I know this is going to aggravate a few people, but can I just ask a few questions without being painted with a specific brush or by attracting a firestorm of response?
There has been a lot of talk recently in certain evangelical circles on idolatry. I remember talking with someone who had just read Greg Beale’s book, We Become What We Worship. The young man reading the book basically summed it up by saying that the root of our sin is idolatry. I countered that I thought that the root of our sin is our selfishness. It could then be countered that our selfishness is when we elevate our desires above our desire for God, thus we become idols unto ourselves. Or, the things we desire become the idols.
I read Keller’s very helpful book, Counterfeit Gods. I greatly benefited from it. Keller defines an idol as: 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. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. It is what you spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources on without a single thought. “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”
I understand that and I even agree with it to an extent. But, I still don’t understand the idolatry language. I’ve been studying Mark 7 and Jesus’ renunciation of what the Pharisees called “The Tradition of the Elders” (Jesus called them the traditions of men). I would imagine that Keller, Beale and others who agree with this kind of thinking would say that the traditions of the elders became the idols of the Pharisees, and those like it. This takes me back to my original question, why call it idolatry. Jesus doesn’t call it idolatry. In fact, as far as I can tell, the terms idol, idols or idolatry are not found in the words of Jesus or the gospels themselves. In fact, when idols or idolatry is used in the New Testament, overwhelmingly it is referring to literal pagan idol worship. There is one place in Col. 3.5 that does use idolatry as way of discussing greed (or it could be sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires as well, which are lumped together in that verse).
My main question is, why do we have to be so quick to label issues like this so quickly and not examine the texts and see how idolatry is defined. I am not saying that books like Beale’s and Keller’s aren’t helpful, I’ve already stated my appreciation for Keller and his book. But can’t I ask this question without being put into a camp or being shouted down. I just want to discuss these issues. It seems if you disagree with certain popular teachers or camps, you get criticized and your orthodoxy is questioned. (I fall into this camp with some of my favorites). Anyway, I don’t have a proper conclusion to this rant, but my study of Mark 7 got me thinking, “Why didn’t Jesus refer to sinfulness as idolatry?”