Book Review – Counterfeit Gods (Tim Keller)

I was deeply impressed by the first book by Tim Keller I read, The Prodigal God, which is a simply outstanding expounding on the nature of the gospel looking at the well-known parable of the prodigal son. This one maintains the high standard, this time tackling the subject of idolatry. Again, it is not only well-written, but profound, penetrative and deeply insightful.

Keller’s thesis is that the human heart is an “idol factory”, that takes good things and turns them into ultimate things – God substitutes, or “counterfeit gods”, which will always disappoint us, often destructively so.

We never imagine that getting our heart’s deepest desires might be the worst thing that can ever happen to us.

Each chapter tackles an example of a modern idol, such as money, success, romantic love, or political ideology. He illustrates each one with well-chosen contemporary examples, and helps us to move beyond simply identifying these idols as out there in the culture, but seeing their pernicious effects at work in our own lives even as Christians.

we know a good thing has become a counterfeit god when its demands on you exceed proper boundaries.

He then picks out a Biblical character or story that illustrates each idol, often drawing out strikingly fresh insights from very familiar territory. Those who are familiar with Keller’s preaching will know that he is never content to simply tell a Bible story and draw out a few morals or lessons though. He always brings us to the gospel. Jesus is always brought in, as the one who is the greater version of the flawed hero of the story. As a result, this book also serves a double function as a masterclass in gospel-centred teaching.

we usually read the Bible as a series of disconnected stories, each with a “moral” for how we should live our lives. It is not. Rather, it comprises a single story, telling us how the human race got into its present condition, and how God through Jesus Christ has come and will come to put things right.

This book will not take you a long time to read, but you will need plenty of time to reflect on its message. It is a call first for us to examine the deep idols that have taken root in our own lives, but then to address them, not by trying to suppress them, but by supplanting them with a living encounter with God himself.

The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.

It deserves a wide readership amongst Christians, not so we can speak out against the idolatry of our culture (though we need to do that), but so that we can clean out the idols that have taken root in our own hearts. I also hope it is widely read by pastors and preachers, and that as a result, we will hear more gospel-centred preaching that gets to the heart of issues, rather than merely calling for behavioural change.

The secret to change is to identify and dismantle the counterfeit gods of your heart.

Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol.

3 thoughts on “Book Review – Counterfeit Gods (Tim Keller)

  1. “This book will not take you a long time to read.” Heh, really. Do I get my money back if it has already taken me longer than a month?

  2. Pingback: Book Review–Generous Justice (Tim Keller) | wordandspirit

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