Book Review: Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters
by Timothy Keller (Dutton, 2009. 200 pp)
Timothy Keller planted and is senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and the author of The Prodigal God and The Reason for God.
Book review by Al Erisman
Idols are anything that take a higher place than God in our lives. So when we make choices for greed, sex, or position in ways we know are counter to God, we are making these things an idol in our lives.
Keller builds out his commentary on the subject by moving seamlessly from the accounts of biblical characters such as Naman, Jacob, Zacheaus, and Jonah to quotes from Andrew Carnegie and Madonna to insight into the financial crash of 2008.
As we have come to expect from Tim Keller, this book offers insight, clear examples, and sharp criticism. Anyone who is not challenged and a bit uncomfortable after reading this book likely refuses to look themselves in the mirror. I suspect that Keller himself found numerous challenges as he developed the subject. That’s the analysis part.
There is also a bonus at the end of the book, an epilogue titled “Finding and Replacing Your Idols.” He sets it up by looking at why we pursue idols:
We would not lie unless we first had made something — human approval, reputation, power over others, financial advantage — more important and valuable to our hearts than the grace and favor of God.” p. 166
He doesn’t just call for repentance out of fear of displeasing God.
Fear based repentance (“I’d better change or God will get me”) is really self-pity… We learn only to refrain from it for our own sake.” p. 172
Rather, we need to recognize replacing idols in our lives as a process that will last a lifetime. And he goes on to identify disciplines associated with this process.
I would strongly recommend this book, in particular for those wanting to practice integrity in business. Keller is very comfortable with the business world, drawing many of his illustrations (from both well-known leaders and people from his congregation) from the life of business. While he is very clear that work is a part of the way God has made us, and an important aspect of our life, he is also clear that our work can, itself, be an idol. None of us are off the hook in this area.
Al Erisman is Executive in Residence in the School of Business & Economics at Seattle Pacific University, and co-founder and editor of Ethix online magazine.
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