scripture (that it is the word of God, authoritative & free of error in all that it teaches). My pastor was once accused of bibliolatry, for example, simply because he preaches the text and believes we should obey the commands of God (cf 1 John 2:1-6).

Funny thing, that.

Anyway, as I’ve been thinking about bibliolatry, I’ve been wondering if what people who could be accused of this are not making an idol of the Bible, but rather making an idol out of a preference or position? [Read more…]

Where the Wild Things Are

poster_where_the_wild_things_areFriday night, Emily and I went to see Where the Wild Things Are, the Spike Jonze film loosely based on Maurice Sendak’s classic book about a disobedient boy named Max, who is sent to bed without supper and imagines sailing away to the land of Wild Things,where he is made king.

Going into the movie, I didn’t really have any expectations, beyond having a good time. After all, the book is roughly ten sentences. If you’re going to make a 100-minute film from it, you’re going to have to expand; more accurately, you’ll need to create your own story around the basic framework of the original.

There are parts of the movie that were excellent.The character designers did a great job bringing the Wild Things to life and should be commended. Likewise, all the actors did a brilliant job in the portrayal of their characters. But, as we watched the movie, I felt… unsettled.

Emily described the movie as having an “undercurrent of creepy” running through it.

Identifying The Undercurrent of Creepy

Something felt off. Perhaps it was characterization. Max, the emotionally out-of-control son of a divorced mom, flips out when Mom’s got a date in the house and takes off. This reminded me a bit of my childhood as the emotionally out-of-control son of a divorced mom. While his actions certainly aren’t glorified, I’m amazed at the seeming lack of consequence for behaving like an insufferable brat.

After some further reflection, I think my discomfort centers around Carol, the emotionally out-of-control Wild Thing who is a personification of Max’s own issues. He smashes the group’s homes because everything isn’t perfect and how it “should” be. He looks to people to solve all the problems in life; that Max, as king, will make everyone happy.

In the characterization of Carol, Spike Jonze exposes our potential for idolatry.

A Problem, but No Solution

Carol “needs” to turn people into his functional savior, whether it’s K.W. or a king. And when they fail under the enormous amount of pressure he places on them, he blames them, attacks them and tries to destroy them.

We do this all the time, whether it’s in marriage and dating relationships, parenting, friendships, work, and celebrity culture. We build up our expectations of a man or woman, a boss, our kids, an actor, whatever, and when they inevitably buckle under the enormous pressure… You get the idea.

We all have the propensity to be “Carol” in this way.

While the movie brings this reality to light, it feels rather hopeless. Perhaps that’s intentional; I’ll be honest, I’m not really certain of the motivations of the screenwriters and director. And perhaps, this weakness might be its strength.

While I didn’t find the movie a satisfying experience, it did provide an opportunity to remind myself that there is a solution to our potential for idolatry. That there is hope because of the gospel.

And that is truly satisfying.

Sunday Shorts (10/25)

tim-kellerCounterfeit Gods—The Personal Story

Tim Keller shares his story of ministry idolatry:

Like many younger ministers I worked far too many hours, never saying “no” to anyone’s request for my pastoral services. When salary increases were offered to me, I turned them down. When administrative help was offered to me, I declined. I was quite proud of being the kind of person who worked very hard, never complained, and never asked for any help. This regularly brought me into conflict with my wife, who rightly contended that I was neglecting my relationships to her and to my young sons. It also led to health problems, although I was only in my early thirties…

It wasn’t until I began to search my heart with the Biblical category of idolatry that I made the horrendous discovery that all my supposed sacrifices were just a series of selfish actions. I was using people in order to forge my own self-appreciation. I was looking to my sacrificial ministry to give me the sense of “righteousness before God” that should only come from Jesus Christ.

HT Justin Taylor

Book Giveaway at Devotional Christian

Tony Kummer’s giving away 22 top devotional books—and it’s a pretty wonderful selection!

Martin Luther’s Here I Stand—Free at The Listener’s Bible

In celebration of Reformation Day (October 31st), The Listener’s Bible store is offering a free download of Martin Luther’s Here I Stand, narrated by Max Mclean. Here’s the product description:

In the late afternoon of April 18, 1521, in the city of Worms, Germany, Martin Luther, a 37 year-old Catholic monk was called to defend himself before Charles the Fifth, the Holy Roman Emperor. The speech he delivered that day, Here I Stand, marked the beginning of the Reformation, a critical turning point in Christian history, that decisively altered the spiritual map of the world.

