Four Questions to Discover Your Idols

Raiders of the Lost Ark idol.jpg

Here’s one more follow-up post from my message on idolatry last Thursday night with Kaleo, the young adults group here at Eastbrook. In his book book Counterfeit Gods (pages 167-170), Tim Keller shares four questions you can ask yourself to discover your idols.

  1. What are we dreaming about or imagining? As William Temple said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.”
  2. How are we spending our money? As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also” (Matthew 6:21).
  3. What are we truly living for – what is our functional master? Tim Keller writes: “When you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.”
  4. What are our most uncontrollable emotions? Again, Keller says, “Look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong.”

If you are willing to do so, I’d encourage each of us to spend some time prayerfully asking these questions through our week. We may learn some important things about our idols. We may need to clean house.

Tim Keller: Categories of Idolatry

image 2 - golden calf & Exodus.jpg

Last Friday night, I gave a message to our young adults at Eastbrook as part of their series on idolatry. Drawing upon Exodus 20 and 32, as well as Psalm 115, and 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10, I attempted to paint a picture of what idolatry is, what it does to us, and how God set us free from idolatry in Christ.

Tim Keller offers a very helpful overview of categories of idolatry in his masterful work Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. This overview is tucked away in the footnotes of the book, found on pages 203-204. On a side note, if you read Tim Keller’s books but don’t read the footnotes, you are robbing yourself of some of the best material in his writing. Do yourself a favor and read his footnotes, and then read the books that Keller is reading to understand where some of his best thinking is coming from. Okay back, to the categories of idols:

  • Theological idols: Doctrinal errors that produce such distorted views of God that we end up worshipping a false god
  • Sexual idols: Addictions such as pornography and fetishisms that promise but don’t deliver a sense of intimacy and acceptance; ideals of physical beauty in yourself and/or your partner; romantic idealism
  • Magic/ritual idols: Witchcraft and the occult. All idolatry is in the end a form of magic that seeks to rebel against the order of a transcendent reality rather than submitting to it in love and wisdom
  • Political/economic idols: Ideologies of the left, right, and libertarian that absolutize some aspect of political order and make it the solution. Deifying or demonizing free markets, for example
  • Racial/national idols: Racism, militarism, nationalism, or ethnic pride that turns bitter or oppressive.
  • Relational idols: Dysfunctional family systems of codependency; “fatal attractions”; living your life through your children.
  • Religious idols: Moralism or legalism; idolatry of success and gifts; religion as a pretext for abuse of power.
  • Philosophical idols: Systems of thought that make some created thing the problem with life (instead of sin) and some human product or enterprise the solutions to our problems (instead of God’s grace).
  • Cultural idols: Radical individualism, as in the West, that makes an idol out of individual happiness at the expense of community; shame cultures that make an idol out of family and clan at the expense of individual rights.
  • Deep idols: Motivational drives and temperaments made into absolutes: a. Power idolatry…b. Approval idolatry…c. Comfort idolatry…d. Control idolatry.

The Weekend Wanderer: 1 June 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

religious freedom“Rethinking the History of Religious Freedom” – Church historian Robert Louis Wilken offers this helpful essay on religious freedom at First Things. “What is missing in these accounts is the contribution of Christianity. Many believe that Christianity is inescapably intolerant, and that only with the decline of religious faith in western society did liberty of conscience take root. But a more careful examination of the historical record shows that Christian thinkers provided the intellectual framework that made possible the rise of religious freedom.”

 

catechesis.jpeg“Catechesis for a Secular Age by Timothy Keller with James K. A. Smith” – Catechesis  is the process of introducing new converts or those preparing for baptism or confirmation to the essential teaching of Christ and the apostles, usually with the help of a catechism. There has been increasing attention given to the need for catechesis within the church across a wide spectrum of traditions or denominations. In this 2017 article, Jamie Smith interviews Tim Keller about the need for catechesis in what Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has dubbed “a secular age.”

