Review of “Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power and the Only Hope that Matters”

Since Timothy Keller founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church almost 25 years ago, he has written numerous books, and is fast becoming one of the most popular Presbyterian authors. Recently I checked out his book, Counterfeit Gods from the local library, and started reading. Having read one of his books before (The Prodigal God), I was slightly familiar with both Keller’s theology and writing style.

In Counterfeit Gods, Keller states that our culture is overrun with idols- from money and sex to relationships and status. He discusses how our idols enslave us, while our Savior sets us free.

On page three, he gives the punchline, the main thrust of the book:

If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will ultimately fail to deliver and break our hearts.

Drawing from the lives of Biblical men and women such as Abraham, Leah, Zaccheus, Naaman, Nebuchadnezzar, Jonah, and Jacob, he artfully pointed out their personal idols, and how God worked in their hearts and lives to show them how they were trapped, enslaved, and oppressed, by the very idols they worshipped, and led them to the freedom that comes in living a life fully surrendered to God. Keller also pointed out how our idols usually aren’t carved from stone, and they may even be applauded by society, but they are idols nonetheless.

Children. Marriage. Success. Approval. We all fall guilty to some form of idolatry.

So what exactly is idolatry? It is making good things, ultimate things. It is misplacing our worship, because we all worship something. It is setting our hearts on something- anything- less than God.

As I read the book, my heart was pricked, as my own heart’s idols became clear to me. However, the book was not perfect.

After reading the book, I came away disagreeing with two statements Keller made in Counterfeit Gods. The first is found during his discussion on sex and romantic love, on page 31:

Evolutionary biologists explain that this is hardwired into our brains. Christians explain that our capacity for romantic love stems from our being in the image of God (Genesis 1:27-29; Ephesians 5:25-31) Perhaps it can be said that both are true.

Obviously, as a person who believes that Scripture is infallible and inerrant and is also a person who believes that the Genesis account of creation is accurate and literal, I don’t think we as Christians should look to evolutionary biologists for explanations concerning our “hardwiring”! Not to mention that he could have communicated the same idea (that people are designed/hardwired to love and need love) without the hat tip to evolutionary biologists. If God created us, He also “hardwired” us.

The second comment that I disagreed with was found in his discussion on taxes, culture, and power, found on pages 106 and 107:

Highly progressive tax structures can produce a kind of injustice where people who have worked hard go unrewarded and are penalized by the high taxes. A society of low taxes and few benefits, however, produces a different kind of injustice, where the children of families who can afford good health care and elite education have vastly better opportunities than those who cannot.

I completely agree with his first statement. It is very unjust to wage higher taxes on those who work hard– 1 Timothy 5:18 states that “the laborer deserves his wages”. What I do disagree with is his second statement.

1) The role of government is not to give “benefits” such as food stamps, financial aid, or housing aid, among other things. The role of government is to bear the sword, to mete out justice. (See Romans 13:4)

2) Again, the role of government is not to “equalize opportunities”.  1 Thessalonians 3:10 states, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat”. Same goes for healthcare and education. The government is not our daddy– it’s role is not to clothe, shelter, and educate us. I don’t have the same opportunities Taylor Swift or Catherine Middleton have, but that’s ok– I am where God wants me to be!

Now, to clarify- I am certainly not opposed to the church reaching out to our community, coming alongside the widows, orphans, single mothers, and those who are struggling, burdened, and downcast. We are to be God’s hands and feet!

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Counterfeit Gods,  look forward to reading more of Timothy Keller’s books, and I would give the book an “A”.

Have you read the book? If so, what are your thoughts?

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