Whose Ox, Which Gore?

A-View-of-World-from-9th-Avenue-Map_mediumthumbTim Keller continues to impress, not only with his wisdom, but also with his productivity. He has a new book, this time on idols, and as the darling Presbyterian pastor of Christianity Today’s editors, he answers questions about Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. (That’s almost an early modern mouthful of a title.) The interviewer at CT asks Keller, “Do Christians have blind spots when it comes to false idols?”

Keller responds:

An idol is something you rely on instead of God for your salvation. One of the religious idols is your moral record: “God accepts me because I’m living a good life.” I’m a Presbyterian, so I’m all for right doctrine. But you can start to feel very superior to everyone else and think, God is pleased with me because I’m so true to the right doctrine. The right doctrine and one’s moral record are forms of power. Another is ministry success, similar to the idol of achievement. There are religious versions of sex, money, and power, and they are pretty subtle.

This is a curious answer. Keller could have opted for a version of an idol that was close to home or one that was easier to give up. For instance, if I were asked this question, I could respond with something about the idolatry of Christian contemporary music and its outlet in P&W worship. That would be no skin off my back, and I could score a point against my liturgical enemies. But if I offered up the Philadelphia Phillies as a form of idolatry, this one would hurt since I’d hate to abandon for God’s service what may be the best team in Philadelphia sports history. My answer would then go something like this:

I’m a Philadelphian, so I’m all for Ryan Howard. But you can start to feel very superior to everyone else and think, God is pleased with me because I’m so true to the best slugger in contemporary baseball. Home runs and RBI’s are forms of power. Another is winning the N.L. pennant two years in a row, similar to the idol of achievement. There are sports fan versions of sex, money, and power, and they are pretty subtle.

All of which is to say that the illustration one uses to answer a question about idolatrous blind spots may reveal something about the tenacity with which you cling to earthly and even spiritual goods, and which ones may be let go.

So what does it say that Pete Enns quotes Keller favorably at his blog? If Keller had identified either the Yankees or OT studies or Ancient Near Eastern Studies as possible idols, would Enns have been so ready to quote approvingly?

For that reason, Keller’s response would have been more impressively costly had he substituted “city” for “right doctrine”:

I’m a New Yorker, so I’m all for urban ministry. But you can start to feel very superior to everyone else and think, God is pleased with me because I’m so true to the Big Apple. Urban ministry and cultural transformation are forms of power. Another is church planting success, similar to the idol of achievement. There are religious versions of sex, money, and power, and they are pretty subtle.

So here’s a deal: I’ll consider giving up my potential idols of Machen and confessional Presbyterianism, if Keller is willing to put urban ministry on the altar and Enns is willing to sacrifice Ancient Near Eastern studies.

50 thoughts on “Whose Ox, Which Gore?

  1. Clearly, quibbling “Ministry success” against “church planting success” is proof you don’t have a idol of right doctrine.


  2. It does appear DGH, does it not, that Enns latching on the aspect of Keller’s illustration about ‘proper doctrine’ becoming an idol-is a not so subtle suggestion that this applies to Enns’ critics. They are guilty of idolatry while I am simply being faithful to my calling as a Harvard trained OT scholar who has no theological presuppositions at all


  3. Often those who want to point to “right doctrine” as possible stumbling in some way or doing it because they are being hemmed in by right doctrine in some way. Everyone should be striving for right doctrine and if everyone is striving for right doctrine, then why would anyone try to use it against someone else? It what they should be doing is using their right doctrine to show their brother where their right doctrine is actually wrong in theory or practice.


  4. The “right doctrine” example is clearly the shot of the evangelically Reformed across the confessionally Reformed bow.

    However, like the hapless confessionally Reformed target in Frame’s recent (and most uncharitable) evangelically Reformed critique is fond of saying, “We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone—not our doctrine.” If 2K can lay names, marriage, the sun and even life itself on the altar then the confessionally Reformed should be able to lay our doctrines. And the challenge may yet remain for the good urban pastor to re-think what it may mean to name the names of idols. At least, that’s what I get from Darryl’s deal.


