Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, gave the opening message at The Gospel Coalition 2009 Conference.  He preached on Acts 19:21-41 about the near riot that took place in Ephesus because the economy was tanking.  Why? 

Paul was confronting the idols, and people were placing their faith in Christ and living in such a way that it was impacting their culture… their economy.  How was that happening?  They weren’t buying the statuettes of Artemis.  They weren’t participating in the idolatry that held Ephesus in bondage.  Demetrius, a silversmith who crafted silver shrines of Artemis led the charge against Paul, (Acts 19:24).  He said to his fellow craftsmen:

“And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.  And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship,” (Acts 19:26-27, ESV).

Dr. Keller states that Paul always took on and challenged the idols of the culture and the idols of the people’s heart.  In order to really communicate the gospel in a lifechanging way Keller says that pastors, but also any follower of Christ needs to:

  • Need to discern the idols – personal, cultural and religious idols.
  • Expose the idols.
  • Destroy the idols – destroyed objectively based on Christ’s work on the cross, (Colossians 2:15), and subjectively as we share the message of what Christ has done for them.  Their idol won’t die for them… can’t die for them, but Jesus has.

So what is idolatry?  I like Dr. Keller’s definition:

“When you look to some created thing to give you what only God can give you that is idolatry.  An idol is anything in your life that is so central to your life that you can’t have a meaningful life if you lose it.”

An idol can be anything.  Dr. Keller states that it can be family and children, career and making money, achievement, critical acclaim, physical beauty, social standing, romantic relationships, competence and skill, political or social cause, your moral record, religious activity, or even ministry success.

Idols must be addressed as the Gospel is proclaimed.

9 comments
  1. Great thoughts Shane. I think that most Christians are trained to worship the idol of their mind. Rationality and intellectualism have taken an idol like status for many and that inner voice of our heart is quenched as we bow before the altar of our mind.

  2. I've watched this a couple times now and got a lot out of it as well. I've only made it through the first two so far but great stuff!

  3. Keller's definition is pretty good, but there's an aspect that is missing.

    Here's why:
    The most influential thing I ever heard was in college while taking an Old Testament course (covering isaiah at that point). The idea was that anything that limits God is to turn God into an idol. So the practical upshot is that when we say we know God, we actually don't. God is infinite in every aspect. How could we possibly understand and comprehend that? The truth is we can't, we aren't meant to. It's not about us understanding, but just having faith and only faith that God is truly in control. Anything else is blatant idol worship. (That includes money, self, etc.)

    Because of that understanding, I think that's why the message of the gospel is so simple by comparison. (acts 16:31) It's the only way to bridge the finite (us) to the infinite (God).

  4. “Idols must be addressed as the Gospel is proclaimed” (Shane)

    Couldn't agree more – just Tim Keller is way off in his definition.

    He uses a passage about actual idolatry – which is obviously worshipping something in the place of God as a god – and would involve that 'something' being an individual of some sort – cast into some image we bow down or worship.

    To go further than that with the term 'idolatry' is to make the term too broad and grossly meaningless – even harmful.

    I notice Keller mentions 'family' as something that can become an idol. I think that is ludicrous and can actually help provide distance into families and break bonds rather than strengthen them.

    As for a classic idol – why does church never come up as an 'idol'? If anything it places a lot closer to the actual idea of idolatry than say family and love of one's kids and wife.

    I have seen this loose definition with idolatry before – and I have to admit – it just makes things more confusing for congregants who try to define idolatry and have no clue what it is…meannwhile in reality it's fairly clear from Paul's example and from the OT.

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