Counterfeit Gods

Sean Lucas

As I've grown in my knowledge of the Reformed faith, I've come increasingly to appreciate the Heidelberg Catechism. In its exposition of the Ten Commandments, the Catechism wisely notes that the first commandment requires shunning "all idolatry" (Q94). When it defines idolatry, the Catechism states that it "is having or inventing something in which one trusts in place of or alongside of the only true God, who has revealed himself in his Word" (Q95). Such an understanding has not only served to make Old Testament texts understandable, it actually reveals the basic problem in the human heart: our tendency to trust in other things alongside or in place of the God who has come near to us in Jesus.

Not only has the Heidelberg Catechism proven useful for me in this regard, but Tim Keller's new book Counterfeit Gods has also served as an excellent resource in thinking about idolatry and how it remains the basic problem of the human heart. In less than two hundred pages, Keller helpfully unpacks heart-idols, especially our fundamental trust in money, success, power, and love. He also deals with cultural idols such as racial superiority, national excellence, or religious accomplishment.

The book concludes with a discussion of how to deal with idolatry. Keller pastorally gives suggestions for how to identify heart idols; but he especially assists in recommending how to deal with this most basic human problem: by falling more in love with Jesus which, in turns, leads to deeper and more thorough repentance. "Rejoicing and repentance must go together," Keller observes. "Repentance without rejoicing will lead to despair. Rejoicing without repentance is shallow and will only provide passing inspiration instead of deep change. Indeed, it is when we rejoice over Jesus's sacrificial love for us most fully that, paradoxically, we are most truly convicted of our sin" (p. 172).

Obviously, no book is perfect. I wish that Keller had spent two or three chapters expanding the gold found in the concluding epilogue on "finding and replacing idols." I found myself longing to hear how God's grace triumphs even in the face of my persistent idolatry. (Maybe there is a future Keller book that will do this.) And yet, I found this book to be wonderful companion this past week in my morning worship. I will use this in my ministry, read and re-read it for my own benefit, and recommend it highly to others. 

Above all, Keller's book helped me in keeping the first commandment in the way the Heidelberg Catechism suggests: shunning all idolatry and "sincerely acknowledge the only true God, trust him alone, look to him for every good thing, humbly and patiently, love him, fear, him, and honor him with all my heart." I'm very thankful for this book and its contribution in helping me understand my basic problem and the real solution.


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