Tim Keller on Discerning, Exposing and Destroying Idols…

The first message at the 2009 Gospel Coalition National Conference was delivered by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan NY.

Title: The Grand Demythologizer: The Gospel and Idolatry
Text: Acts 19:23-41
Video available here

Would Paul go to Hollywood, Harvard and the NY Times to argue for the truth of the gospel? Keller says yes!

Main Points:

1. Discerning Idols–What is an idol? Something you can’t have a meaningful life without. Every place Paul went, he would identify idols an deal with them with the gospel. When people were confronted with their idols and converted, their lives were changed. Is that the case in our church today? Keller argues that this reality is actually the scandal of our church today: namely that we profess Christ and yet are still enslaved to our idols…and we don’t impact the culture for the gospel.

Idols of our day: family, children, career, achievement, romantic relationship, physical beauty, money, political or social cause, moral record, your ministry success, religiosity, popularity…When you lose one of these things and it has become an ultimate thing…you want to throw yourself off a bridge. That’s how you know it’s an idol in your life.

2. Exposing Idols–(Paul said that these “gods” are no gods at all). 3 Kinds of Idols:

*Personal Idols–[Money]–Artemis was the “business idol” or financial prosperity. Child sacrifices would actually take place. Do we practice child sacrifice today when we make our careers our gods? We sacrifice our children on the altar of money. [Romance]–If you look to another person for worth or value (I’m nobody unless this person loves me), they are your idol. There will be no boundaries on your relationship…you are a under the authority of your slavemaster. [Children]–If my children are (fill in the blank),then I know that I’m worth something…living our lives our through our children, they are idols. Beware of bitterness toward God and to your children.

*Religious Idols–[Truth]–Is it possible to say that I’m saved because of the rightness of my belief instead of by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus? Are you the “scoffer” in Proverbs. They are always dogmatic and disdainful of opponents. Is this your default mode? [Gifts]–Do you mistake spiritual gifts for spiritual fruit? Do you seek justification by ministry? We can make an idol out of good preaching. [Morality]–I do “x,y,z” and therefore I’m right with God or super spiritual…

*Cultural Idols–Science, Technology, Education will solve everything. There have been devastating results…poverty, racism are still around.

3. Destroying Idols–How do you destroy idols? It is a dangerous business to expose and destroy idols. Paul risked his life everyday, and it absolutely cost Jesus his.

Colossians 2:15: He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

My Takeaways: The Lord revealed certain idols in my own life. I won’t share all of them here, but I will mention one. I think I have made an idol out of wanting to be “a great man,” or “a successful pastor.” I think in some ways I have confused my spiritual gifts for spiritual fruit in my life. The Lord is so good to remind me that He is the one who will build his church, not me! He is the one who ultimately will shepherd the flock. I’m so glad that it’s not up to me to do this! I praise God for his gift of repentance, even to us pastors! May the Lord just give me the grace to be faithful and watch God do this thing at Baptist Church of the Redeemer!

Also, I want to do a better job of discerning idols in my church and in my city. Things that came to mind for me especially were issues of morality. It seems like many in our city/state are focused on their record or “report card.” We are quick to look down our noses on those who have scars in their past. Obviously, money, career, relationships, are active idols as well. How do you de-mythologize things like beauty and money? Only with the gospel! I want to study our idols, expose them and seek to destroy them with the gospel. May the Lord bring it to pass!

What About You? Any thoughts on these things?

What’s Next? John Piper on 2 Timothy 1:1-12.


3 thoughts on “Tim Keller on Discerning, Exposing and Destroying Idols…

  1. Dave Madio says:

    Thanks to you and Tim Keller for this post. I’ve long felt that we look down our noses at syncretism in the church in other parts of the world, yet are blind to our own. Even as I write this, I still can point at some which are not my idols, but I need to tend to those that are. May the Gospel truly penetrate my/our lives! May God grant us grace!

  2. Liz48 says:

    I am from a country that commonly practices witchcraft and am familiar with the statues of the demons worshiped. After I became a Christian I had a revulsion for such things. Something in me would trigger a great dislike for such things and I would quickly move away from them or get rid of them.

    I now live in the US and recently saw such a statue (the monkey demon worshiped by the hindus) in my landlady’s house. Her husband is a retired Baptist preacher. They regarded the statue as a mere souvenir. I told them what I knew about the statue and asked them if I could get rid of it, offering to pay for it, if it helped. The home has had problems.

    I am now wondering if I did the right thing. If they did not know its nature as a demon symbol worshiped by those who are not saved, would it have mattered if they had it in their home? I would appreciate scriptural references in an answer.

    • Thanks for your question and thanks for reading. Ultimately the statue is harmless as decoration or a souvenir it sounds like. However, if I had an idol up somewhere in my house I’d like to know about it! So I think that was a good move.

      Perhaps this is similar to Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 10:19ff:

      I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? 23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience- 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

      I’m guessing that the “other problems” are not related to the worship of a demon…but who knows? I hope this helps.

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