Skip to main content

A Two Faced Approach to Idolatry?

I continue my slow but very enjoyable reading of Chris Wright's, The Mission of God (IVP, 2006). (Which also inspired this earlier post.) Wright's treatment of idolatry, the subjectof his second major section, is simply fantastic and he has both answered a number of questions and posed questions I hadn't properly thought of before. In pages 179-188 he finishes his chapter on idolatry with an examination of Paul's approaches. To summarise, in Acts Paul's evangelistic preaching treats idolatry markedly differently to how he does in Romans and 1 Corinthians. Wright suggests that Paul reserves his strongest langauge about idolatry for theological and pastoral discussions with Christians (Rom 1:18-32, 1 Cor 8-10) but moderates his tone considerably when talking to pagans (Acts 14:8-20; 17:16-34; 19:23-41).

Wright, also argues that this approach of Paul's is entirely consistent with the modus operandi of the OT prophets who would accuse the pagan nations of numerous moral wrongs but would only mock idolatry per se when confronting those who should know better, the people of God (e.g. Amos, who lists the sins of the surrounding nations in 1:1-2:3, but only mentions idol worship in connection with Judah in 2:4).

Wright concludes, "in confronting idolatry, we need to be discerning about what responses are appropriate in different contexts, learning from the apostles and prophets as we do so." (p188)

The conclusion then seems to lead us to have two faces with regard to idolatry. When talking to pagans we major on the kindness and mercy of God and don't attack their gods directly, but when dealing with those who should know better we pull out all the stops and expose idolatry in all its depraved sinfulness. Now on one hand this makes sense, there is no point lambasting people for what they cannot help, if you don't know God then you have no reason not to worship others gods (whether they be traditional idols or contempary analogues), but those who do know God are doubly culpable. But on the other hand it does seem like there is potentially going to be some inconsistency between what is said in house and in public. The problem is exascerbated by the way so little Christian discourse is actually in house anymore. We put our sermons on the internet, we publish our books, and our inter and intra denominational disuputes are the stuff of news programs and history books. What we say in private will be shouted from the rooftops one way or another, especially if it is deemed offensive by the general public. The recent furore over Brian Tamaki's oath is a good example of that. While I am convinced by Wright's arguments, I think the onus needs to be on us to make sure that what we say in private is still something we would be happy to be heard in public. And if you aren't, best not to say it at all!

Let me know what you think, :-)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Addictive Power of End Times Speculation

The mighty Rhett Snell has picked up his blog again (I wonder how long he'll last this time), check out his theory on why people get so into annoyingly unbiblical end times nonsense.

I think that where codes-and-calendars end times theology is dangerous, is that it can give a sense of false growth. We read a theory online, or hear it from some bible teacher, and we come to think that we have mastered an area of our faith. A bit like levelling up in a computer game, or Popeye after he’s eaten some spinach. At worst, we begin to believe that we’ve taken a step that other Christians have not; that we’ve entered an elite class of Christianity.

The false link between suicide and mental illness

One characteristic of human society is the tendency to keep doing something over and over again despite it not working. One example would be our approach to incarcerating criminals to punish them instead of rehabilitating them, compounding their trauma and making it harder for them to live productive law-abiding lives when they get out. But this is the "common-sense" approach, the intuitive human response to the failings of others, punish them and they wont dare do it again. It has never worked, ever, but let's keep doing it. Secular society is screwed because it cannot comprehend that its vision is blurred by sin and therefore knee-jerk, common sense solutions are usually destructive and counter-productive.

So it is with our response to suicide. To kill yourself must be the response of the weak minded and sick - so the thinking goes - so to combat rising suicide we treat individuals medically. Yet suicide is a perfectly rational response to a world as broken as ours and…

Wars and Rumours of Wars

I write in the morning after the USA 2016 Elections, which featured the historic election of Donald Trump. Apart from my personal interested as a resident of planet Earth at this time, it is interesting to note some of the apocalyptic language emerging in discussions of what this means. Even archaeologists are turning to the medium of prophecy. Hear the word of Tobias Stone,
So I feel it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover and move on.  Stone suggests that future historians will be able to draw clear lines from Brexit to Trump to the 3rd World War, or something equally bad. Mind you, just because historians can draw those lines doesn't mean they are here.

Then there is the word of Thom Hartman who is more interested in the domestic fallout than the fallout shelter. 
The last …