(Idolatry from the Biblical Period to Postmodern Culture)


(Hosea 8.4) “They made idols for their own destruction”

(Acts 17.16ff) “A City full of idols”

(I John 5.21)  “Keep yourself from idols”


                  Judah’s perverted worship is encountered by the godly Josiah when he became king and began to restore the purity of Yahweh’s worship.  What did he have to do to accomplish that objective?


                  (1)  He brought out of the temple all the articles that were made for Baal and Asherah (the gods of the Assyrians) and the host of heaven, and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron and carried the ashes to Bethel.  (II Kings 23.4)


                  (2)  He removed the idolatrous priests whom the king of Judah had ordained to burn incense on the high places in the city of Jerusalem, and those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, to the moon, to the constellations, and to all the hosts of heaven.  (II Kings 23.5)


                  (3)  He brought out the wooden image from the house of the Lord to the Brook Kidron outside Jerusalem, burned it at the Brook Kidron, ground it to ashes, and threw the ashes on the graves of the common people.  (II Kings 23.6) 


                  (4)  He tore down the ritual booths of the perverted persons who were practising sodomy and prostitution in the religious rituals.  (II Kings 23.7)


                  (5)  He killed those who consulted mediums and spiritualists.  (II Kings 23.7)


                  A century later when Ezekiel was ministering to the exiled Jews, the same thing happened again.  On one occasion the Lord gave Ezekiel a vision that miraculously transported him to the door of the north gate of the inner court of Jerusalem.  Ezekiel was confronted by an image that had been placed there by wicked king Manasseh.  “The seat of jealously” was probably the Syrian mother goddess Asherah.  (II Kings 21.1-7; II Chron. 33. 1-9)


                  God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, lift up your eyes now toward the north.”  So I lifted my eyes toward the north and there, north at the alter gate, was this image of jealously in the entrance (Ez. 8.5).  That is not all that Ezekiel saw (Ez. 8.10). Standing before those images were 70 men of the elders of Israel.  Then the Lord took Ezekiel to the north gate of The Temple and showed him a woman sitting there, weeping for Tammuz, the Babylonian nature god (Ez. 8.14). . .and at the door of the Temple of the Lord . . .were about 25 men, . . . they were worshipping the sun toward the east (Ezek. 8.16). 


                  Idolatry had entered The Holy City, His Holy Temple, and His chosen people.  Our Lord’s response to this idolatry is recorded in the final verses of Ezekiel 8.18.  In the context of both Isaiah and Ezekiel, God’s people had turned against The God of Promise (Deut. 6.10-15).  The God of The Exodus, The Promised Lord, The Holy Temple was repeatedly betrayed by His people in both the Old and New Testaments (Idols--Exodus 20.4; 32.4; Isaiah 40.19; 41.7; 44.15,17; Hab 2.18; I Samuel 16.23; Acts 15.20; 21.25; I Cor. 5.11; I Cor. 10.14; Eph. 5.5; Gal. 5.20; Col. 3.5; I Pet. 4.3; I Jn 5.21  - “Keep yourselves from idols” Revelation 2.14  


I.  Cultural Models:


                  1.  Post Capitalism (Rolf Schrendorf)

                  2.  Post Bourgeois (George Licktheim)

                  3.  Post Modern (Amitai Etzioni)

                  4.  Post Collective (Sam Beek)

                  5.  Post Literary (Marshall McLuhan)

                  6.  Post Civilized (Kenneth Boulding)

                  7.  Post Traditional (S.N. Eisenstadt)

                  8.  Post Historical (Roderick Seidenberg)

                  9.  Post Industrial (Daniel Bell)

                  10. Post Puritan (Sidney Ahlstrom)

                  11. Post Protestant (Sidney Ahlstrom)

                  12. Post Christian (Sidney Ahlstrom)


                  (Richard J. Neuhaus, Time Toward Home: The American Experiment as Revelation (NY: Seabury Press, 1975), p. 15)


II.  Cultural Consequences: (Resurgent Tribalism, Humanism, Secularism, Naturalism, Pluralism, Narcissism)


                  (Loss of God, Man, True Truth, Meaning, Science, History, and Culture)


