Monday, December 8, 2008

Book Review: We Become What We Worship by G. K. Beale

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

ISBNs: 083082877X / 9780830828777

Reviewed by David Wenkel, who was one of our first book giveaway winners here at TheoSource.

We Become What We Worship by G. K. Beale presents the simple thesis that “what people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” This is not to say that we eventually become either a god or a physical object. As Beale points out, the title of the book really is designed to lead the reader to the conclusion: we become like what we worship. That is to say, in some manner we take on the nature of the things to which we commit ourselves.

The thesis is then developed into a biblical theology which Beale defines as discerning “the interpretive links between passages that are clearly literarily linked (such as quotations in the New Testament).” Thus, this book is as much as study of intertextuality as it is idolatry. He defines his overall approach as a combination of traditional grammatical-historical exegesis and canonical-contextual exegesis (intertextuality). The texts he focuses on include Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Acts, Romans and Revelation. The origin of his thesis is derived from his exegesis of Isaiah 6.

Beale states that the intended audience ranges from lay-people to graduate students in theology. I think the scale tips in favor of students because of the footnotes, sporadic use of technical terms and occasional use of Greek. The book is large and somewhat intimidating but the simple thesis drives each chapter. The thesis as stated above is repeated often and the reader is able to see that all of Beale's logic and exegesis is intended to point to this conclusion. If the reader feels lost or confused about any particular point, he should be able to continue on because he knows where the flow of argumentation is going.

One of the most interesting dimensions of this study is how important Israel's “primal act” of idolatry with the golden calf is for understanding salvation history. The act of worshiping the golden calf and consequently becoming like stubborn heifers gets recapitulated through 2 Kings, Hosea, 1 Corinthians, etc. There is a certain spiritual union that takes place when one devotes himself to worship: this can be for ruin or restoration. Beale's data is admittedly speculative in a couple areas but the Scriptural data used to support his thesis is very strong: those who worship idols of beasts take on the attributes of beasts.

I felt confident recommending this book to one of the pastors at my own church chiefly because each chapter quotes a large portion of Scripture. This will enable the reader to engage the book both devotionally and academically. Those who want to reflect on Beale's thesis can read the biblical text being considered. Those who want to pause and reflect on their own walk of faith in light of the biblical text can do so as well. Those who are looking for a complementary volume will also enjoy Raymond Ortlund's God's Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery (2002).

David Wenkel (ThM, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is currently serving as a part-time minister at Winnetka Bible Church (Winnetka, IL) and has recently begun work on a PhD in New Testament through a partnership between the University of Aberdeen and the Highland Theological College (Scotland).