Those who you who follow my blog will have spotted that I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading and therefore also reviewing on the blog over the summer. From now on I want to aim for a review each week – ‘the Thursday review’. Warning: this aspiration comes with no promises of regularity or persistence!
A review of Greg Dutcher, You Are the Treasure That I Seek (But There’s a Lot of Cool Stuff out There, Lord), Discovery House, 2009.
You Are The Treasure That I Seek is a good little book on idolatry. It starts by pointing out that idols are ‘not just for pygmies’ before looking at sin and salvation. It rightly and helpfully defines sin (via Romans 1) in terms of idolatry, showing that idolatry is our underlining sin and that it involves a poor exchange in which we opt for substitute the living God with created things. The chapter on salvation shows how Christ addresses our exchange with an exchange of his own: exchanging his righteousness and accepting our condemnation.
The book then moves on to reflect on the nature of idolatry. They are affairs of the hearts – not just the statues of animist religions. They are also deceitful – often taking the form of divine blessings which then replace God in our affections. The cure? God uses suffering to wean us off idols. We need God to open our blind eyes to the idolatry in our hearts. We need to flee the first signs of idolatry in our lives. And finally the ultimate cure is a bigger vision of Christ and his glory – a vision that eclipses the enticements of idolatry.
If you’re familiar with the work of Tim Keller, John Piper, Paul Tripp and indeed You Can Change then you won’t find much new. The merit of You Are The Treasure is its brevity. You can read it in an hour. So it may be a good book to give to people who are not natural readers. Appendix Two, styled as ‘a first-aid kit for recovering idolatries, is a great collection of Bible passages and quotes – the book is worth it just for these.
The main weakness of the book is a failure consistently to distinguish between surface idols and deep idols.
An iPhone may be an idol, but I’m not sure that really helps people. Is an iPhone always an idol? When does it become an idol? Are we really going to go in for sermons denouncing Apple? But then we throw in some caveats and say an iPhone can sometimes be an idol, will the iPhone idolaters every take much notice?
In a forthcoming book from IVP entitled Idol Hearts, Julian Hardyman makes a helpful distinction between surface idols and deep idols. There may be a sense in which an iPhone functions as an idol for me, but really this is a symptom of a deeper idolatry – an idolatry, perhaps, of personal significance combined with the lie that consumer goods give meaning and identity.
The failure consistently to go a step beyond the surface idols is evidence in the case studies in Appendix One. In the first example a couple envy another couple’s house, but realise that other people are poorer, Christ was poor and that serving God is better than a fancy house. Great. But a good pastor might go a level deeper. What does a fancy house offer? Meaning, identity, worth? There is a need to recognize the self-worship behind our presenting obsessions.
One other smaller quibble: the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin in Luke 15 are cited as illustrations of the human search for treasure. But in fact they are parables that illustrate God’s searching after lost sinners.