                  1.  The Idol of Materialism (Naturalistic Humanism, a Culture of Consumerism/Needs)


                  2.  The Idol of Activism (Loss of Awe, Worship Wars (Isaiah 6)


                  3.  The Idol of Individualism (Person, Intimacy, Loneliness)


                  4.  The Idol of Conformism (Resurgent Tribalism in Multiculturalism)


                  5.  The Idol of Relativism (The Death of True Truth)


                  6.  The Idol of Secularism (Loss of Shame, Victimology--“It’s not my fault!”


                  7.  The Idol of Narcissism (“All is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes)


                  8.  The Idol of Products of “Imagination of our hearts” (Sin against Faith)


                  9.  The Idol of Factory (Inflated as substitutes for God--compensating for our needs for

                  control and significance)

                  10. The Idol of Politics (Political activism of Christians on the Left and Right; too often we

                  politicize Faith and idolize politics


                  11. The Idol of Nostalgia from a Lost Empire:  Gratitude for the past and appeal to Christian America often falls into reliance on “majority status” and a false sense of Entitlement (e.g. from the right to pursue entitlement)


                  12. The Idol of Psychology: Must appreciate where psychology works and where it does not

                  and see how the Gospel is the best fulfilment of its insights.


                  13.  America’s Idol: Lost men and their magnificent talking cure--Psychology has grown to

                  become a religion and a way of life that rivals the Gospel itself.


                  14. The Idol of the Grand Inquisitor Lives: Every organization has a built-in drive toward self-perpetuation that is both Idolatrous and the source of its Potential Downfall.


                  15. The Idol of Church Growth:  The Church Growth movement can be distorted through an

                  uncritical use of Management and Marketing techniques creating a religion that has no

                  need for God.


                  16. The Idol of the Minimizing of The Ministry:  A postmodern trend toward

                  professionalism in the ministry has changed pastoral character and priorities, making both

                  God and theology irrelevant!


                  17. The Idol of the Spirit of the Age: (Zeitgeist)  Infatuation with the last postmodern ideas

                  has led the Church into theological adultery, using the theological cafeteria as the source of

                  choice--it has often lost its sense of Christian heritage.


                  18.  God’s Peculiar People and the Idols of the Age:  Discipleship of Jesus entails our breaking with the Idols and living truth ultimately is the test of both orthodoxy and love.  Both belief and practice are fused only in following Jesus.  We cannot follow Idols and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior (see esp. Os Guiness and John Seel, editors No God But God, Breaking with the Idols of Our Age (Moody Press, 1992); and Erwin M. Lutzer, Christ Among Other Gods: A Defense of Christ in Our Age of Tolerance (Moody, 1994).


III. Christ and Idols of Our Postmodern Culture:


                  Every session of The Parliament of the World’s Religions that met in Chicago in 1993 heralded its postmodern gospel “Unite or Perish.”  Our postmodern culture is a religious tidal wave sweeping through every fibre of American and European culture.  The gods are on a roll and woe to those who stand in their way. These gods promote a global ethic designed to alleviate the suffering and wars of the global village.  What place did Jesus Christ play in more than 700 workshops that were available during the eight-day conference?  Christ was presented on stage as one of the religious gurus who move in the evolutionary development of religion.  Jesus was “only” one of the enlightened in the theological cafeteria! He was respected but He was not worshipped!


                  The Chicago conference was a microcosm of your school, business, the media and community.  According to the 1993-94 Barna research report, nearly two out of three adults contend that the choice of one religious faith over another is irrelevant because all religions teach the same lessons about life.  (George Barna, Absolute Confusion (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993), 15; and my paper “From Syncretism to Relativism to Pluralism.  This emphasis shows up in The Jesus Seminar.  See Acts 10.4 “No other name,” “Philippians 2.10-11 “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God, the Father.”


