GODS AT WAR: DEFEATING THE IDOLS THAT BATTLE FOR YOUR HEART by Kyle Idleman
I will divide this review into three parts: the theological, the descriptive, and the remedial.
With respect to the author, he has not defined idolatry correctly, as in the true Biblical use of the word.
In Scripture idolatry is always used in the context of defining the deliberate, conscious and sinful worship of something other than the Lord. The Second Commandment of the Ten states this clearly, and throughout the Old Testament the term is always and only applied in this way.
What the author has done is to stretch the definition of idolatry to cover anything that assumes more importance in a person’s life than the Lord does.
This however does not make a person an idolater. What has happened is that they have become addicted to something. That person may still go to church and do all the Christian duties they did as sincerely as before the interest or fascination became an addiction. Stealing, for example, is sinful but does not make one an idolater; and full-blown kleptomania is an obsession or addiction. In my view, the author should rather say that the obsessive pursuit of sex, for example, is like an idol, using the term in the more correct metaphorical sense. We read of an example of this in 2 Samuel Ch.13 v.2, where it describes how Amnon, son of King David, had an obsession for Tamar, his half sister. It is not in any way described as idolatry.
What of the role of conscience? A Christian’s conscience can become “seared”, i.e deadened by repeated sin, so that it’s promptings are no longer heard. Such a person is in a desperate moral and spiritual condition, but is not therefore an idolater.
The author lists several “gods” in the book. In discussing them he is merely discussing three of the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, and pride. His book could be entitled, “ Don’t let the pursuit of the deadly sins become addictions”, for example. But would it still have the dramatic appeal? My point here is simply to caution readers to examine what is in the package, as it were, and not to be overly taken with the packaging itself. Theologically speaking, this book is not saying anything new: it just presents age-old sins and their consequences in a dramatic new way.
The author is a good descriptive writer. He has a happy knack of using contemporary, hip terminology to describe the well-known process of becoming addicted: from interest to fascination to obsession to addiction.
He borrows, for example, a term from the language of economics to describe the process of needing increasingly stronger stimuli to gain the same amount of gratification as “ the law of diminishing marginal returns.” This is good use of contemporary language.
My theological objections aside, he also employs Scripture well. A case in point is that of King Solomon, who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes as a disillusioned, world-weary old man who had seen it all, done it all, and at the end could only describe it all as futile. “Vanity” is the term the Bible often uses. Solomon, as the author points out, sought pleasure in various ways: fleshly, intellectual, academic, and creative. The early chapters of Ecclesiastes describe this in detail.
The author describes all Solomon did as trying to find fulfilment on earth “in the sideshow of amusement, achievement and pleasure” (p.120), instead of in trying to please his Lord. This is clear thinking expressed is terms we can all understand.
The author does not leave us without solutions. He rightly quotes the central Biblical remedy, or rather preventative, to any form of sin or addiction: “ Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs Ch.4 v.23. He also reminds us of St. Paul’s words: ‘We take every thought captive for Christ.”- 2 Corinthians Ch. 10 v.5. As we know, our minds are the battleground.
He concludes by stating, “ Jesus is our satisfaction. We defeat idols not by removing them but by replacing them with Him.” Good counsel, and as a pastor himself of many years’ experience, Kyle Idleman knows that this is the only effective and Biblical remedy for addiction, or, as he terms it, idolatry.
In conclusion, I would give this book a 7 out of 10. It is worth buying only if you have, or know someone who has a serious problem with persistent sinful thought patterns or behaviour.
In closing I want to record my thanks to my brother in Christ and friend Raphael Gamaroff, who is a far better theologian than I will ever be and who brought clear insights in analysing the theological departure points of this book.