 

can we believe“Can We Believe?: A personal reflection on why we shouldn’t abandon the faith that has nourished Western civilization” – Speaking of a secular age, here is Andrew Klavan’s personal reflection on the inadequacy of the Enlightenment narrative and the need for something beyond that like Christian faith. This meandering journey takes him into the prevalence of unbelief in the contemporary era and into the necessity of belief for the fabric of morality and society. Along the way, Klavan touches upon the work of Jordan Peterson, Douglas Murray, Marcello Pera, Steven Pinker, Yuval Noah Harari, and many more. He writes: “The point of this essay is not to argue the truth of Christianity. I argue only this: the modern intellectual’s difficulty in believing is largely an effect created by the overwhelming dominance of the Enlightenment Narrative, and that narrative is simplistic and incomplete.”

 

books“Thirty Years, Thirty Books | Fiction: The Pleasures of Obsolescence” – As part of their celebration of the one-hundredth issue and thirtieth anniversary of Image Magazine, the editors asked a poet, novelist, and essayist to offer their top ten works in their area over the past thirty years. Melissa Range offers a list related to poetry in “Poetry: A Word We Have Not Heard.” Christopher Beha offers his list of novels in “Fiction: The Pleasures of Obsolescence.”  Morgan Meis offers a list of essays in “Love, Hate, and Digestion: A Miscellany.”

 

54258“Farewell Franchise Ministry” – There are moments as a pastor where you feel out of sync with the surrounding ministry culture. Multisite is one of those areas for me where incarnational theology seems at odds with the prevailing model of multisite through video venues. We have been discussing at Eastbrook whether it’s possible to move into a more incarnational family of churches model within urban environments; something we affectionately refer to as missional multisite, although I don’t really love that terminology any longer. I know there are churches that have done so, and now here is another.

 

New_Life_Church_Aerial_Photo“Megachurches Discovering Liturgy & Traditional Christianity?” – In light of the previous article, Gene Veith’s recent post about evangelical megachurches moving toward liturgy and Christian tradition makes sense. Veith’s post is a response to Anna Keating’s article for America, entitled Why Evangelical megachurches are embracing (some) Catholic traditions. Veith corrects some misunderstandings of Keating’s article, while providing some background on why churches like New Life Church, The Village Church, and Willow Creek are now integrating ancient Christian practices and liturgy into their church life.

 

Music: Nils Frahm, “All Melody,” from the album All Melody.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 2 March 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

5491.thumb“The Future of Church-Race Relations” – I mentioned this interview of Jemar Tisby by Wesley Hill in passing last weekend, but returned to it again this week. I just cannot recommend it enough. Speaking of his book, The Color of Compromise, Tisby says in this interview: “Part of the genesis of this book was going to spaces where very well-meaning Christians would say, ‘Yes, we’re for racial reconciliation, yes we’re for diversity,’ but then not much would change….We have to take this as a foundational problem in the church and in the nation. I hope that the book will help to convey the urgency of the racial issues in America.” I couldn’t agree more.

 

Joseph Kim“How I Escaped from North Korea” – This testimonial from Joseph Kim gives an inside look at the challenges of life in North Korea, and the powerful role of Chinese Church in shining the light of Christ within that land. “In some ways, I imagine growing up in North Korea is like growing up anywhere else. I had a father and mother who rarely failed to show me love, and my older sister looked after me constantly. I caught dragonflies with friends and waited with excitement for cartoons to come on TV. Then, in 1995, the worst of the Great Famine descended on the land, and the privileges of my childhood were stripped away…”

 

tim-keller“Tim Keller on Changing the Culture without Being Colonized by It” – In this brief video, Tim Keller talks about the difference between pre-Christian, Christendom, and post-Christian contexts. “The West has taken over a lot of Christian ideas but taken them to an extreme. So, for example, the importance of human rights and doing justice has been turned into an extreme individualism. Because of these overlaps, a Christian can easily fall into getting co-opted by that individualism.”

 

89653“United Methodists Vote to Keep Traditional Marriage Stance” – “After days of passionate debate, deliberation, and prayer—and years of tension within the denomination—The United Methodist Church (UMC) voted Tuesday to maintain its traditional stance against same-sex marriage and non-celibate gay clergy, bolstered by a growing conservative contingent from Africa.” You can also read a more detailed log of what was actually up for debate and what was actually passed at the 2019 General Convention at John Lomperis’ blog.

