Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC, is perhaps the most balanced pastor, theologian, cultural critic and evangelist in the American scene today. His newest book, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters
, is no exception to his approach. The book addresses what its subtitle says: the counterfeit gods of money, sex and power, and he does this through the biblical idea of idolatry. It is timely, it is pastoral, it is theological, and it is profoundly missional. I am looking forward to reading this book.
Keller has become a preacher’s preacher and a pastor’s pastor.
After an opening salvo that sketches the big picture, Keller dips into the Abraham offering Isaac scene to describe what is at hand in our world today:
Abraham, like so many, wanted something deeply: a son.
Abraham’s son is promised so Abraham can become a nation and bless the nations.
God gave Abraham what he wanted, and getting what you most want is not always best.
Furthermore, after giving the son God — and here Keller has to fill in some lines of what was going on in Abraham’s head with some psychology — tested Abraham’s love for God: Does he love God even more than this promised son who alone could be his heir?
So Abraham, in an act of trusting God, takes Isaac to the brink of sacrifice and God steps in to provide for Abraham — God provides a substitute.
What do you think of seeing this story as a display of surrendering our deepest wants to God? What can we learn from this approach to the story?
Keller skillfully interweaves what we want most — our Isaacs, our deepest desires, things that become our idols, our counterfeit gods — with the central obligation that God wants us to love God most. In the same interweaving, God provides a substitute to accomplish his designs for the world. The firstborn child in the ancient Near East was often forfeit, or given in sacrifice, in order to atone for the family. So two things happen in this test: Abraham is tested and God’s means of provision is revealed.
God provides that sacrifice: God not only led Abraham to see that loving God was most important, God provided a sacrificial ram instead of his son and (I don’t see this in Keller) thereby replaced the ancient Near Eastern tragic religious belief of child sacrifice with animal sacrifice — and then Keller’s emphasis is that this sacrifice of a ram indicated in advance the substitutionary sacrifice of God’s Son who would break out of the cycle of death in the resurrection. The promise to bless the nations through the birth of a son, Isaac, becomes an event where the true Son who will bless the world is revealed.