"Here Are Your Gods" by Christopher J.H. Wright. A Review
Christopher J. H. Wright
ISBN: 9780830853359; September 2020; $18.00
I have a love-hate relationship with some books. I find them feeding my understanding, bringing me to reflect, and arousing my prayers. But I argue and dispute with them most of the way through, sometimes shoving them aside for a time so I can cool off. This was one of those books. Christopher J. H. Wright, international ministries director of the Langham Partnership, Old Testament scholar, prolific author, and lecturer, has pulled together an in-depth examination on idolatry in his newly published, 176-page softback “Here Are Your Gods: Faithful Discipleship in Idolatrous Times”. Part of it will sound familiar to those who have read his chapter on idolatry in “The Mission of God”. But Wright takes that material, fleshes it out more fully and goes into places that get painfully close to home – thus my love-hate relationship with it. The volume is scholarly, but also approachable for all studiers of the Scriptures.
In the first part, Wright addresses what idolatry really is. He begins by unpacking, and then refuting, those academics who see the history of Israel as an evolving, developing growth from polytheism, to henotheism, to monotheism. Instead, he promotes that Israel’s monotheism was from ground-zero, and that Yahweh was not seen as in some generic glass of “god” but is The God. He further tackles the question about the reality or unreality of other gods. He concludes that they “are nothing in relation to Yahweh; they are something in relation to their worshippers” (7). The author develops what this means, by showing how most idols and gods were deified parts of creation, or sacralized works of human hands, or the divinized State, and on occasion, demonic powers. More often than not, we are the makers of our own gods, and history “is the graveyard of the gods” (31). Therefore, idolatry is the dethronement of Yahweh, and the enthronement of creation. Ofttimes, we regularly apotheosize the things that entice us, things we fear, things we trust and need (35-42). Thus, idolatry is radical self-harm (43). These first four chapters were very insightful, and his analysis deeply useful in challenging our own hearts. “It is God’s people who need the most warning against the dangers of idolatry and to be made aware of what they have been delivered from and should not go back to” (62).
I imagine that the second and third parts are where many will find the author going from preaching to meddling, and others will decry it as not going far enough. Wright takes on political idolatry, first by showing how God is not trapped within historical development, nor can God be identified with it (76). But rather, Yahweh orchestrates the rise and fall of nations, using other nations at critical moments. According to the author, the signs that a nation is approaching this critical moment of God’s judgment are when there is a legacy of historic and systemic violence, increasing poverty and inequality, dangerous forms of populism and nationalism, sexual confusion, family breakdown, ecological devastation, and war on truth (79-87). But what God desires for nations is modesty, integrity, and justice, from the leadership especially, but also in the led. Therefore, as he asserts, Yahweh will expose national idolatry, specifically the worship of prosperity, national pride, and self-exaltation. Then Wright announces, one major way God brings judgment on an idolatrous nation: “You get the government that mirrors the gods you worship” (108). In the final section of the book, the author lays out what Christians can and should do in an idolatrous environment. This section was the least satisfying to me.
I found “Here Are Your Gods” a richly beneficial read at so many levels. Wright’s exploration into idolatry, what it is, and the way it works into societies and social networks was enlightening. Even the portions I hated reading caused me to engage – even if argumentatively – the material and spend time questioning. Questioning not only the author, but my own heart, and our present geopolitical and national condition. I am haunted by his statement that “you get the government that mirrors the gods you worship.” Good God have mercy on us!
“Here Are Your Gods” should be in the hands of every pastor and Christian leader. It should be taken up, read, argued with, and prayed through by every Christian who dares to peruse its pages. It will challenge you, disappoint social activists and revolutionaries, anger nationalists, repulse the self-satisfied, but it will not leave you unchanged. I recommend the book.
My thanks to IVP Academic. I requested a copy of the book used in this review, and they sent it gladly, making no stipulations on me. Therefore, this evaluation was made freely, without any duress or hostage-taking.