Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Counterfeit Gods 2

posted by Scot McKnight

Keller.jpg

Love itself can become a counterfeit god. In fact, it can become “apocalyptic romance” — that is, love can be used to attempt to gain transcendence, meaning, and ultimate joy.
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC, in Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters treats love as one of our counterfeit gods.
And Keller’s touches on the hook-up where the claim is that sex can be divorced from love. “Don’t bet on it,” he observes.
He anchors this chp in the Jacob and Rachel story from Genesis. Jacob idolized Rachel; got Leah; worked even longer to get Rachel. The whole story is about the idols of love.

Here Keller does something that evoked my appreciation: instead of moralizing the story (he does some psychologizing no doubt) he sketches the meaning of this story in light of the regula fidei, the story that comes to climax in Jesus Christ. There’s cosmic disappointment here: if you sink your soul’s teeth into love, into another person, you will experience profound disappointment at some point.  When you wake up in the morning of such orientation, you find Leah and not the Rachel of your dreams. The stereotype desires of both males and females do not find their intended aim in any human person.
Leah points the way: she looks to God to release her from misery and she gives birth to a son named Judah who points the way toward Messiah. The solution to apocalyptic romance is to find true love in Christ. Like Leah, he too became the man nobody wanted.


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Ted M. Gossard

posted October 30, 2009 at 4:29 am


I agree and I appreciate Tim Keller and his thoughts here. Very good.
We can make an idol out of anything, including the best of God’s gifts, so it’s no surprise that love is among the foremost or most prominent of our idols. What a mess Jacob endured through it!



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Diane

posted October 30, 2009 at 8:12 am


When I first read this, I was surprised: God IS love, I thought, ala 1 John. But then I realized it was romantic love being discussed. Yes, I agree that romance can be an idol and substitute for love of God. It is what our society turns to while rejecting God and think of all the damage it causes when misunderstood.
These author photos: actually, Keller’s is not too bad– are they publicity shots? I find usually I’d just as soon not see them–they seem cliched and distract from from the subject at hand. Some seem slick, some fake, some are a little creepy–and I have a hunch they don’t the capture the writers well. Then I wonder, why such a stark, relentlessly head-on, close up, unflattering shot of Dorothy Sayers and then such glam shots of some other writers? I know, Scot, you probably pick up whatever pix is at hand, but why are these the shots at hand? Does an unflattering portrait of Sayers put up on a Web site by “somebody” make her less threatening? What of the shot of the guy below who wrote the Facebook book: do the publishers really want him to look like a New Age motivational speaker? Maybe they do. I just wonder how much thought goes into these portraits and how much say the writers get in how they’re portrayed. But that’s perhaps another topic. :)



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RJS

posted October 30, 2009 at 8:59 am


Diane,
Remember that Sayers died in 1957 so the pickings are rather slim. I also think that her picture was typical of the time and not really that bad. But I could have used a different kind of picture with my posts (like my great wall picture I used this week).



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MatthewS

posted October 30, 2009 at 9:47 am


Diane, that’s so funny. I actually thought earlier that this pic of Keller seems more appropriate with each post. He looks intensely thoughtful and like he’s forming the next words to speak. This idea of waking up with Leah instead of Rachel – it’s easy enough to see it once someone puts it out there but it’s a creative thought, especially when there are such deep, well-traveled ruts laid down for this story. I wonder if he wore that expression when wrote the thoughts in question today.
The pic of Sayers – it kind of sticks with you. I thought she looked intelligent and approachable; not demanding but not interesting in nonsense. It’s little bit of a Mona Lisa expression to me – she seems maybe just a little shy or retiring and but also interested in the person she’s looking in the eye. This is not at all how I would have pictured her after watching Strong Poison but I like the real image better.
I reacted positively to both photos but it seems both of them put you off a little. I find that fascinating.



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Diane

posted October 30, 2009 at 11:40 am


RJS,
I thought a good deal about that Sayer’s photo. At first, I thought was it was so terrible, so ugly a photo as to do her a disservice, but then I thought, no, it’s her enacting being a human, nothing more, nothing less. Her face, unadorned, unmade up, middle-aged, with old-fashioned glasses, is right in our faces, saying this is me, accept me for who I am. I appreciated her assertiveness and I questioned my own initial, socially indoctrinated reaction to her. There she was, boldly herself, surrounded by photos of men posed for artifice, to look “intellectual,” ” dynamic,” “sagelike….” I had to admire the inadvertent juxtaposition as I also wondered about why THAT photo of Sayers was “on hand” …



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Diane

posted October 30, 2009 at 11:46 am


MatthewS,
I posted my second post before I saw yours, so as you see, I love the Sayers photo and more especially, I LOVE the way you describe it. That’s wonderful! I was more uneasy with the reasons why that photo might be “out there.” I ‘n not entirely at home with the Keller photo–I mean he looks nice, etc.– but the fingers on the forehead, the Thinker/Dr. Spock from Star Trek pose … is he mindmelding with God? — I don’t know about that. It’s seems to bespeak a touch of “artifice.”



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Rick

posted October 30, 2009 at 11:53 am


Diane-
“…but the fingers on the forehead, the Thinker/Dr. Spock from Star Trek pose … is he mindmelding…”
You are not alone on that. I had the same thought.



