Idol-ology: when our ideas or experiences replace God

I tend to have a bit of pendulum swing, back and forth, between two areas of passion.

One area that I’m passionate about is engaging theological matters and connecting them to the real world. I love being able to talk about how our views of the end of the world affect today, how what we believe about the beginning of the world affects evangelism, how our witness is compromised when we cling to the sword, and how the church is emerging in postmodern culture.

In fact, it’s safe to say that my mind is always at work in this way. I’m constantly making connections in my mind about how the Bible and the world interact. Dreaming Kingdom of God sorts of dreams is a passion that I believe comes from God. The byproduct of this sort of introspection is what I write here on this blog.

The other area that I’m passionate about is knowing Jesus. Not simply ascribing to set of beliefs about Jesus, but experiencing the infilling of the Holy Spirit. As it is with most Christians, this is a cyclical sort of relationship. At times I feel like God is close, like John Wesley described his heart being “strangely warmed.” At other times I wonder if God even remembers my name.

Certainly we have evidence of this sort of cycle in Scripture. The Psalms demonstrate that at times the writers could sense that God was near and at other times yearned for God to show up. Sometimes God’s Spirit is close and at other times God seems distant.

From what I can tell, when God seems distant, we have an opportunity to allow doubt to do its work: build trust within us. The dance between doubt and faith makes us into people who rely fully on God, even a God we cannot see or feel.

Add to this that some folks know God through the text and faith alone. A dynamic at work may be the fact that God interacts with diverse personalities differently. We should also be okay with this and not assume that everyone experiences God monolithically.

I want to suggest that either of these, the intellectual side of faith or the experiential can become an idol.

God gives us an intellect and expects us to form an ideology patterned after the Kingdom. Taken too far, our intellect can drag us away from the point: Jesus Christ.

God gives us the Holy Spirit so we can know and experience the fullness of Christ. Yet if we are not careful, we can make an idol out of charismatic and emotional experiences. The idol of the “encounter” is dangerous because we become more in love with that than Christ himself.

Timothy Keller has the following definition of an idol:

“An idol is something that we look to for things that only God can give.”[1]

Only God can satisfy the deep longings of our intellect, our dreams about how the Bible speaks into our situation in the 21st century.

Only God can satisfy our longings to know and experience Christ.

My hope is that I will refuse to allow my ideology to ever become an Idol-ology. Simultaneously, I hope that I won’t rely on “experiences” with God to sustain me, but only God who may be close even when I don’t feel it.

Finally, I also hope in writing this is that you will evaluate your own life to discern if your ideas or experiences are replacing God. May we avoid all forms of “idol-ology.”

[1] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 131 and 136.

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  • Pat68

    God interacts with diverse personalities differently. We should also be okay with this and not assume that everyone experiences God monolithically.”


  • Kenny stein

    there is also the thought that we spend to much time thinking about God as opposed to doing what God would be having us do . God is more than a warm fuzzy thought of infinate love , He is a commission

  • jduerrstein

    This too is something I’ve thought about – and felt.  I think that I occasionally judge people (not openly) for too far embracing an experiential faith and too little an intellectual faith.  I hope that I can stray away from my ideology as an idol and encourage everyone to avoid any forms of “idol-ology”.  I appreciate your articulations on this thought.

  • KCHU

    This is a good post. I often want others around me to have the same experiences as me, and I use those experiences as a sort of gauge of whether or not they “get it.” The same thing goes with the intellectual side. I think of intellectual things as experiences as well since there’s usually an “aha!” moment where I finally understand something. Fortunately, I have some wise friends that are good at giving grace to people who have different understandings than they do. I am humbled by them.

    P.S. It doesn’t matter for the meaning of the post, but it was John Wesley whose heart was “strangely warmed” after reading Luther’s take on Romans.


    Kurt, I read Keller’s book, a great read. You have some very important points and you have me thinking which is a good thing.  Corky  

  • I have been involved with right wing christian pressure groups, and I have found that the vision becomes the ideology. The thing that disturbs me is that they leave a trail of broken people, who have joined these visionaries only to be hurt as they loose their usefulness to the vision. The actual treatment of staff is worse than that of secular companies

  • Ndbsixtytwo

    Reading Tim Keller’s, Counterfeit Gods right now and it is beautiful. The book goes perfectly with this blog. I had so many idols in my life at one point in time that superseded Christ. Those idols were burdens of anxiety and never satisfied the soul. Idols are lies that tell us that once we obtain one of them that we will feel or be better off. Nothing is further from the truth. Jesus is the only way to truth. His burden is light. Christ is the only freedom. Idols lie.