                  The rich diversity of the world’s religions must be presented in our Postmodern Temple of Tolerance!  The foundation for unity is not faith in Christ, but a fusion within pantheistic tolerance.  Of all forms of evangelism, proselytizing is bigotry of the most disastrous order.  Religious (cultural) unity can come only by force of federation, but not without religion (e.g. Arnold Toynbee Christianity and The Religions of The World (NY: Scribners, 1957), 95f. Pragmatism is rampant in our theological cafeteria (“well, it works for me!”  The Religious Ultimate is greater than any one portrait of him or her.  Of course, doctrinal beliefs are roadblocks to unity, so they must be cast out of the discussion.  The Bible Illuminated has been recently released.  It is a collection of Bible stories that interpret the biblical accounts from a universal standpoint.  The editor of the book is Swami Bhaktipada who says that his goal was “to give Christians and those of other faiths an understanding of the Bible as a particular expression of the eternal truth that is taught in all the world’s grand religious traditions (advertisement of Palace Publishing distributed at the Parliament of World Religions).


                  There are three possible ways of relating to the culture of world religions:  (1) Pluralism (Universalism):  the direct assertion that we must accept all religions as equal.  This stance goes beyond mere tolerance and affirmation!  (2)  Inclusivism:  An openness to other religions that began with the 18th century--Enlightenment!  Christ in this view may be unique but he does not have sole possession of truth (e.g. in this milieu there was a vast literature on Paul’s Kenosis (self image) passage in Phil. 2.5ff).  Since Vatican II inclusivism has been seen in the Roman Catholic Church, too (Dr. Flannery, ed., Documents of Vatican II (Eerdmans, 1975, 367).  Vatican I emphatically declares that salvation could come only through the Church.  But now the Protestants are called “separated brethren.” The Roman Catholic Church is no longer the sole door of salvation.  (3)  Exclusivism:  This maintains that God revealed Himself only in Christ, and all other religions are therefore incomplete, misleading and false.  Elijah is an Old Testament example of an exclusivist.  When he had a contest with the prophets of Baal and they were proven to be false, he took 400 of them and had them put to death at the river Kishon.  The New Testament continues the tradition of exclusivism.  Exclusivism does not conflict with freedom of religion (the first and fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution). The Biblical exclusivism cannot be fused with postmodern syncretistic tolerance!  If there is one true creator/redeemer God revealed in Christ for our salvation from sin and death our opinions are limited.  As this discussion continues unabated in our smorgasbord, it seems more democratic!  For this reason the value of calculus of probability has entered the discussion.  Truth is determined by polls and polls are grounded in the calculus of probability.  For example, the moral maze in the White House is mediated by the Poll Master.  Polls can only produce a statistical consensus--it cannot ever tell whether the pollsters and their pollers know the True Truth!  But in our postmodern maze there is no true truth, so the problem must be solved by tolerant affirmation of alternatives.


                  In a recent article in U.S. News and World Report, it stated that interest in Christ is on the rise.  “The quest for the historical Jesus is getting a new surge of scholarly energy.”  (U.S. News and World Report 20 (Dec. 1993), 62, Borg, Crossan,, The Jesus Seminar)  But a brief perusal of major postmodern Christological literature will expose a redefined syncretistic Jesus.  Postmodern Christology presents Jesus in the image of man, not man in the image of Jesus (See my paper “The Search for The Wrong Jesus”).  Much postmodern scholarship undermines His credibility. 


                  The scriptures draw a definite line through the peoples of the world, but it is not a line between races (ethnic groups), nations or even cultures, as such.  This line separates Christ and His followers from all other religious choices.  No wonder Jesus is under fire; only revisionist history in the form of subjective redactionism can remove Jesus’ exclusivistic remarks regarding Himself and His disciples.  Amid charges of bigotry, our task is to be lovingly exclusive.  We must be “tolerant” but cannot affirm antithetical positions to the Christian Gospel.  Christianity is distinct from all world religions by four fundamental claims:  (1) God is Creator and Redeemer; (2) The Incarnation or Virgin Birth; (3) Christ’s Crucifixion and Atonement for our sins; and (4) Christ’s Resurrection from the dead!  Christianity stands or falls on these four non-negotiable issues.  God has been displaced from the center of the universe, while the neurophysical revolution removes the person from reality.  If man’s brain is reduced to the mind and the mind to a low-grade computer, then man is “the cosmic orphan.”  Idols for destruction!



James Strauss, Lincoln, IL 62656