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Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Gods at War" (Kyle Idleman)

TITLE: Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart
AUTHOR: Kyle Idleman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (242 pages).

We have all heard of idols and idolatry. In show business, the word 'idol' has been further popularized through reality programs like "American idol," or many of the spinoffs created by the hugely successful TV series. The fact is that idols have been around for a long time. The prohibition against idol worship has been enshrined in the Ten Commandments, asserted by the prophets, stressed by many New Testament writers, and expounded upon by modern Christian writers. Kyle Idleman is one of them, stressing that the issue is not exactly idols, but idolatry. Anything can become gods. Goals, unequally yoked marriages, money, power, and anything that can lure us to surrender our hearts to them. For Idleman writes.

"Here is the point: idolatry is the tree from which our sins and struggles grow. Idolatry is always the issue. It's the trunk of the tree, and all other problems are just branches." (27)

So what exactly is "gods at war" about. Idleman takes time to first describe the battleground, that what we search for is exactly reveals the god we are looking for. For instance, Google actively tracks the keyword searches every second. Simply put, it you want to know clues about what your gods are, just check out your own search history. He reminds us that gods is plural, meaning that they often work in cooperation with one another. The main battleground: Our heart. These gods can make us do things like constantly complaining, deep disappointments, worries, where we go to when we hurt, and other matters deeply engrained in our pursuit of any form of worldliness. It can be the gods of our fathers, our past, or cultural idols. Once the root of idolatry is set in, three major branches begin to grow. Idleman calls them temples of pleasure, power, and love. This is significant because temples are often the center of Jewish culture, synonymous with the heart of society.

A) The Temple of Pleasure

Idleman observes that our obsession with food, sex, and entertainment is a clear sign of the idolatry of pleasure. Of food and eating, idolatry happens when one overindulge, unwilling to fast, eating for pleasure instead of nourishment, and constant fantasy over comfort foods. Not only is it a spiritual threat, it brings about physical problems such as obesity, diabetes, junk food culture, nutritional matters, and many other health related issues. Of sex, we read of how perverted sexuality has become. Some examples are pornography, sex objects, flirtation, foul language, and sexual immorality. Sex is a gift, but sin can turn it into an idol. Note how Idleman compares the two.

"As a gift it brings connection; as a god it causes loneliness.
As a gift it brings pleasure; as a god it leads to emptiness.
As a gift it brings satisfaction;  as a god it demands slavery.
As a gift it brings intimacy; as a god, separation
As a gift it brings unity; as a god it often causes divorce.
It is a beautiful gift and a tyrant of a god." (105)

On the god of entertainment, there are lots of examples, like TV, Internet, media, sports, and many modern shows. How passionate are we with regards to them? How is our worldview changed by watching them? What about addiction to them? The key to the last question is this: If you find it hard to turn it off, it has all the marks of an idol of entertainment.

B) Temple of Power

The threesome of power can be described as success, money, and achievement. This perhaps will bite hard among high achievers, and those of us in the higher echelons of society. Of success, we are asked about our measurements of what success are, and the costs of the success. Of money, we come face to face with the god of mammon and false rewards. Of achievement, we are forced to ask whether it is the achievement that defines us, or us that define the achievement. The following quote by Tony Campolo captures the issue very well.
  1. If I had life to live all over again, I would reflect more.
  2. If I had life to live all over again, I would risk more.
  3. If I had life to live all over again, I would do more things that would live on after I am dead. 

C) Temple of Love

The next threesome gets up closer and personal. Beginning with the god of romance, readers will be forced to face up to how much they have been lured by the world's definition of romance. Like Tom Cruise's famous three words, "You complete me," are we in danger of substituting another person in exchange of God's rightful place? Then there is the god of family, where our infatuation with providing for family needs, and family concerns can take up so much of our time, energy, and resources, that our relationships become turned wrongside up. Finally, there is the god of me, the god of individualism, self-centeredness, and narcissism.

My Thoughts

The 17th Century French philosopher, Blaise Pascal has said that our hearts are like God-shaped vacuums. Only God can fill them. John Calvin calls our heart a "factory of idols." Tim Keller calls them "counterfeit gods." The warnings throughout history are many. History is strewn with examples of traps, the dangers, the disasters, that befall the foolish person. Being aware of idols is one thing. Doing something about it is another. One may then ask, since there are already so many books about idols and idolatry, does that mean we do not need any more books? Is Idleman's book another unnecessary book about idolatry warnings? No. The fact is that because people continue to fall into idolatry, the same message needs to be repeated over and over again, until people get it, if they finally get it.

In expounding the multiplicity of idols and the various shapes and sizes they come in, Idleman joins the chorus of prophetic voices that speak to the present, what the prophets and priests of old have done for the ancient world. The questions in the book will serve as powerful investigative lights into our hearts. It teaches us to recognize idols that lurk. It gives us courage to ask of ourselves tough questions. It challenges us constantly to do something about them, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, defeat them. For there is only one Person that deserves our full devotion and allegiance: The God of the Bible.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by BookSneeze and Zondervan without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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