 

anger“Anger Can Be Contagious – Here’s How To Stop The Spread” – Allison Aubrey explores the power of anger and how easy it spreads. “Even if you’re not aware of it, it’s likely that your emotions will influence someone around you today. This can happen during our most basic exchanges, say on your commute to work. ‘If someone smiles at you, you smile back at them,’ says sociologist Nicholas Christakis of Yale University. ‘That’s a very fleeting contagion of emotion from one person to another.’ But it doesn’t stop there. Emotions can spread through social networks almost like the flu or a cold. And, the extent to which emotions can cascade is eye-opening.”

 

moral outrage“The Case for Being Skeptical of Moral Outrage” – On that same theme, Scott Koenig talks about healthy skepticism related to moral outrage. “Moral outrage is the powerful impulse we feel to condemn bad behavior, and it serves the important role of holding wrongdoers accountable and reinforcing social norms. Yet moral outrage, at least on Twitter and other similar platforms, appears no more effective at reinforcing social norms than it is at driving people to theatrically overreact to the behavior of strangers. After all, it’s hard to see how things like doxxing minors or throwing shaving blades down the toilet, in protest of an earnest Gillette ad on “toxic masculinity,” help uphold ethical standards.”

 

89493“Get Close to Refugees, and Let Love Grow” – Kelley Nikondeha reviews two new books on connecting with refugees, You Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved Us by Kent Annan and Once We Were Strangers: What Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me about Loving My Neighbor by Shawn Smucker. She writes: “We not only need but also want to have better conversations about immigrants. We want to hear the clear instruction of Scripture regarding refugees. We want the opportunity to wrestle together about how to welcome strangers, even as we remain vigilant about possible dangers.”

 

Bill Hybels

“Willow Creek Investigation: Allegations Against Bill Hybels Are Credible” – Here’s an update at Christianity Today on a story that I’ve been following in regards to Bill Hybels and Willow Creek. “An independent investigation has concluded that the sexual harassment allegations that led to Bill Hybels’s resignation last year are credible, based on a six-month investigation into the claims against the senior pastor and into Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) and the Willow Creek Association (WCA).” You can read the entire 17-page report here.

 

mix tape“It’s cool to spool again as the cassette returns on a wave of nostalgia” – Those of us who are old enough may remember making mix tapes for friends back in the day. Well, the word on the street is that cassettes are making a comeback. “The cassette, long consigned to the bargain bin of musical history, is staging a humble comeback. Sales have soared in the last year – up 125% in 2018 on the year before – amounting to more than 50,000 cassette albums bought in the UK, the highest volume in 15 years.” Is this for real? Maybe.

 

Music: Ólafur Arnalds performing on NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Praying by the Book [Working the Angles with Eugene Peterson, part 5]

fullsizeoutput_ae1Following his reflections on the shortcomings of modern pastoral ministry in regard to prayer, Eugene Peterson turns his attention to how a pastor develops the life of prayer. In a world of quick fixes and shortcuts, Peterson’s starting advice on prayer is perhaps more necessary than ever: “Be slow to pray” (43). Why should we take it slow?

We want life on our conditions, not God’s conditions. Praying puts us at risk of getting involved in God’s conditions. Be slow to pray. Praying most often doesn’t get us what we want but what God wants, something quite at variance with what we conceive to be in our best interests. And when we realize what is going on, it is often too late to go back. Be slow to pray. (44)

How do we slow down? First of all, we must remember that we are not the initiator of prayer. Prayer is our response to the initiative of God. He is always the conversation starter, and we are always the conversation responder. This does not mean that God is not a listener, it simply means that before all – before we took our first breath or every thought to pray – God had already been speaking to us. “Prayer is answering speech” (45).

Because of this truth, the pastor’s approach to prayer must be rooted in the fundamental understanding of prayer as answering. Peterson goes into greater depth with this in another of his books, Answering God, but here he homes in on the work of the pastor to “develop within ourselves the means for a full and continues awareness of its [prayer’s] secondary quality, its answering character” (47). Turning to Genesis for of the initiating word of God in creation and John’s Gospel for the initiating word of God in redemption, Peterson reminds us that, as with learning to speak in childhood, someone else’s word is always previous to our own. In ministry – and in all of our spiritual life – that previous word is God’s word and God’s word alone. When entering into prayer, whether in worship services or at the bedside, at a school graduation or a family dinner, the pastor must always enter with a serious awareness of God’s previous word.

