Christopher J. H. Wright is no stranger to the layered, complex, and beautiful world of the Old Testament. A prolific author and accomplished scholar, Wright has become known for helping bridge the unfortunate gap between the church and academia. In “Here Are Your Gods: Faithful Discipleship in Idolatrous Times,” Wright writes clearly and from the vantage point of one who wants to avoid theology detached from discipleship or service to the church–something which is likely the highest form of idolatry. The author sets out to provide a biblical framework for idolatry (rooted in the Old Testament) as well as clear guidelines for what it means to follow Jesus today in the fallen world which has a gravitational pull toward idol-worship. But why a book on idolatry? Isn’t the concept by default fairly self-explanatory? Don’t modern Protestants and evangelicals have a clear enough understanding of idolatry?
A Deficient View of Idolatry Can Lead to a Deficient View of Our Mission
Wright finds that one cannot understand the mission of the Church without fully understanding idolatry and the temptation toward it. When the Old Testament talks about our mission, it often talks about (or assumes at best) the reality of idolatry. But often the Bible’s way of thinking about idolatry is at odds with our own modern understanding of idol worship. To Wright, our current ways of talking and thinking about idolatry fall short of what Scripture is saying. To miss out on what the Bible says about idolatry runs the risk of missing out on our call into faithful discipleship. Understanding idolatry is [actually] central to understanding our mission. “For that reason” writes Wright, “we should make an effort to grapple with how the Bible handles the subject, as a vital part of authentic and sensitive Christian mission.”
To miss out on what the Bible says about idolatry runs the risk of missing out on our call into faithful discipleship.Tweet
“The Biblical category of idolatry is often handled or dismissed with shallow understanding and simplistic responses.” Christopher Wright, from ‘Here Are our Gods’Tweet
Wright takes the reader on a journey through the First Testament to explore what the Bible itself has to say about idols and the demonic reality. Important questions are addressed such as, “Are idols human-made objects? Are there demonic realities behind idols? What about Satan in the Old Testament? Why does the Old Testament mention “other gods” besides Yahweh?”
These are deep and complex questions which require careful unpacking, and Wright does just that. He examines texts such as Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 106 which are “the only two Old Testament passages which clearly and explicitly equate gods and idols with demons, though there are hints elsewhere” (p. 14).
Have We Outgrown Primitive Idolatry?
There are plenty of ways in which modern Christians embrace idolatry. For one, sometimes Western Christians can be found guilty of an unabashed submission to and embrace of capitalism. Wright insists that “idolatrous worship of Mammon…characterizes contemporary global capitalism” and in fact drives it. Perhaps it could be said that the pursuit of and devotion to money has become the cornerstone of Western society. “We seem willing even to sacrifice the future of the planet to the idol of short-term worship of Mammon” (p. 83).
There is also the war on truth which Wright insists has Satanic origins. He writes, “Some of the harshest condemnations and laments in the Old Testament have to do with the loss of truth in the public arena (e.g. Ps 12:1-5; Amos 5:10).” When someone claims something is true they are accused of being arrogant and judgmental, and to be such “has become a cardinal sin” (see chapter 5: “The Rise & Fall of Nations in Biblical Perspective”).
“We seem willing even to sacrifice the future of the planet to the idol of short-term worship of Mammon.” Christopher J. Wright, ‘Here Are Your Gods’Tweet
Sobering, enriching, and a real page-turner, Here Are Your Gods covers a wide array of pressing topics and questions. Wright patiently works through and answers deep theological conundrums, carefully addressing modern forms of idolatry alive and well in God’s Word and in the Church at large.
Idolatry is subtler, more insidious, and far more disastrous than we often think. It is subtle in that it feeds off of our fears, worries, and pride; it is insidious in that it disrupts the good within God’s created order; and it is disastrous in that it robs us of our ability to think and feel. In the end idolatry robs us of our humanity, which includes our joy and dignity. It destroys our relationship with God, with others, with the earth, and with ourselves. Here Are Your Gods is a clear reminder and warning that idolatry is not to be trifled with, flirted with, or entertained. Many things have pros and cons but idolatry ultimately has nothing redemptive about it, and absolutely nothing “good” to offer. While promising life and joy it delivers nothing more than divisiveness, destruction, and ultimately death.
There are plenty of superstitions, myths, and common misunderstanding of idol and cult worship today (I’m thinking about the debate among some when it comes to the Harry Potter franchise or to Halloween). Here Are Your Gods is a healthy and biblically-rich corrective to some of the extremes out there as well as to those who ignorantly think that idolatry is a thing of the past, a product of the ancient world which we have simply outgrown. Deeply theological and exegetical and yet highly readable and accessible, this is a book the Western Church needs to wrestle with.
The array of topics covered cannot possibly be noted in one book review so I will attempt to put together one more review which deals with how idolatry is detrimental to our humanity.
I highly recommend Here Are Your Gods for its Christ-centeredness, commitment to truth, and its respect of the Bible and its world.
“Pride, greed, and aggression, in the forms of nationalism, consumerism, and militarism, still elevate themselves into idolatrous statues in our modern Western cultures.” Christopher J. H. WrightTweet
“Human beings did not need the devil to teach us idolatry. Once we chose to reject the authority of the living God, we ended up creating gods for ourselves, either within the created order or within the imaginations of our hearts. We are experts in doing so, and the devil fosters our expertise.” (P. 31)
How we are defensive about our idols and “gods:” “We invest so much of ourselves into our gods, we spend so much time on them, we so deeply blend our identity and significance with theirs, that it simply will not do for us to have them unmasked, mocked, or toppled. Yet, of course, topple they must before the living God.” (P. 29)
Charles Spurgeon on fake/false news: “A lie can travel half way round the world while the truth is putting on its boots.” (Borrowed from ‘Here Are Your Gods’ p. 85)Tweet