By Stephen W. Hiemstra
The postmodern era is rife with religious alternatives. In my hometown of Centreville, Virginia, we have several Hindu temples, several nearby Mosques, and, being near Washington DC, we have many devoutly secular people. It is still true, however, that most Americans still identify themselves as Christians.
Changing Christian Identity
Three out of four Americans have some Christian background, but only two in five Christians actively practice their faith. The good news is that the share of Christians who practice their faith has remained relatively stable over the generations. The decline in the share of nominal Christians, however, normally dominates the headlines. (Kinnamen and Lyon 2016, 27, 224)
Role of Faith
In her book, Anne Graham Lotz (2009, 1-2) recalls a story of a conversation that her mother, Ruth Graham, had with the former head of Scotland Yard. She suggested that he must have handled a lot of the counterfeit money over the years. He responded: “On the contrary, Mrs. Graham, I spend all my time studying the genuine thing. That way, when I see a counterfeit, I can immediately detect it.”
While most discussions of faith focus on its content and outward practice, it is helpful to view faith in terms of priorities. Citing Bruce Leafbald,1 Giglio (2003, 117) defines true worship as: “centering our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection on the Lord.” What do we really worship? Giglio (2003, 13) writes: “follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your loyalty … [that] is what you [really] worship.” As the First Commandment reads: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exod 20:3)
If God is truly the first priority in your life, your faith becomes the denominator against which all other activities in life are measured. In money terms, its like the gold standard of the nineteenth century—all prices were measured in terms of the amount of gold required to make a purchase.
Idolatry as a False Priority
The Bible pictures idols as graven images or statutes, as when we read:
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” (Ps 115:3-8)
But this view of idolatry is less helpful than to view idolatry as misplaced priorities. If something other than God is our first priority, then it is like trying to do business with counterfeit money—you may be able to fool a few people but pretty soon it will catch up to you. Idols invariably break.
What happens, for example, if your work is your number one priority and you become unemployed? Or if the spouse that you worship seeks a divorce? When you loose your job or your spouse that has been your idol, then you have lost not only your employment or spouse, but also your god. Idol destruction brings on an “existential crisis” accompanied by anxiety, depression, and potentially suicide, because the denominator that you measured everything else by now needs to be replaced.
Today’s Spiritual Crisis
The spiritual wanderlust that America is experiencing today starts with misplaced priorities—idolatry. Idol crashing creates a spiritual vacuum that may be filled by an infinite number of substitutes, but because we are created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), these idols cannot bring peace. Only God can fill this vacuum.
Giglio, Louis. 2003. The Air I Breathe. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Publishers.
Kinnaman, David and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.
Lotz, Anne Graham. 2009. Just Give Me Jesus. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
1 Course entitled: “Introduction to Church Music”, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1983. (Gigilio 2003, 140)
God is My Denominator
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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.
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