  5. This is a perfectly fair challenge. Urban ministry can indeed become an idol which leads its practicioners to feel superior (hipper than thou) to everyone–it becomes a pseudo-‘righteousness. In our training I warn urban ministers about urban ministry as an idol. And you are also right that evangelical scholars can make an idol out of intellectual respectability (cf. the new book on George Eldon Ladd, ‘A Place at the Table.’)

    I only hope that this isn’t rhetoric, though, about confessional Presbyterians doing genuine, non-ironic examination to see if they’ve made their tradition an idol.

    Anyway, as I say, this is a good and fair challenge.


  6. I personally do not think the language of idolatry is helpful. One man’s idolatry is another man’s overemphasis.

    But I would say that from what I’ve seen and read about Redeemer NYC that it is fair to say that you, Tim, and the church stand in a different relationship to the Presbyterian tradition than confessional Presbyterians. Sort of the difference between Jack Miller and Richard Lovelace, on the one side, and E. J. Young and John Murray on the other.

    A big question is whether membership within a communion and a theological tradition requires loyalty and adherance that the evangelically minded consider either cultic or idolatrous. For some time, conservative Presbyterians have been debating Lord’s Day observance and worship. It’s hard for me to see that Frame and you, Tim, stand comfortably in the Reformed tradition of the faith and practice of the Lord’s Day. We have a good word for that lack of comfort — evangelical. My problem is with those who practice the faith like evangelicals but claim to be Reformed, and then when criticized for not being Reformed, shoot back with the charge of idolatry.

    I’m not saying that this is what you’ve done (though I would be less reluctant to say so about Frame). But I do think that keeping the evangelical and Reformed balls in the air is a lot harder a juggling feat than you (or Frame) admit.


  7. Isn’t one of the issues a misuse of the term “idol”? Just doing a quick scan of Strong’s concordance, idols (unless I am mistaken) refers to idols (images of gods). Is there any biblical mandate to take a biblical term and give it unbiblical applications? In other words, we may indeed be prideful over our doctrinal knowledge, but does that make it an idol or simply a matter of sinful pride? I don’t think the two concepts are necessarily connected.


  8. Hi Matt,

    I’m with Dr. Hart on this one, he’s on to something very true. However, the Bible does speak about idols of the heart (Hart?). So, its not just wood and metal.

    That said, I do have concerns about the “new schoolers” among us in the way they want to look ‘evangelical’ for broader appeal and in doing so throw those things which historically Reformed folks have held so dear under the bus. It may be that Keller has thrown sound doctrine under the bus so as to not come off as old and stodgy. But then when those young Reformed people come along who actually like precise doctrine, the broad hat comes off and gets hidden behind the back; meanwhile, the “Reformed” hat goes on. Seems like taking “being all things” to a whole different level not intended by Paul.


  9. Hi Jim,
    I too am in agreement with Dr. Hart. My concern was more with the way biblical terms can be misused, even if the intention is right. Regarding idols of the heart, that is in Ezekiel 14 and the context is definitely concerned with idolatry. In other words the people of Judah were putting their idols/false gods in their heart as opposed to the true God.
    Anyway, I don’t want to make a big deal of it. But in matters of language I do think it is important to use the terms in a way that is faithful to the text.

    Speaking of doctrinal precision, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard Presbyterians (I am one) apologize for taking doctrine so seriously. That has never made sense to me. Why not stand up for the truth? Why not be like the Bereans and confirm our teachings based on Scripture? I think that if too many in the Reformed tradition continue on this route, peopel are going to ask, “then why be Reformed at all?”


  10. Dr. Keller is using biblical language (see Colossians 3:5) at this point. His emphasis on the idolatry of self-righteousness in the human heart is a reality that we all live with. This is why Jesus told the disciples “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” I think we should be a gracious in reading men we disagree with on other points. While I personally prefer calling sin after its particular, biblical identification, we need to be careful to to overreact to what is a biblical psychology of sin–if I can use that phraseology in a careful way.


