January 09, 2008

Evangelical Idolatry

We are so prone to worshiping idols. Even in the Church, we are prone to this ancient sin against God. I have heard many preachers reference the obvious idols in our culture—cars, sports teams or athletic heroes, even our family—but I think the most common form of idol worship in the evangelical community is the worship of a god of our own making.

Jesus told the woman at the well that there was coming a day when those who worshiped God would worship "in spirit and in truth." Our worship of God must hold in view the God of truth. In other words, we must know who God is and worship Him. We cannot grope about in the dark, inventing a god in our own image.

The French Enlightenment writer Voltaire once said, "God made man in his image and likeness, and ever since man has been returning the favor." We love to "create" a god that suits our desires and our whims.

The most obvious presentation of this in evangelical circles is the over-emphasis of God's love to the overshadowing of God's other attributes—including justice, wrath, and holiness. We sing songs about how much God loves us ("Above All Else") and we regularly tell folks around us "God loves you." And this is true. But what is missing from the equation is the fact that God is holy and he demands payment for our sins. We must repent or we will be condemned. These are not concepts that sit well in today's self-absorbed culture.

In his book Now That's a Good Question, R.C. Sproul answers the question: What is the average Christian's understanding of God? I think his comments should be taken to heart by all of us who call ourselves "God worshipers."

I don't know what the majority view of God is in the Christian world. I can only guess from the small universe in which I live and the exposure that I have to various groups of people.

I certainly encounter a view of God that is widespread in the Christian community whereby God is somewhat reduced in scope from the biblical portrait that we have of him. He is seen as a sort of celestial grandfather who is benevolent in every respect and whose chief characteristic—and sometimes only attribute—is the attribute of love. We know that the Bible certainly puts an emphasis on the love of God and even goes so far as to say that God is love.

But I think we are in grave danger of stripping God of the fullness of his character as it is revealed in Scripture. This becomes a not-so-subtle form of idolatry. For example, if we obscure the holiness of God, or the sovereignty of God, or the wrath of God, or the justice of God, and sort of pick and choose those attributes of God that we like and then deny those that frighten us or make us uncomfortable, we've exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and we are worshiping a god who is in fact an idol. It may be a sophisticated idol—it's not one made of wood or stone or brass—but, nevertheless, the concept of God we worship must be a concept that agrees with the God who is.

I've been on a crusade for years to focus attention on the doctrine of God—the character of God. Three of my books deal with the doctrine of God the Father: The Holiness of God, Chosen by God (which focuses on God's sovereignty), and the latest one, The Character of God (which deals with the attributes of God). I wrote them intentionally as a trilogy to emphasize the character of God the Father because I think we are in grave danger of his being overlooked or distorted in the contemporary Christian world.

We have some idea of who Jesus is, and the charismatic renewal has brought much more attention to the Holy Spirit in recent years. But we almost systematically ignore God the Father. You also find that many Christians ignore the Old Testament. The whole history of the Old Testament is the revelation chiefly of God the Father. Everything we read of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit—so amplified in the New Testament—presupposes the knowledge of God the Father that is given to us in the Old Testament. I think it's a priority for the Christian community to develop a higher understanding of the character of God.

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