In this recording, Max McLean introduces the events leading up to the Diet of Worms: Martin Luther’s prayer the night before he delivered his speech; Luther’s stirring defense; the Catholic church’s rebuttal; and, Luther’s final heartfelt response.

This offer is available until November 1.

In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Dug Down Deep, impressions on the first chapter of Josh Harris’ forthcoming book—and Josh Harris linked back with some really kind words!

O2: Breathing New Life Into Faith, reviewing Richard Dahlstrom’s new book on building a sustainable faith

Be Intolerant of the Right Things, thoughts on D.A. Carson’s “The Intolerance of Tolerance

J.I. Packer: What is a Christian? a passage from Packer’s classic work, “Knowing God”


I’m sure you’ve seen lots of these commercials just like this one over the last few years. And laughed. And possibly laughed some more.

Then, when you were done laughing, you maybe cried a little bit (but only on the inside so your coworkers wouldn’t laugh at you) as you went back to work on your PC.

Apple’s been, quite honestly, doing a terrific job making enjoyable, entertaining ads for their computers. Apple computers, after all, are hip and cool, and if you buy one, you too can be saved from the functional hell of using a Windows-based machine (like the—ugh—Dell I’m writing on at this moment; my wife’s on our Mac).

Now, I’ve heard more than one pastor make a clever remark about how the whole Mac vs. PC thing is a form of idolatry. But did you know…

They’re right?

[Insert ominous music here] [Read more…]

Everyday Theology: Money is the root of all evil

As we continue to look at some of the more common ideas we have about, or relating to in some way, God, I wanted to address the following:

“Money is the root of all evil.”

The origins of this one are fairly easy to trace, as it is a misquotation of 1 Timothy 6:10 (KJV), which says “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

Four Missing Words

Some might wonder, what’s the big deal? Does a misquotation change the meaning in any significant way? In this case, yes. In the saying, “money is the root of all evil,” money itself is given moral value, and is determined to be all bad, all the time. This attitude, in many ways, is the heart of poverty theology — an overreaction to prosperity theology that essentially says, “if you’re financially poor, God loves you more than if you had money.” It is a demonizing of money.

Is money bad? Nope. We need money for groceries, for our mortgages or rent, for paying our church leaders, for helping the poor… None of these are bad things.

But the love of money is a very bad thing indeed.

1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV) says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” A love of money can cause people to wander away from the faith because the object of their affections is not Jesus, it’s cash.

It is idolatry. [Read more…]

My Heroes in the Faith

Matt at EV recently wrote about who he considered his heroes in the faith—those people whose lives have been an encouragement and a model for his own.

I’ve been thinking about that question for a few days now. I’ve answered this question in part over at Evangelical Village in an interview, looking at three people who’ve impacted my faith. There, I answered Matt Chandler of the Village Church, my friend Adam Duguay, and my lovely wife Emily. Those three have all made a huge impact on me (and one without having ever met me, thanks to the wonders of modern technology).

But I’ve found it to limit myself, simply because there are so many. The Apostle Paul is a huge influence, in part because he is the greatest example of God’s grace to sinful humanity. A murderer of Christian men and women, saved by Jesus to become His instrument.

His disciple, Timothy, who was beaten to death in Ephesus for contending for the gospel.

Men like John Piper, Tom Carson, Charles Spurgeon, Chris Matthisen, and so many others all are men I look to as an example of the pursuit of holiness.

But in thinking about this subject, I came across an article by John Piper called Hero Worship and Holy Emulation. Because it deals with this very subject, I felt it would be appropriate to share an excerpt:

What is the meaning of the attention given to well-known pastors? What does the desire for autographs and photographs mean? The negative meaning would be something akin to name-dropping. Our egos are massaged if we can say we know someone famous. You see this on blogs with words like “my friend Barack” and the like. And I presume that, for some, an autograph or a photo has the same ego-boost.

