"Counterfeit Gods smashes the arrogant conclusion that violation of the first commandment was merely an ancient problem. Combining biblical theology with experienced surgery on the soul over the years in modern Manhattan, Pastor Tim Keller performs an M.R.I. of our hearts and graphically exposes its results: ravaging cancerous idolatry. What we love, what we trust, and what we obey – this is what we worship. And when the object is other than God himself, we are idolaters.
Enraptured by our totalitarian substitute gods, we are not captains of our souls, but slaves to their tyrannical rule – whether we worship success, money, sex, political ideologies or power. It is not, as Calvin has pointed out, that the objects of our affections are all bad in themselves. It is rather in their excess, and in our lustful consumption with that excess, that we engage in false worship. When what is good has become god, the God of good is violently exorcized from our hearts. The problem? Most of us are oblivious to our own idolatry and dismissive of its control. As part of their perverted devotion, our hearts seek desperately and devotedly to disguise our idol worship. They do a very good job.
But employing the X-ray precision of the Scriptures, Keller’s heart diagnostics will leave us neither ignorant nor unmoved. Weaving compelling accounts from his soul surgery in New York City with the penetrating exposition of Scripture, Keller places us on the surgeon’s table and exposes our sin for what it is. Consciously distanced from the moralism all too rampant in biblical character analysis, Keller employs an assortment of biblical narratives, illustrates the idolatrous commitments of the biblical characters – from Abraham to Zaccheus, and points us exhaustively to the only proper object of our worship, Jesus Christ. As each of these biblical characters discloses, in Christ alone is found truth for our deception, fulfillment for our longings, and forgiveness for our idolatries.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has just written of Michael Jackson’s starved soul that feasted on the empty calories of the American dream (The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation), and David Brooks of the New York Times preaches often and insightfully about American overindulgence. These writers discern the vacuous forms of idolatry which grip American culture, but their proposed solutions are as wretched as the American dream idols themselves. They exchange idolatry for idolatry, substituting self-redemptive and didactic solutions for the perverse lures of power, fame, and fortune. Keller, by stark Gospel contrast, gives us real heart analysis combined with the only real heart solution. As he puts it, "The only way to free ourselves from the destructive influence of counterfeit gods is to turn back to the true one." (xxiv)
Read this volume, but only if you dare submit your heart to the surgical probe of the Gospel. It is from the darkness of idolatry revealed and cut out from our hearts that the splendor of grace and forgiveness shines. And like any good surgeon, Keller doesn’t leave us merely exposed, but compellingly points us to the cure: the One exposed, ravaged, ruined and resurrected for us. Only when we personally encounter him and his sacrificial, redeeming love will our hearts cry, "Because I have God in Christ, I can live without anything else." He is whom I love, whom I trust, and whom I obey. This is worship of the one true God, and we won’t, indeed we cannot be, disappointed.
- David B. Garner, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary