It’s a little weird to teach a Sunday School class where your former pastor (and mentor) is a “student.” Yet that’s what happened with me as I taught my most recent class that ended a few weeks ago. One day after class ended, we got together and started talking about different books and authors, and he asked me if I’ve read anything by Timothy Keller. I hadn’t yet, but I had a few of his on my wishlist in the Nook store and on Kindle. At his recommendation, I decided to try Keller out, and I chose “Counterfeit Gods” because the topic interests me.
What exactly is a “counterfeit God?” You’re perhaps more familiar with a different term: “idol.” Oh those, that golden statue that Indiana Jones was trying to steal at the beginning of “Raiders of the Lost Ark!” Well yeah, that’s an idol, but Keller is going further than that in this book. Keller is talking about the idols that are enshrined in our lives today. They may not be statues of gold sought by Harrison Ford in your favorite 80s movie (man I wanna watch that right now), they may not be a golden calf like the one built by Israel while Moses was chatting with God up Mount Sinai, but these things, our idols today, serve the same purpose. They take the rightful place of God in our lives, causing us to worship them, to pursue them, to obsess over them.
So what are some of the idols, some of the counterfeit gods in our lives today? Some of the ones covered by Keller in the book are:
Sex and Romantic Love
Money and the pursuit of wealth
Personal and career success
Glory and power over others.
Keller takes a look at each of these aspects of our lives. Not all of these are bad in and of themselves, but according to Keller, when we take them and make them the focus of our lives, instead of God, they become idols or “counterfeit gods.” Each chapter also contains an illustration from Scripture depicting these issues as idols. Keller mentions stories of Jacob, Leah, Zacchaeus, and King Nebuchadnezzar, among others, to illustrate his points. His reasoning and interpretations of scripture are well thought out and convincing.
Towards the end of the book Keller talks about how we diagnose which idols are prevalent in our own lives. Everybody should read this, because hey, we all have them. He then concludes by talking about what we should replace these idols with: namely Jesus and a life striving to follow him.
I know this sounds like a rather elementary concept to mature Christians. Most of us have heard multiple sermons on these topics over the years, and my guess is that many of us think we have our idols figured out and put away. According to Keller, that’s never really going to fully happen. It’s a process that continues through our lives as we all walk our different paths. However, being aware of these things and having the basic Christian tools to deal with them helps us dethrone these unhealthy counterfeit gods when we recognize them in our lives.
All in all this was a great book. I really like Keller’s style. He comes across as authoritative, but not burdensome or scolding. It’s like listening to your pastor who’s heard it all before (he probably has) and knows just what to say to help you out. He’s very easy to read, and as I mentioned earlier, his use of scripture is quite enlightening. Sometimes I think “progressive Christian” authors don’t tend to bother to try and back up what they’re saying with scripture, and if they do, it’s usually a one off quote from Jesus or the Apostle Paul. Even though he’s probably a bit more traditional theologically speaking than many authors I read, I appreciate that Keller is not afraid to dive into the depths of other areas of the Bible to illustrate his points. It’s a nice change.