  11. While those of you who know me know that I make sound doctrine the principle mark of my ministry as a preacher, I also know that I can make doctrine that should lead me to the Christ of the doctrine an intellectual idol. Perhaps I should say, I can make my intellectual attainments an idol in regard to the amount of theological truth I know and can articulate. That being said, the Lord commands ministers of the Gospel to take heed to their lives and doctrine. In doing so they will save both themselves and those who hear them.


  12. I think this is a gun control issue. That is, we are never to sacrifice sound doctrine. (Never. If truth goes, it all goes.) We are to sacrifice/mortify pride.
    Can that pride manifest itself in doctrinal attainments? Undoubtedly, but so what?
    AN Martin said something like calvinism is that system of doctrine which constantly batters away at our pride, works, merit, self righteousness and promotes humility.
    Yeah, I know. What about those proud calvinists?
    They’re um, a.not fully sanctified, b.not calvinist, c.all the above.
    (When you start talking about giving up beer and cigars, dgh, we’ll know you’re serious.)


  13. I think the term “idol” is a helpful metaphor for understanding sin. It doesn’t tell the whole story, but it can be employed as a pedagogical device. There are other Biblical metaphors that could be used as well such as adultery. Both idolatry and adultery are used throughout the Old Testament as metaphors for Israel’s sin and unfaithfulness to her covenant God. So long as we understand “idol” in this particular use as metaphoric, I don’t see the problem with it. Frankly, I find it tremendously helpful and biblically warranted.


  14. Here’s a way in which idolatry is not helpful. Let’s take the sanctification of the Lord’s Day. Some in the conservative Presbyterian world do not keep the Lord’s Day holy the way Presbyterians used to. They also may think that the strict sabbatarians are a bit pharisaical about the Lord’s Day. They might even be tempted to talk about sabbatarianism as an idol. Well, that’s funny. Idolatry is one of the ten commandments. And so is the Lord’s Day. So I find it odd to turn idolatry on religious practices. But that’s what happens when you expand one commandment to cover all ten. (BTW, I think CCEF’s appeal to idols of the heart is similarly problematic.)


  15. I too find Keller’s idol paradigm helpful and warranted.

    Just looking at ἐπιθυμία and ἐπιθυμέω in the NT, which pertains to “desire, passionate longing, lust, to set the heart upon, i.e. long for, covet, desire, would fain, lust (after)”, gives plenty of room to warrant the idol paradigm.

    Now lets consider the Shema, which commands pure devotion to the Lord. Jesus, the true Israelite, is the only one who can confidently say he has purely devoted himself to loving God. The gospel gives us His pure devotion, in place of our dead worship (prior to regeneration) and our half baked, mixed motive worship (after regeneration), . Knowledge of this alone should open our eyes to our perpetual nature of taking idols into the heart.

    I really don’t see the problem with Keller’s paradigm at all. In fact, its a rather pecuilar bone for you to pick Mr. Hart.


  16. That’s true. But that still doesn’t mean our sabbatarianism is any more immune to idolatry than their cultural transformation (even if one is biblical and one is not). After all, the human heart is naturally legalistic and sin is always crouching and seeking whom it may devour.


  17. Well, why don’t we just let the World Series settle this debate. If the Yankees win, then Keller is right. If the Phillies win, then Hart is right. Its really that simple. Its a Turnpike debate!


    Of course, for us Mets fans, its a no winner 😦


  18. I think we might be being a bit unfair to Tim Keller here. I could be wrong, but I don’t see his warning against making right doctrine an idol as incompatible with holding to, defending, and contending for right doctrine (or confessional subscription for that matter). That said, I think that Enns is probably making a point similar to the one you suspect he is.