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Rick

posted October 30, 2009 at 12:18 pm


I do have a question about the idol issue. In the first post, it stated:
“Keller skillfully interweaves what we want most — our Isaacs, our deepest desires, things that become our idols, our counterfeit gods…”
This post states:
“Love itself can become a counterfeit god. In fact, it can become “apocalyptic romance” — that is, love can be used to attempt to gain transcendence, meaning, and ultimate joy.”
Therefore, would not “transcendence, meaning, and ultimate joy” be the idols, and “love” just a tool to get those idols?



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MatthewS

posted October 30, 2009 at 12:49 pm


Rick,
My opinion, FWIW: I think part of being made in the image are deep longings. We don’t FEEL like those longings are for Jesus. We feel like bowing down at the altars of sports, work, love, etc. But these are counterfeit gods; they are broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jesus is the only one who can truly meet our deepest longings. Part of being creatures is that we long for simple pleasures like naps, games, vacations, fun, ice cream and those longings are fine. But we confuse them with those deeper longings that are only met in the one true God.
The longings themselves aren’t the counterfeit gods. The counterfeit gods are the things we turn to to meet the longings.



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RJS

posted October 30, 2009 at 9:33 pm


MatthewS
Interesting ideas – which go with Scot’s comment, presumably Kellers idea, on love in the post: The stereotype desires of both males and females do not find their intended aim in any human person.
But – I wondered a bit if the Isaac story was really appropriate for Keller’s point, I also wonder about this one.
Is it an appropriate use of this passage?



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MatthewS

posted October 31, 2009 at 10:52 am


RJS, as in “great sermon, wrong passage?”
I think the image of dreaming of Rachel but waking up with Leah is powerful and has some potential use. But it is hard for me to see it originating from the story, I admit. Hard to explain it to someone else and make it make sense – it takes some explaining. Seems to me the finger pointing forward to Christ is the better part of his thinking here.
I have seen abuses of Scripture and theology in general that have brought real-life consequences. From this, I have come to believe that it is very important to root interpretation in what the original author intended for the original audience to understand or do, and what the original audience would have understood. Just a guess – I am guessing the original audience would see some creative power to image of dreaming of Rachel but waking up with Leah, but I also would guess they would find it a novel use of the story. I like the image but in thinking about it, I wonder if this is really a good example of sound exegesis?
Having expressed that, I would say that I believe the notion of counterfeit gods (idolatry) is an issue all through both the OT and the NT and is very worthy of discussion; it is the sort of discussion that stands to change lives. I really don’t to speak out of turn in pride or to be unduly critical of a good pastor here. But it is important to link “great sermon” with “right passage.”



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RJS

posted October 31, 2009 at 10:58 am


MatthewS,
Yes – great sermon wrong passage.
On the other hand, I think that Keller is using the OT stories in a fashion consistent with both NT authors and early church fathers use of the OT. It simply is not consistent with the literal view of reformation thinkers and most of evangelicalism. Maybe Keller’s approach is actually one that we should use more as we look at the story of scripture.



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Rick

posted October 31, 2009 at 11:07 am


MatthewS and RJS-
Good thoughts and I agree on the problem with using this passage (I must say I have great respect for Keller and what he is doing. He is a huge asset to the church and Kingdom).
Is Rachel idolized by Jacob, or it it a healthy love? A lot hinges on that question, and is frequently interpreted as an story about crafty manipulation rather than unhealthy love.
MatthewS-
I still wonder at what point to the “deep longings” become the idol. If the counterfeit gods were used to meet those longings, are we simply using the real God to meet those longings as well. Are they the ultimate goal, and God simply a tool to get us there?



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MatthewS

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:49 am


RJS,
I think we are mostly on the same page on this. I would say that I don’t think we can appeal to NT authors’ use of the OT to establish practice for today. We don’t really understand what they were doing. Their hermeneutics do not arise from our worldview and we can’t really put ourselves back then to understand what they were doing. We have to assume they were acting fairly within their context but how could we assure we would do the same? Also, we aren’t apostles. All of that says to me its better to let their teachings stand but not try to re-create and build on the parts of their thinking that are most opaque to us today.
Rick,
My take on this is that the longings just are. At the well, Jesus assumed the woman was thirsty and would be thirsty again. Her thirst is assumed. But what water to drink? Relationships? (Five husbands plus one) Or “living water?” (John 4) Same with Jeremiah, who prosecuted God’s complaint that his people were digging broken cisterns, rejecting the spring of living water (Jer 2:13). Their thirst is assumed, it’s the water they drink that is bad.
I take this to be the kernel of truth in Piper’s teachings, that our longings just are and the most self-interested thing we can do happens to be the most “spiritual” thing: take our longings to Jesus, the fountain of living water. Don’t pretend we aren’t thirsty. It takes honesty and humility to admit our deep thirst and our inability to quench it. (Sadly, I think Piper saddles that pony up and rides it off into an unwarranted sunset but that’s a whole other issue…)
Short story: thirst/longings just are. Admit them and take them to the one true God. We go to him because we need him. Any other god (counterfeit gods), like the stereotypical dishonest car salesman, will disappoint. There is one God who is the fountain of living water. And you and I are thirsty. So Jesus stands up at the feast in the gospel of John and shouts to humanity, Come to me and drink living water!



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