The Idolatry Syndrome

“Cursed is the man who carves an image or casts an idol- a thing detestable to the LORD, the work of the craftsman’s hands – and sets it up in secret. Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!'”

– Deuteronomy 27:15 (ESV)


“I wonder how things might radically change in our churches if we became convinced that idolatry was our greatest problem.”

– Greg Dutcher


What do you think of when you hear the term “idol” ? The TV show ‘American Idol’ ? The golden calf that Moses was horrified to find in the book of Exodus ? In his new book, Greg Dutcher sets out to explain exactly what idols really are and why they are so harmful to who we are in Christ. He is the Pastor at Christ Fellowship Church in Fallston, MD and the book is titled You Are the Treasure That I Seek…But There’s a Lot of Cool Stuff Out There, Lord and from that title on, Pastor Greg helps us see idolatry for what it really is.

R.C. Sproul said once that, “The only reason the gospel comes to me as good news is because I’ve already heard the bad news !” Pastor Greg takes a similar stance as he opens his book with the underlying cause of why we are so prone to idolatry: “What is true of the human body proves true of the human spirit as well. Despite a healthy outward appearance, our hearts are slowly dying as a spiritual sickness works to bring about our demise” (p.23). That sickness began in Genesis 3 and is fully detailed in Romans 1:22-23 – “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” And it is that exchange that brings about what Pastor Greg calls the “idolatry syndrome”. In short, this syndrome occurs when we prize anything over the glory of God. What we’re left with is one inadequate substitute for God after another.

Pastor Greg gives some examples of how we can test this in our own lives. Do we drag ourselves through the day just by knowing that we can come home and down a pint of ice cream while watching TV all night ? In my own case I know I’ve been guilty of it, particularly at this time of year – looking forward to the weekend just so I can settle in for hours to watch football. Are those things our true treasures ? Then we are placing our trust in something else to sustain us rather than God. And this is a key argument of the book – idolatry doesn’t necessarily show itself as a golden calf or a wooden statue. It’s often much more subtle than that. Pastor Greg calls it a “stealthy hunter”. We’re then more prone to think that our exchange is far less evil, since food or TV or football doesn’t sound as blatant as bowing to a statue. But compare what we have exchanged to what Christ exchanged for us at the cross, as Paul explains in Philippians 2:5-8:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

How much more foolish does our daily exchange for lesser things look in light of these verses from Philippians ?

Pastor Greg is a gifted writer and does a wonderful job of showing idolatry syndrome for what it really is, and what it costs us each day that we are filled with it. I love that his book is packed with Scripture references and he takes great pains to continually show the reader the beauty that idols can never provide, which is found only in Christ. I also like that he spends a good deal of time focusing on the Cross. He also gives us practical ways to fight off this syndrome each day, by using prayers from saints of the past and present and quotations from other authors and church fathers as well. Recommendations of books that will help us cherish Christ are given in an appendix, and his “case studies” at the end of the book are terrific.

I hope this is the first in a long line of books from Pastor Greg. If you’re convinced you already have a good handle on what idolatry really is, you might want to think again and pick up this book. I recommend it highly.


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