    Further, I find idolatry to be a helpful image of sin, as it points to the fact that sin is rooted in the heart, not just in behavior. (There is biblical warrant for this in Ezekiel 14; Romans 1; and 1 John 5). My problem with idolatry language is that many of the “new Calvinists” move from there to a confusion of law and gospel, where the gospel is cast in terms of right worship, renewed affections, and changed hearts. I’ve not noticed Keller doing that, but many people who follow him do. Let’s not lay that at Tim’s feet.


  19. But what about the other nine commandments? Are they chopped liver? Speaking of food, I find gluttony a much easier concept than thinking of a second helping of pie as an idol.


  20. I don’t disagree.
    Nor do I see these ideas as mutually exclusive.
    I suppose I would say that idolatry is most useful in dealing with Pharisaic types who believe they are actually obeying the ten commandments by simply maintaining an outward conformity to them. Idolatry moves the field of discourse to the heart, where the depth, depravity, and tenacity of sin are seen most clearly.


  21. Well then by all means go with the easy concept. But Keller is clearly on solid biblical (and Calvinist) ground. Paul described people whose “god is their belly” (Phil. 3:19) and, darn it, he goes and complicates the matter further when he writes: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).


  22. And Paul complicates it even more when he says it’s okay to eat meat offered to idols. I don’t think he had the cult of apple pie in mind.

    SSurely you can see if a word is so expansive as to cause confusion, when specificity would be clearer, then why not go with the particular terms? Oh, that’s right. We already have bloated categories like “mercy” ministry. Let’s just add to the imprecision.


  23. Why do they need to be opposed? Why can’t we speak in terms of idolatry, as well as in terms of gluttony? The Bible seems to do both. Might we have a false dilemma here?

    I agree that precision and specificity are good. But that does not mean that broader categories are bad (at least not when Scripture itself uses them).

    There are times when idolatry might be the more helpful term to use. There are other times when it would not be. I really fail to see what’s wrong with this way of viewing things. I’m willing to be corrected here too, but I’d like to see how this opposition to language of idolatry doesn’t arise from a false dilemma (and potentially a bone of contention with the “evangelically reformed,” because unless I’m mistaken, the Westminster Standards don’t tell us not to use idolatry as a descriptor of sin anyway.).


  24. I fail to see any imprecision in Paul’s description. In fact, I think understanding sin as idolatry is actually more precise, because it diagnoses the religious internal heart-condition motivating any number of variously differing external actions.

    The cult of apple pie? Why so literal minded Dr. Hart? Frankly, I think we are talking apples and oranges here. You want to describe the specific expression of disordered human behavior. Keller wants to show how that behavior flows out of a idolatrous love of self. Both the external sinful behavior and the idolatrous heart exist at the same time. The are not mutually exclusive.

    If Keller is using this way of speaking to subtly undermine the importance of a robust commitment to right doctrine, then bad on him. But I don’t think that is the most charitable reading of his words. And those of us in the old-school churches must be humble enough to agree that any human pride about our doctrinal orthodoxy is a good indicator that we don’t understand that doctrine very well at all. A good reminder and challenge for us. Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to apologize for or feel embarrassed about our unswerving subscription to our confessions.


  25. Perhaps taking the “reply” button off and ordering comments by date of submission would be more helpful and clarifying. We can address each other by name and still catch the flow of discussion.

    Being able to respond to particular comments, and not ordering the comments in order of submission makes the discussion quite confusing.


  26. You’re reminding me of Nietszche’s Madman here: “Whither is [confessional Presbyterianism]?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed [it]—you and I. All of us are [its] murderers.”


  27. I’ve never posted here before as I’m not nearly as theologically versed and sophisticated as anyone posting on this site with any regularity (or probably at all for that matter). However, I would like to make a general statement. In full acknowledgement of my neophyte status, in my humble view Dr. Keller becomes susceptible to potentially over zealous scrutiny as a result of his participation in the recent mega-conclave sponsored by Willow Creek. I guess from my naive (and no doubt over critical) viewpoint, I can’t understand as a matter of principal why he would agree to speak at that engagement. I’m sure I’m going to regret making this post.


