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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Book Recommendation: We Become What We Worship

 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.
 Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.
 (Psa 115:4-8)

What is one of the greatest dangers of worshiping false gods? We become like them.  That is, we become spiritually blind, deaf, and dumb.  What the psalmist makes explicit in Psalm 115 is assumed and implied all over Scripture: we take on the characteristics of what we worship. If we worship idols, we become like them.  If we worship Christ, we become like Him.

This was the main idea of the most recent article in our blog series on idolatry.  It is also the main theme explored in a book I recommended there: Gregory K. Beale’s We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry.  Beale is a biblical scholar currently serving as Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  The title of the book reveals his thesis in paraphrased form.  He asserts that we become what we worship, that is, “what people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (16). 

Beale explores this idea beginning in Isaiah 6:9-10: And he said, "Go, and say to this people: "'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.'  Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."  He argues that having eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, and hearts that do not understand—represents a judgment for idolatry.  In other words, the judgment for worshiping idols is becoming like them.

He then takes this theme and shows its presence in numerous places throughout the Bible, including the golden calf narrative in Exodus 32 and the Pharisees’ worship of tradition in Matthew 13.  Throughout, he is faithful to allow the Biblical text to speak without forcing his thesis onto the Word. 

But the value of this book goes beyond its faithfulness to the text.  In the latter portion of the book, Beale applies this biblical truth to everyday life.  There may not be any of us at Providence who bow down to literal idols, but undoubtedly there are things in our lives that fit the definition Beale derives from Scripture: “whatever your heart clings to and relies upon for ultimate security” (17).  If we love and worship the world, we will become more like the world.  If we worship the god of pleasure, we will become more hedonistic.  Beale challenges readers to search their own hearts, to turn from whatever idols they are worshiping, and worship Christ alone.

This is an excellent book that is very faithful to Scripture.  Many of its passages are deep, but unlike many scholarly writings out there, it does not require a PhD to understand.  If you are interested in study that will broaden your understanding of a critically important doctrine and spur you on to greater fidelity to the Lord, I highly recommend this one.

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