The Idolatry Question

August 26, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

This is part 3 of a multi-part series reviewing Thaddeus J. Williams’ book, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice. This book is published at a critical time when many in our nation, including Christians, wrestle with the concept of justice. Williams starts with the clear biblical command that Christians must “do justice” (Micah 6:8) and “seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17). Not everything labeled “justice,” however, is necessarily biblical justice. Therefore, Williams poses twelve questions to help Christians discern true, biblical justice, while calling us to do true justice. I commend this book if you want to dig deeper and be more faithful in seeking justice. 

The third question Williams poses is the “Idolatry Question.” He asks, “Does our vision of social justice make a false god out of the self, the state, or social acceptance?” (p. 28). Williams launches from John Calvin’s contention that the human heart is an idol-making factory. “Fallen human nature constantly cranks out new objects of worship” (p. 28). It is no different in our pursuit of justice. Good things, which may be helpful in our fight for justice, can be idolized and become ultimate things. Or we idolize good things which then distract us from pursuing true justice in other areas. Idolatry is a roadblock to the pursuit of justice. Williams explains: “Caring about the oppressed is a good thing. It is a deeply biblical thing. But when we make that good thing an ultimate thing, it becomes a destructive idol. The most pressing cultural and political issues of our day are, fundamentally, worship issues. They are contemporary expressions of our insuppressible religiosity” (p. 30). 

Williams identifies nine different idols in this chapter which hinder a pursuit of biblical justice: stuff, solitude, sky (escapism), status quo, skin tone, self, state, social acceptance, and sex (his use of alliteration hinders the clarity of some of these, e.g., “sky”). He briefly touches on the first five. For example, he explains that white supremacy is rooted in an idolatry of skin tone. “It shouldn’t have to be said, but it must be said: claims to racial superiority have no place whatsoever in a Christian view of the world” (p. 29). 

Assessing the current cultural moment, Williams contends that there are three idols that get the most ensnared in the pursuit of social justice: the self, the state, and social acceptance. Regarding the self, Williams observes, “The autonomous ‘I,’ the self-creating self, takes the sovereign mantle of identity-making that God held in historic Christianity” (p. 32). This idolatry of self contends that we have “the authority to render the verdict about who we really are.” Rejecting God as the definer of our identities opens a myriad of problems for defining justice. 

Regarding the state, Williams comments, “When we leave God out of the process of living free from guilt, we turn to the next biggest entity we can imagine. We turn to society. Government, media, law, education, entertainment, the local business owner – everyone must declare us, in unison, ‘not guilty!’ We must silence anyone who fails to acknowledge and celebrate our guiltlessness” (p. 33). And the desire for social acceptance undermines faithfulness to biblical mandates. As Williams observes, “We often care more about offending fellow creatures than we care about offending the Creator, and we let that inverted emotion determine the way we think about everything from social policy to sexuality” (p. 34). 

It’s difficult to believe and understand how something as pure as the pursuit of justice can be corrupted by idolatry. But we do it in so many areas which are blessings from God: marriage, family, ministry, work, etc. Tim Keller says idolatry is when good things become ultimate things. The human heart, as an idol-making factory, is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). In order to pursue true, God-honoring, biblical justice, we need the humility to allow the truth of Scripture to expose the idols of our hearts, which may corrupt any effort for justice.




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