  28. It strikes me that Dr. Hart and the Old School side are reacting to Tim Keller’s subjective turn, the searching of the heart. The Old School group of confessionally Reformed seems to have a natural discomfort with the subjective inner inquiry, or too much concern about sanctity, preferring to stress the objective, finished work of Christ, justification, and ordinary means of grace (Word and Sacrament). I take it that the reason for this is fear that the stress on heart sanctity (idols of the heart) quickly devolves into unhealthy introspection when we should be relying on faith, the extraspective merits of Christ. There seems to be apprehension among the confessionally Reformed that too much introspection will lead down the slippery slope to New School Revivalism and emotional excesses. Is this an accurate understanding of what drives the two different perspectives? If so, would the confessionally Reformed, Old School group prefer no inner searching of the heart, or is this a misreading? How much is ok and where is the line? Your advice would be appreciated.


  29. I think you might be hitting the nail on the head here. I can’t speak for the confessionally Reformed in that I’m (gasp) not a paedobaptist, but I can say that as some one with definite sympathies with their camp, that I find the introspective focus on the heart to be troubling, with a tendency to collapse law and gospel, and assurance robbing (not to mention totally exhausting).

    That said, though, I think there’s biblical warrant for a heart focus IN TERMS OF UNDERSTANDING SIN (e.g., the Sermon on the Mount). But salvation takes place extra nos in history. Because of my subjectively wicked heart and mixed motives, I need a Savior who is outside of me and accomplishes something objective FOR me.

    And again, I see this happening MUCH more in people who are influenced by Keller than in Keller himself.


  30. I think that thumbnail can work in a pinch.

    But I might add that the confessionally Reformed are also marked by a higher ecclesiology, as well as an older understanding of the spirituality of the church. These seem to be lesser known traits that distinguish the confessionally from evangelically Reformed.


  31. Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding! All this talk about idols of the heart becomes oppressive (to me) and is not becoming. I’m betting that a lot of confessionally Reformed are introspective but they have the good manners not to talk about it. Somethings are best left for private conversation and reflection.


  32. Money (or worldly gain), power (or worldly honor), and sex (or worldly pleasure) are not idols they are temptations.

    A false idol is something like left-wing politics (Marxism, communism, socialism), or worship of the state; or environmentalism, or worship of mother earth; or multiculturalism, or worship of the ‘noble savage.’

    These things don’t just replace God, they are sacrificed to (including human sacrifice) and they make the worshipers conscience feel easy. These false idols forgive their worshipers.

    It’s difficult for modern day Christians to see real false idols because most modern day Christians are completely in the power of the false idols they can’t see.

    Again, money, sex, power: these are staple *temptations* in the devil’s kingdom, they are not false idols.


  33. Unbelievers have a consciousness of guilt – of sin – that they need to have expiated. They refuse to approach God or the only Mediator between man and God, so they set up a false god.

    Molech and Baal were not temptations.

    Worship of the state is not a temptation. It is a god that is sacrificed to and that gives expiation to a sense of guilt and sin.

    The Hollywood ‘liberal’ who makes a ton of money then gets involved in left-wing politics and issues is looking for expiation and is seeking a god to perform that for him/her.

    They will sacrifice their freedom to these false gods. Their individuality. Regarding multiculturalism they will sacrifice their culture and civilization and the very safety of the neighborhoods (the ‘noble savage’ can do no wrong, in fact the more the ingratitude, the more the violence, the more the hatred directed to the false idol worshipers culture the more the false idol worshiper will feel expiated for their ‘sacrifice.’

    People will sacrifce humans to the state. Genocide. In some cases when abortion is a dogma in a person’s mind it becomes human sacrifice.

    Money, power, and sex doesn’t expiate the innate sense of guilt and sin in a person. They are not false idols, they are temptations.

