I’ve had this book for a while now but just recently made the time to read it. And, I am glad I did.
If you have not read or listened to Tim Keller before, you will quickly catch on to his style of writing. Keller ministers in New York City and so there is no room for ‘fluff’ in his preaching and that clarity carries over into his writing. Counterfeit Gods is a book dealing with idols and it is a convicting read.
Keller begins by defining just what an idol is and reminding us that just because we don’t have gods made from gold doesn’t mean we don’t have idols. Here’s how he describes a counterfeit god:
A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. (xviii)
An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” (xviii)
Keller reminds us that our counterfeit gods are often good things in life that we have made ultimate things. The book then is filled with Keller considering some of those good things and how we tend to make them ultimate things.
He considers love, money, success, and power, and how easily and powerfully these can become counterfeit gods. Keller has an amazing ability to get to the heart of why we tend to make these things ultimate. Few people, that I am aware of, are as good at critiquing culture as Keller is. In each chapter he unpacks an historical event or person and shows how a particular idol controlled them.
Keller then draws in a biblical story that demonstrates the power of a particular idol. These are not just thrown in as an afterthought, rather, Keller takes time to explain the text and draw the meaning out.
Each chapter ends with Keller showing that our greatest need in destroying our idols is the gospel. He writes at the end of the chapter on money, “Andrew Carnegie knew that money was an idol in his heart, but he didn’t know how to root it out. It can’t be removed, only replaced. It must be supplanted by the one who, though rich, became poor, so that we might truly be rich.” (71)
Each of these chapters is powerful and convicting, but the last two chapters were the most clarifying for me. In, The End of Counterfeit Gods, Keller takes time to show that idols cannot simply be removed; they must be replaced by Christ. This is not always easy and, “It often takes an experience of crippling weakness for us to finally discover it.” (164)
The Epilogue is a very practical help on discovering what our idols are and how to replace them with Christ. This is, Keller reminds us, a lifetime process. Mature Christians, then, are not those who have completely gotten rid of idols. No, mature Christians are those who know that they must be continually looking for idols and replacing them with the only one who is worthy of ultimate devotion and affection.
Counterfeit Gods is a book I would give to a believer at any maturity level. It is also a book that is appropriate for skeptics and seekers. We were designed to make something ultimate, whether Christian or not, so we all struggle with counterfeit gods.
In the end, however much we believe we have it figured out, idols can be subtle and rob God of the glory that he alone is worthy of.