However, I don’t assume the worst of people. There are other possible motives. We will see this below. But it is good to emphasize that all of this is more dangerous to our souls than bullets and bombs. Pride is more fatal than death.

When I say “our souls” I mean all of us—the signature-seeker, the signer, and the cynic who condemns it all (on his very public blog). There is no escaping this new world. The question is, How do we navigate it for the glory of Christ, the crucifixion of self, the spread of truth, the deepening of faith, and the empowering of sacrificial love?

Here is one small contribution. In spite of all the legitimate warnings against hero worship, I want to risk waving a flag for holy emulation—which includes realistic admiration. Hero worship means admiring someone for unholy reasons and seeing all he does as admirable (whether it’s sin or not). Holy emulation, on the other hand, sees evidences of God’s grace, and admires them for Christ’s sake, and wants to learn from them and grow in them.

May we not make idols of our influences; they are a poor substitute for our Savior.

The Persevering Prophet: Harsh Language


Reading through the first several chapters of Jeremiah, I am struck by the harshness of Jeremiah’s preaching. Throughout the book, there is a palpable hatred of sin, that is expressed with incredibly strong language.

Before I continue, if you are offended by such language, you may not want to read this post (perhaps this light-hearted one instead?), as I’ve pulled together some of the more intense examples from the early chapters of the book of Jeremiah.

Within the book’s first five chapters, we see the following extremely intense words preached by Jeremiah: [Read more…]

The Stupidity of Idolatry

The other day, in reading through Isaiah, I was struck by the emphatic, repeated warnings about the absolute stupidity of idolatry. Isaiah 44 in particular illustrates this point with this biting passage:

The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (Isa. 44:12-17, emphasis mine)

This is how ridiculous idolatry is in the eyes of God: We are so foolish that we will take a tree, chop half into firewood, and worship the other half.

We would rather worship a “god” that we knowingly create, rather than the One who created us.

[Read more…]

One week in

So, here I am, a week into the challenge, and I’ve noticed something very important: I spent a good chunk of this week thinking about what I’d like to read.

That is not a good sign.

It also didn’t help that my friend and coworker Noel brought down commentaries that he had duplicates of, with the offer to purchase today; but that’s beside the point.

I’ve also spent a good chunk of time reading through Proverbs and have been incredibly convicted by what I’ve found there. Reading Proverbs 4:24 (“Put away from you crooked speech and put devious talk far from you.”) opened my eyes to some issues I really struggle with.

What I’ve been reminded of over the last few days, in part because of the John MacArthur/Mark Driscoll debacle, is that you can be right about something and still be a complete jerk, if you’re saying something to be right. [Read more…]

The first days: new temptations

I’m two days into my break from podcasts and supplemental books, and it’s been interesting. Honestly, I don’t know how much I’ve really noticed as far as a difference is concerned, but I can say that I’m enjoying the break right now.

Adam, John and I flew to San Francisco on Monday morning. I brought my Bible & notebook (and a book about the self-help industry called SHAM).

No iPod.

No other books.

It’s kind of nice. I don’t have the (literally) hundreds of options to choose from that I do at home.

So, that ‘s awesome.

I think the biggest temptation has actually been using television as a distraction. I don’t have cable at home, and Emily and I rarely watch anything on our TV. When we checked into our hotel room, there were tons of channels to choose from.

Here’s the thing though: There’s really not that much worth watching.

An episode of Bones was interesting around 3 in the afternoon. I half watched an episode of How I Met Your Mother, but was only half paying attention. I watched half an hour of 24 last night, but it wasn’t all that interesting.

So here’s what I’m wondering: What if we turn off the TV for a while? I know a lot of us have “our shows”—the ones we have to watch every week—but maybe it would be helpful for us all to turn them off for a week or two and see if we really miss anything?

Am I out to lunch?

Blogging the Psalms: Psalm 106

The Psalmist gives us a sharp, stinging description of the absolute ridiculousness of idolatry when he says, “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass” (Psalm 106:20).

Read that again:

“They exchanged the glory of God
    for the image of an ox that eats grass.”

They exchanged worshipping God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, serving Him, gazing upon His glory…

For a cow.

It’d be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.

And yet… how different are we? How different am I? [Read more…]