Along with this awareness about prayer as answering speech, Peterson encourages the pastor to enroll in “the great and sprawling university that Hebrews and Christians have attended to learn to answer God, to learn to pray…the Psalms” (50). Taking the psalms as our school in prayer, both as pastors for our own souls and as pastors leading congregations in prayer, helps us to send roots down deep into the richest soil of inspired prayer. The Psalms, often called “the prayerbook of the Bible,” are that rich soil from which our answer to God arises. Peterson masterfully outlines how the fivefold book division of the Psalms (1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, 107-150) answers the fivefold book division of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), thus visibly displaying how the Psalms exist as an ‘answer’ to the ‘previous’ word of God in the Torah. Here, Peterson urges the pastor toward the vital curriculum of prayer in the psalms:

Too much is at stake here—the maturity of the word of God, the integrity of pastoral ministry, the health of worship—to permit pastors to pick and choose a curriculum of prayer as they are more or less inclined….Prayer must not be fabricated out of emotional fragments or professional duties….Praying the Psalms, we find the fragments of soul and body, our own and all those with whom we have to do, spoke into adoration and love and faith (57-58).

As I read this I could not help but recall two statements I read in Tim Keller’s book, Prayer. “For help, we should turn first to the Psalms, the inspired prayer book of the Bible” (Keller, Prayer 3). Just a few pages later, Keller writes about his own changes in prayer after battling thyroid cancer.

I made four practical changes to my life of private devotion. First, I took several months to go through the Psalms, summarizing each one. That enabled me to begin praying through the Psalms regularly, getting through all of them several times a year. The second thing I did was always to put in a time of meditation as a transitional discipline between my Bible reading and my time of prayer. Third, I did all I could to pray morning and evening rather than only in the morning. Fourth, I began praying with greater expectation. (17)

When two great pastors agree on something, it is good to pay attention. When they agree about it because many great pastors from earlier eras agreed about it as well, then we must not merely pay attention, but drop everything and immediately do our best to learn from that in the practical rhythms of our lives.

Pastors, let us learn to pray with the Psalms as our curriculum. Let us not merely talk about it, but let us do it without delay.

[This post continues my reflections on Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, which began here. You can read all the posts here.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 14 July 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly post in which I gather a smattering of news, stories, resources, and other media you could explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

82591“Guess Who’s Coming to Church: Multiracial Congregations Triple Among Protestants” –  “The percentage of Protestant churches where no one racial group makes up more than 80 percent of the congregation tripled from 4 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2012, according to new research out this week from Baylor University. Evangelicals and Pentecostals show even higher levels of diverse churches, up to 15 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Overall, nearly 1 in 5 of all American worshipers belong to a multiethnic congregation.” This is something that is really important where I serve presently at Eastbrook Church. Of course, this is not just a trend, but something significant within the trajectory of salvation history toward Revelation 7:9-11[Thanks to Bryan Loritts for sharing this article.]

 

ows_152950853349496Then, at the same time, we read an article like this “As Churches Close, a Way of Life Fades.”  The subtitle for the article is: “Minnesota’s mainline Christian denominations face unprecedented declines, altering communities and traditions celebrated for generations.” As you would guess, this is an examination of mainline church declines in the Midwest, and the chart in the middle of the article is worth viewing in itself. This is an echo of the larger trend of the decline of Christianity in North America, particularly in mainline Christianity. Of course, we must not miss the fact that the world is simultaneously becoming more religious, not less.

 

soccer“Understanding the ‘Beautiful Game’” – As the World Cup winds down, you may want to read Alan Jacob‘s review of Laurent Dubois’ The Language of the Game. “It might be easy to conclude that soccer is the sort of game that you either get or don’t get, yet Laurent Dubois takes up the noble and difficult task of trying to make soccer comprehensible and interesting to people who are used to games that follow a different logic. It’s a task he handles very well.” If that’s not enough, then you should watch the famous Pele move that Alan refers to midway through the article (seen at 4:19 in this video).

