Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises Of Money, Sex, And Power, and The Only Hope That Matters, by Timothy Keller
For all of his faults, you cannot claim that the author here merely speaks to the itching ears of his audience. This is a book that required a fair bit of moral courage to write, given the tenor of our times, and I can respect the author a great deal for how he deals with some thorny and unpleasant and frankly unpopular matters of considerable cultural importance regarding the problem of idolatry. And if he goes about his task in rather stereotypical Calvinist fashion (and he does), which is not normally something I would celebrate, I am generally willing to overlook my annoyance this case because he manages to write unpleasantly about a subject that deserves to be taken seriously. It is somewhat humorous that the author comments in this volume that in his series of sermons on the seven deadly sins (a rather Hellenistic Christian topic if there ever was one), his sermon on greed was the least popular one. And it is easy to see why, as greed is a fairly universal problem in contemporary Western society and also a problem that no one wants to admit having. At least those of us who are gluttonous (looks down at my belly) have some awareness that our appetites can be somewhat disordered at times, but greed offers no such obvious club over the head of self-recognition.
In less than 200 small pages the author examines the corrupt human heart as an idol factory, which is a good way to think of the problem. The author talks about the problems of getting all one ever wanted and the harm it does to other (1). He then moves on to an examination of the truth that love is not all we need (2) before discussing the ways that money and fame change everything about our lives, and not necessarily for the better (3). The author writes about the problematic seduction of success (4), and the way that people seek power and glory (5) for themselves in ways that are destructive to themselves and others. After this the author urges us to become more aware of the hidden idols in our lives (6) and points to the end of counterfeit gods in being taken from their position in rebellion against God (7), after which the author concludes with an epilogue about how the reader can find and replace the idols in their lives.
I found this to be a good book, and an example of the sort of subject where the strident approach of the author’s Calvinism does not detract from the message. When you are talking about a disagreeable subject where there is a great deal of denial–and this is the case here certainly, the author manages to do an excellent job in making this message as pointed and disagreeable as possible. He truly wishes to convict the reader of sin and to make the reader feel totally depraved. While this is not something I would generally appreciate in most areas of life, it works here, and that is something to appreciate. Our hearts are idol factors, and the sooner we can admit that and repent of it, the sooner we can turn our hearts where they should be directed in obedience to God’s laws and ways through the help of His spirit motivating and leading us. It is something to appreciate when an author actually shows that he cares about some of the less often recognized laws and commandments of God. Now, if only he would write a good book about Sabbath observance for contemporary believers, then he would be a far more credible witness to godly spirituality.