    Interesting a modern Reformed author would write a whole book on idols and get it so wrong. This is because Reformed Christians have forgotten about subjects like false idols (spiritual warfare would be another).

    Read John Owen’s Biblical Theology to learn about false idols and the worship of false idols.


  34. “Money, power, and sex doesn’t expiate the innate sense of guilt and sin in a person.”

    Spoken by a true pietist. Not trying to start anything here, just thinking that maybe this could only be said by someone who hasn’t wantonly pursued money, power, or sex with any seriousness.

    Money, power, and sex are in themselves neutral; they are not inherently temptations. I think what needs to be said here is that the self—the narcissistic self—becomes divinized, and things like money, power, and sex are pursued precisely because the self must be satiated at all costs. But then these things end up ruling the self. And so the once-bloated, narcissistic self finds itself serving those things—incessantly, darkly, chaotically. Thus money, power, and sex have become little gods themselves, doling out expiation but for a moment. And the cycle continues.


  35. Chris Donato, calling me a pietist (however one hazily defines that) might make you feel good, but Christians used to know what false idols are and they are not temptations. Left-wing politics is not a temptation for a Hollywood actor, it’s a false idol that expiates their innate sense of sin and guilt. Talk about pious, see how the false idol worshiper piously goes about making their sacrifices to their idol.

    What will confuse the modern day Christian is the mention of politics. Modern day Christians operate from the Soviet-Nazi myth that there is a left-right in politics. No, there is tyranny and there is liberty. Liberty is from God.


  36. >Thus money, power, and sex have become little gods themselves, doling out expiation but for a moment.

    Money, power, sex, to whatever degree you are satyriconing it, or Wall Streeting it, or local bar-ing it, or Mafia-ing it, gang land-ing it, bud, does not expiate the innate sense of sin and guilt an unbeliever has. And nothing is sacrificed to it. A hang-over is not a sacrifice.

    False idol worship is *religion.* False religion, but religion. It exists to balance the activities that go on in the devil’s kingdom. Because people know, innately, they need God, but they don’t want God. So little ‘g’ gods take His place.

    Reducing false idols to a divinized self will make you unconscious for life to the false idols you are actually setting up for yourself in the place of God.

    I know, you’re used to thinking of money, sex, and power as false idols, and nobody likes to be told they are wrong, or have been wrong. It’s a subject that makes people think they have wisdom when they expound on it, and that is being threatened in you. The world-weary tone you adopt when expounding on it (“been there, done that, people, listen to me”) the knee-jerk accusation that I’m all wet on the subject because I’ve never been Julius Caesar toppling a city while knocking off each of my powerful friends wives.

    >Money, power, and sex are in themselves neutral; they are not inherently temptations.

    This is a needless distinction and meaningless in the context of this subject. To a person in a vegetative state a smartly attractive woman in a bikini is not a temptation. OK. And notice I added ‘worldly’ before those three temptations.


  37. Christian,

    Interesting you bring up Owen, Keller has credited David Clarkson (1621-1686) who co-pastored with Owen, for having an influence on his understanding of idolatry.


  38. Casey, effective for what? Do I really need the category of idolatry to know that I’m in rebellion against the only true God, and that sin continues to haunt my self? Actually, memorizing the Shorter Catechism does a pretty good job of that.


  39. I know I’m taking my life into my own hands here, but, Christian, if there is no such thing as “left-right politics” then how can “left-wing politics be a false idol” (and isn’t “false idol” redundant)? But as imperfect as they may be, I’m a modern day Christian who accepts the right-left categories. I also accept Donato’s suggestion that the root of idolatry is the human heart. So left-i-osity is just as prone to becoming idolized as rightism. Indeed, it’s the righties who idolize families and life, two things Jesus explicitly taught must either be hated (Luke 14:26) or lost (John 12:25) if they get between us and him.

    And if there is only tyranny and liberty in statecraft, and if only liberty is from God, why does the NT only teach submission to rulers with no regard for whether they dole out tyranny or liberty (Romans 13:1-7)? There was good reason they were amazed in Mark 12.