 

82639“How Charles Taylor Helps Us Understand Our Secular Age” – Christianity Today’s “Quick to Listen” podcast takes a look at why the work of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor is influencing so many Christian thinkers. I have read Taylor fairly deeply over the last two years after encountering his thought both in the work of Pastor Tim Keller and Professor James K. A. Smith. Taylor’s thought factored into a recent series I preached on identity, “Who Am I?”, fairly significantly. If you want to dip into Taylor’s writings, there is no easy place to begin, but his most well-known book is A Secular Age. If you want a good to his thought, then I’d suggest Jamie Smith’s How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor.

 

cross-and-lynching-tree-e1530797675581In other reading news, here’s Timothy Thomas at The Witness offering a compelling look at “Why You Should Read ‘The Cross and the Lynching Tree.'” Thomas is new to James Cone’s work, which has spanned decades. This gives him fresh eyes in looking at Cone’s pivotal work on racial issues in America. If you’re unfamiliar with Cone or this book, please read Thomas’ reflections on this penetrating and important book published in 2011.

 

1_amXomiXpD9wDJ2xSS7On1w“The Tech Industry’s War on Kids: How psychology is being used as a weapon against children” – Adolescent and Child Psychologist Richard Freed writes: “What none of these parents understand is that their children’s and teens’ destructive obsession with technology is the predictable consequence of a virtually unrecognized merger between the tech industry and psychology. This alliance pairs the consumer tech industry’s immense wealth with the most sophisticated psychological research, making it possible to develop social media, video games, and phones with drug-like power to seduce young users.” [Thanks to Andy Crouch for sharing this article.]

 

starbucks straws.pngThis week Starbucks announced that it would cease using plastic straws by 2020. This is great news for the environment, especially when you get a view of the impact of plastic round the world (see “What Happens to the Plastic We Throw Out” from The Weekend Wanderer: 2 June 2018). Sure, it would be great if they would move more quickly, but as Ethan Epstein points out hopefully this sort of self-regulation would catch on with other companies.

 

mr rogersAnd last, but not least, here’s David Brooks with “Fred Rogers and the Loveliness of the Little Good.” David Brooks is an insightful social critic and here he holds up the life and legacy of Mr. Rogers as an important model in our divided days. While I resonate with Brooks’ desire, I’m beginning to lose my optimism that a return to the kindness of Mr. Rogers will do anything in the face of the increasing rifts between people in our nation. Brooks’ essay is, at least in part, a reflection on the new documentary about Rogers’ life, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” which I do hope to view sometime.

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Bibliography on Christian Identity for the “Who Am I?” series

books.jpgWhenever I study for a sermon series, I spend a lot of time far in advance of that sermon series doing research, reading books, thinking, reading articles, reflecting, reading more books, writing, and reading even more. I usually gather all of the resources I use together into a bibliography for each series. In the past I’ve shared those bibliographies here for those who are interested (access “Bibliography for the Theology of Suffering and the Life of Joseph” and “Bibliography on the Trinity”).

Here is the resource bibliography that accompanies our recent series, “Who Am I?”, on grasping our sense of identity with God through Christ. Although I utilized many commentaries for specific weekends of this series, I did not include those in this bibliography, limiting it to books specifically related to the topic of identity. The books I found particularly helpful are marked with an asterisk.

Christian Identity – Bibliography

Jerry Bridges. Who Am I?: Identity in Christ. Adelphi, MD: Cruciform Press, 2012.

Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Eric Geiger. Identity: Who You Are in Christ. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 2008.

Timothy Keller. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. New York: Penguin Books, 2009.

*________. Making Sense of God. New York: Penguin Books, 2016.

C. S. Lewis. The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1960.

Loyola McLean and Brian S. Rosner. “Theology and Human Flourishing: The Benefits of Being Known by God.” In Beyond Well-Being: Spiritual and Human Flourishing. Ed. Maureen Miner, Martin Dowson, and Stuart Devenish. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2012.Read More »