By Luma Simms
Gospel amnesia ushers in idolatry and vice versa. It is imperative that we discern, expose and destroy the set of idols that tempt us within our Christian subculture. In his sermon, The Grand Demythologizer, Pastor Timothy Keller uses the text from Acts 19:23–41 to discuss the discerning, exposing, and challenging the idols of our surrounding culture through gospel ministry.
Idolatry surprises me, time and time again startling me with its craftiness. When I walked away from feminism to a biblical model of gender roles, I assumed that I was walking away from the obsession with “I am an intelligent and undeniably independent woman, hear me roar!” Devouring one book after another on biblical womanhood, how to be an excellent wife, how to dress demurely, how to be quiet (I had a hard time with that one), how to be meek, how to have a traditional family, how to apply myself to domesticity with excellence, and on and on, I thought that I was correcting my previous faulty notions of womanhood. When God in his grace lifted the blindness of gospel amnesia and in his mercy drove me to open my ears to someone like Tim Keller who has a gift for discerning, exposing and challenging people’s idols, I saw that I may have moved philosophical positions, but my idol had stayed the same, it just took on a different form: I was still obsessed with being a woman. Now it was “I am a biblical and unquestioningly submissive woman, hear me roar!” It’s hard to relate in words the spiritual experience of having such an idol revealed to oneself.
Womanhood can be, and often is, an idol for many. Whether framed in the image of feminist activists, authors, or media personalities on one side, or the Proverbs 31 woman as she is or as we imagine her, whether an admired friend, neighbor, or pastor’s wife, or whatever form it takes on in our peculiar subculture, ultimately we are susceptible to glorying in womanhood more than in Christ. It is the same for men, I might add. Men can also come to idolize manhood. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if it’s “biblical” or otherwise, no created thing is to be idolized and the creature may never be worshiped.
Something very subtle happens when we have gospel amnesia: we may become convinced that we are free from heart-idolatry. The reason we believe this is not so much that we think we are sinless, but because we are not gospel-conscious. Discerning, exposing, and destroying idols is an intrinsic function of the gospel as applied by the Holy Spirit. We wrongly conclude that since we may not be captivated by beauty, sophistry, power, celebrity or money—the idols we claim are worshiped by our culture—than we must be idolatry- free. We dismiss or diminish our “clean” idols—all those good things we trust in to save us and our children to make us “clean.” Christians can have many idols: Doctrinal pharisaism can be an idol, morality can be an idol, penning harsh and mocking words towards others in defense of the faith can be an idol, apologetics can be an idol, ministry in the church can be an idol, hospitality can be an idol, a celebrity pastor can be an idol, really just about anything can be an idol. Our hearts are deceptive, and unless we are overpowered by the grace and the glory of God through self-conscious gospel immersion, we can become ensnared to almost anything.
Lastly, we have a temptation to quickly see the idolatry of others around us while turning a blind eye to our own. This is dangerous to the soul and is another symptom of a heart that isn’t being washed and sharpened by the gospel. It is easier for those of us with gospel amnesia to spot someone obsessed with their physical health and beauty than it is to notice that we have elevated the long denim skirt as the sine qua non of biblical womanhood. My hypocrisy in this area still grieves me. I grieve for people I scoffed at and judged instead of reaching out to; I grieve for modeling such a repugnant Christianity to my children, for time wasted on pettiness and trivialities, and I grieve for the sins I laid up in my heart. I had cast aside the precious cross, the gospel—the good news that I thought I was too mature to preach to myself daily.
Luma Simms is a wife and mother of five delightful children. She studied physics and law before Christ led her to be a writer, blogger, and Bible teacher. She is the author of Gospel Amnesia and Counterfeit Me (Christian Focus Publishing 2014)
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