Book Review: Counterfeit Gods by Timothy J. Keller
posted in: Reviews
Thursday, March 25, 2010
For years, I’ve appreciated the preaching of Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, frequently listening to his sermons via a paid subscription from the church website. If you listen to Keller for very long you’ll notice a recurring theme in his preaching: idolatry, the making a good thing into an ultimate thing, or as Keller sometimes calls it, “your functional god.”
Counterfeit Gods is Keller’s third book, and in my opinion, his best to date. This book’s greatest contribution may be in exposing how pervasive idolatry is today, even as it was in biblical times. If you think idolatry is not a problem for you, then I challenge you to read this book and see if you still make that claim by the end. Keller has a knack for not only identifying the idols of American culture, but our personal idols as well. He is always gracious, but when you recognize an idol that is active in your own life, it still hurts. Thankfully, Keller also faithfully points to the grace and love of God expressed in Jesus Christ on the cross.
Keller does a masterful job of unpacking several biblical accounts as examples of idolatry in action. Biblical figures such as Abraham, Nebuchadnezzar, Jacob, and Zaccheus all receive fresh insights through Keller’s keen eye for idolatrous attachments and analysis.
The book itself is a fairly easy read and very concise, sometimes almost too much so. I was grateful for his footnotes citing other sources for further reading. As excellent and thorough as Keller is at identifying idols, the book might have benefited from an even longer section on replacing those idols, although I love what he does write:
“Setting the mind on things above” where “your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1 – 3) means appreciating, rejoicing, and resting in what Jesus has done for you. It entails joyful worship, a sense of God’s reality in prayer. Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. That is what will replace your counterfeit gods. If you uproot the idol and fail to “plant” the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.” (p. 171 – 172)
I believe all worship leaders (myself included) should not only be thinking deeply about and studying worship regularly, but also its greatest negative expression: idolatry. This book is an excellent resource to assist you. Although I initially read the book pretty quickly, I have been going through it a second time at a snail’s pace, reading a paragraph or two as part of my “quiet time” so I can reflect on Keller’s thinking more deeply and allow the Spirit to show me more personally how it applies to my own heart and life. If you want to grow in your worship of the one, true God, I highly recommend this book.