Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We Become What We Worship by G. K. Beale

It is always a great joy to find books in the mailbox, but today I was especially pleased. I received from InterVarsity Press the following title:

G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (October 2008). Paperback, 341 pages. List: $26.00

I was heading out to a conference meeting when I found this book in the mailbox, so I took it along with me. I couldn't resist reading it along the way, as I could find opportunity to steal glances. I have now finished the Preface and Conclusion.

The Preface explains the title which is intentional, but could be misunderstood. Beale states that "The title We Become What We Worship is a metaphor, which is an implied simile, omitting the word like.... The point of the figuratively omitting the word like is to emphasize that the worshiper reflects some of the important qualities or attributes of the object of worship" (p. 12).

Beale also states that his hope is "that the biblical-theological perspective of this book will provide greater fuel to fire the church's motivation not to become conformed to the idols that surround it in order better to fulfill its mission to the world, which is to proclaim that people need to be conformed to Christ's image for the greater glory of God" (p. 12).

This caused me to want to know how he would conclude this study, so I did what my teachers told me never to do: I read the Conclusion first. As a reviewer, I have learned that clearly identifying the purpose of a book helps you move through the lines of argumentation with greater ease and speed. Sometimes you learn all you need to know about the book for the time being (or for good). Remember, books are servants, not masters. Readers ought not allow themselves to be enslaved to a book (particularly non-fiction).

Beale's Conclusion (pp. 284-311) is subtitled "So What Difference Does It Make?" Throughout this heart-probing chapter, Beale repeats the primary theme of this book: "people resemble what they revere, either for ruin or restoration." Beale moves from material to immaterial idols; from the entire cosmos and each of its individual parts (sun, moon, stars, trees, animals, etc.), to traditions, false teachings, fascination with "things upon the earth", self (ego), media, etc. He spends a lot of time on self-idolatry because of its pervasiveness and our difficulty with identifying it. He quotes Eugene Peterson who wrote in an article for Christianity Today, "One way to define spiritual life is getting so tired and fed up with yourself you go on to something better, which is following Jesus" and "we want to get people bored with themselves so they can start looking at Jesus" (p. 295). I love those quotes.

With regard to media Beale draws the following applications:
Many Christians watch television, and many watch it when they want to sit back and relax and not have to use their minds much. This can certainly be a form of relaxation, but it can also become an uncritical openness to the media's worldview. Subtly, unconsciously, we absorb this worldview by a kind of mental osmosis. And what is the typical TV worldview? It is a worldview with little to no awareness of, or sensitivity to, God's working in everyday life, in the details of our life.
This absence of God in mainstream media should alert us to the fact that when we uncritically leave ourselves open to the perspective of the media's worldview, then, slowly but surely, it leads us to cease thinking of the things of the Lord in the details of our everyday life.... I would dare say that many Christians have been more influenced by the media than they would admit. The media's worldview has subtly become an idol we easily reflect. And that mindset...can destroy us. What we revere we resemble, either for ruin or restoration. (p. 299)
Beale closes this book with a word of prayer. Here is the first petition:
... And so Lord, cause us to revere you so we resemble you and are blessed and restored to you, and not ruined ...
This book is going to the top of my reading list. I hope that this intro will help you as you consider adding it to your library.