  40. Dgh,

    Effective in unmasking my self justification. Effective in revealing to me my most damnable motivations in my most religious moments. If anything, the idol paradigm shuts the mouth of every human (both the religious and the irreligious) and magnifies God in Christ. In my own personal life, my communion with the Lord took a whole new turn when I realized that even my best deeds needed to be repented of. I don’t want to defend Keller for the sake of showing his idol paradigm as the “most” effective, because it is simply a method inferred from scripture. And you don’t need the idol category to know you are in rebellion but I would argue that the category of idolatry will make the most religious squirm in his/her seat.


  41. >if there is no such thing as “left-right politics” then how can “left-wing politics be a false idol”

    Because the left idolizes the state. The right believes in limited government power and checks and balances. By left is obviously mean’t those who give their allegiance to the state and are willing to give up their freedom to the state and so on. Ronald Reagan once said there is no left and right in politics there is only down and up. Liberty is ‘up’, liberty comes from God.

    This is a difficult subject for Christians because many Christians are confused politically. They have allegiances and resentments born of worldly influences and motivations.

    The Soviet/Nazi lie was to make you think you only had two choices and that those two choices represented to sides of a political spectrum when in fact they were two brothers on the same side of the political spectrum, the down side.

    >it’s the righties who idolize families and life,

    A sharp observation. A difficult observation to make (I usually get rocks thrown at me when I suggest churches are more about family than the faith). I don’t know about life, but certainly family.

    Locating the source of spiritual adultery in the heart is not really saying much, is it? Your heart isn’t a false idol. Neither is your ‘divinized self.’

    When I say read John Owen’s Biblical Theology on this subject I am not just saying read any old good Christian on this subject, I am *specifically* saying read John Owen’s Biblical Theology on this subject. Owen wrote more deeply on this subject than anyone. It’s a difficult book to get through, but if you can keep the thread through all the detail and litanies you will see what I mean.

    He gores many modern Reformed academic oxes though, so be prepared, but try to persevere.


  42. Casey, we agree regarding these temptation and these features of the ‘Old Man’ that we remain blind to in ourselves until we have a language to begin to see them and so on. We agree on blind self-justifying, etc. And people mistake money, pleasure and power for false idols for a reason because of obvious connections. But staple temptations of the devil’s kingdom and staple features of the Old Man within us are not false idols themselves.

    False idols (idol, by the way, has enough of a range of definition that it is practical to write false idols if for no other reason than for people who might associate one of its definitions with God Himself, however wrongly), again, false idols are *religion*. They involve worship and sacrifice and expiation and spirit (the spirit of disobedience, or the spirit of the devil) and connection and rights and ritual and so on. They involve belonging to a group. They are hard to see. They are subtle. When you learn of one that you are currently in the service of you will get angry and resentful and …did I say angry? Your religion will be being attacked.


  43. Christian,

    I wonder if you need to up your dichotomy ante. The better antithesis is eschatological, as in this age/next age. As it is, you seem to still have the fulcrum placed between different things in this age, such that you not only seem prone to spiritualize certain political expressions but aren’t quite sold on how the highest temporal good, which is to say life itself, is idolized.

    And I’m not quite sure what to make of your skepticism that the human heart is the seat of all evil, except to say that I’ll read Owen if you read the larger balance of Reformed orthodoxy.


  44. Obviously I didn’t express skepticism regarding the heart of fallen man being evil. My point was if you reduce everything to that then temptation, features of the Old Man, and false idols themselves have their distinctions washed out, which is a victory for the devil, by the way.


  45. >I wonder if you need to up your dichotomy ante. The better antithesis is eschatological, as in this age/next age. As it is, you seem to still have the fulcrum placed between different things in this age,

    Actually, if you want to put it in those terms, then rejecting the devil’s illusion of right/left and seeing down/up is a bit eschatological. To say liberty comes from God, again, eschatological.


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