Apologetics is the defense of the faith from false doctrine (Jude 3, ESV). Sometimes false doctrine enters the life of a believer in the form of idolatry. Idolatry, what do you mean? We live in the 21st century, in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the history of the world. We don’t worship at idols. That much is true, however, there are idols of the heart, and part of good apologetics is dealing with issues within the church. You see these heart idols sometimes come in to the church because they were so engrained in our lives prior to God saving us. In other cases these may have crept into our lives due to our daily interaction with the world in which we live.
What is an idol? Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, defines an idol as any good thing that becomes the ultimate thing. This is not to be confused with making a bad thing the ultimate thing. That is sin! However, when eating (a good thing) becomes the ultimate thing, you have gluttony. When drinking an alcoholic beverage (a good thing) becomes the ultimate thing, you have drunkenness. When making money (a good thing) becomes the ultimate thing, you have greed. However, these are not the “idol under the idol” so to speak.
There are four underlying idols in the lives of people: Comfort, Control, Respect and Love. All of the things are essentially good. As I mentioned above an idol is a good thing that is made an ultimate thing. Comfort brings lack of stress and freedom. Control brings self-discipline and standards. Respect brings success and influence. Love brings affirmation, love and relationships. However, these four good things when they are made ultimate things, i.e., idols bring negatives into the lives of people and their circle of influence.
Comfort while bringing lack of stress and freedom also brings reduced productivity. Because stress and demand are the greatest nightmares a person with this idol can face they often do just enough to get by. They do not like deadlines or commitment. These are the people that avoid doing more than the minimum. Because of this desire to avoid stress and demand they often hurt others by their desire to be free of stress and demand. The biggest internal issue with Comfort is that this idol creates boredom in the lives of those that have this idol. There is no desire to make change because change causes stress they often suffer from boredom.
Control gives one self-discipline and standards. The problem is that life is full of uncertainty, and this creates worry in the lives of those with Control as an idol. Because of the need to control everything in their lives, people with Control often make others around them feel condemned. This is due to the fact that they believe others will not do things as well as they can do them. As an example, I was once given the opportunity to lead a follow-up ministry at a church I used to attend. After reading as many books as I could find on the subject, and finding out what other churches in that particular movement were doing, I was able to come up with a plan. I planned a meeting to kick-off the program. The turn-out was bigger than I expected. However just as I was getting into the nuts and bolts of what I wanted to do the pastor of the church walked by the room I was holding the meeting in. He got excited over the turnout, and took over the meeting and implemented his plan. I sat in the back of the room feeling condemned and angry (more on this in the next paragraph) because of the work I had done.
Respect gives one respect and influence. However because we crave respect so badly we often become burdened and we take on personal responsibility over projects to the point of obsessive ownership, like with the follow-up ministry I mentioned above. Because of the desire for respect humiliation is our greatest nightmare. The problem emotion that Respect person feel the strongest is anger. Anger over the any perceived disrespect they feel they have received. Now while Respect persons often chose not to react to slights, they will keep track of that slight. People with the Respect idol make others feel used, because we want to avoid humiliation so bad we will use others in order to get the respect we crave.
Love is the most interesting of the idols. How can love be an idol? A person with the Love idol desperately seeks out affirmation, love, and relationships. Now while we have established that these are good things, they become ultimate things when a person fears rejection the most. Women with the Love idol are often sexually promiscuous, not because they want sex but they want to avoid rejection. Sadly, there are too many men that can smell out women like this and will happily use them for their sexual needs. This fear of rejection makes persons with the Love idol cowards. They will give into anyone who places conditions on their love. Also because of their fear of rejection, they make others feel smothered. They will do whatever it takes to get others to affirm them and their love.
While this summary is not the complete treatment on this subject, I believe it is a start. I recommend that you plunge into Keller’s book and determine for yourself what your heart idol is in your life. I believe it is important to identify our idols as we progress in our sanctification. It is my hope and prayer that we do that, and in doing so improve our ability to demonstrate the Gospel’s impact in our lives.