Couterfeit Gods by Tim Keller
I received my copy of Tim Keller’s new book this week and have begun to work through it. He made a statement that has caused me to pause and reflect. I am certain that it will not the last. In explaining a quote by Archbishop William Temple, he explains,
the true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy day-dreaming about? What is it that occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Do you develop potential scenarios about career advancement? Or material goods such as a dream home? Or a relationship with a particular person? One or two day dreams do not indicate idolatry. Ask rather, what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?
This statement demands reflection for all Christ-followers [especially me] because we frequently and eloquently disguise our idols in “good things” that may on the surface appear honorable.
Former speech writer for Republican president George W. Bush, Michael Gerson claims the younger generation of Evangelical Christians are shifting away from the social engagement models of the religious right. Gerson proposes three reasons for this shift: “a recovery of scriptural emphasis, a revolt against the tone and style of the religious right, and the effects of short-term mission trips on young Christians.”
There has been much talk lately about the current era being post-denominational. This Christianity Today article offers an alternative view:
Carl Barth, in his book The Christian Life, suggests that “the modern usage of the term ‘spiritual’ has wrongly been put in embarrassing proximity to the word ‘religious.'” By comparing the terms geistlich (spiritual) and geistig (religious), Barth concludes that at “at best [religion] can only serve the spiritual (geistlich) life of man and often it will not do so.” This distinction helps by reminding us that many things we attach to spirituality is really just religious. I believe in many instances our communities of faith are creating very religious people who think they are spiritual. Really they are religious: participants in a system of thought about God and what he demands of his followers. These participants know [at least they think or have be told directly or indirectly] that “spiritual” people DO a certain set of tasks. In doing the tasks they gain self assurance of their spirituality. However, tasks many times are centered on the individual and their accomplishments. The unintended consequence of religious tasks focuses the Christian on himself and his accomplishments. When tasks are neglected, the Christian “tries harder” or “gets right with God” returning to the list that assures him of his spirituality. Bloesch helps explain the solution to this dilemma. He explains,
True spirituality begins and ends with God. False spirituality begins and ends with self. We do not find the will of God by probing into the searchings and yearnings of self. We find hope and promise for the self by reflecting on the depth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ….Our chief concern is to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, the necessites of life will then be ours as well (Mt. 6:33; Mk. 10:29-30; Lk. 12:29-31).
So the question becomes how do we do the things that please God without them becoming a list of self-assuring tasks? Perhaps the answer lies in what tasks we are doing or who is the beneficiary of those tasks.
St. Peter Preaching at Pentecost
In his work, The Word and the World, Emil Brunner said,
The Bible without Spirit is orthodoxy; Spirit without the Bible is mysticism or rationalism. Scripture and the Holy Spirit as one – this was the conception of true revelation which was held by the reformers (90).
As a product of modernism and Christian traditions formed in it, I marginalize the work of the Holy Spirit. Intellectually, I know all the responsibilities of the Holy Spirit, but a sense of discomfort begins to creep in when people talk about the Spirit leading them and they don’t connect it to scripture. The Scriptures clearly states the Holy Spirit is our indwelling guide, us leading us to truth (Jn 14:17, 26; 2 Tim 1:14). Still my baggage of a modernistic Christianity tradition had effectively killed the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit as sure as liberalism. Maybe in an overreaction to the indulgences of the charismatic’s seeming abuse of the Holy Spirit’s work, I was guilty of marginalization of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit involved Himself in the writing of Scripture and indwells believers at their confession of Christ, but effectively [for me] was out of the picture after confession. In my heart, phrases like “the spirit led me…” was met with internal skepticism. My faith tradition would not allow me to trust the God-ness of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity; He is an equal in authority, power, essence. Therefore my trust should be unwavering in His past work carrying along the writers on Scripture and His ongoing work in Christ followers and superintending the church. The Holy Spirit speaking to those He indwells will never contradict His superintended work of Scriptures or his guidance of Christ’s church. It is in the concert of the Holy spirit’s work in the Scriptures (1 Pt. 1:21), the individual believer (2 Tim 1:14), and the church (Eph 2:22), that we see God beautiful sovereign work in his creation. Therefore His work is not in the past, but in the ongoing present, true revelation, for which I am thankful.