Monday, May 14, 2012

Sin is Primarily Idolatry

Here's another great quote from the Tim Keller article Talking About Idolatry in a Postmodern Age. I posted previous quotes over the weekend, or you can read the whole thing at the link (which is my real intent for posting the excerpts):
...The biblical teaching about idolatry is particularly helpful for evangelism in a postmodern context. The typical way that Christians define sin is to say that it is breaking God’s law. Properly explained, of course, that is a good and sufficient definition. But the law of God includes both sins of omission and of commission, and it includes the attitudes of the heart as well as behavior. Those wrong attitudes and motivations are usually inordinate desires—forms of idolatry. However, when most listeners hear us define sin as “breaking God’s law” all the emphasis in their minds falls on the negative (sins of commission) and on the external (behaviors rather than attitudes.) There are significant reasons, then, that “law-breaking” isn’t the best way to first describe sin to postmodern listeners.

I ordinarily begin speaking about sin to a young, urban, non-Christian like this:

Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.

Why is this a good path to take?

First, this definition of sin includes a group of people that postmodern people are acutely aware of. Postmodern people rightly believe that much harm has been done by self-righteous religious people. If we say “sin is breaking God’s law” without a great deal of further explanation, it appears that the Pharisaical people they have known are ‘in’ and most other people are ‘out.’ Pharisees, of course, are quite fastidious in their keeping of the moral law, and therefore (to the hearer) they seem to be the very essence of what a Christian should be. An emphasis on idolatry avoids this problem. As Luther points out, Pharisees, while not bowing to literal idols, were looking to themselves and their moral goodness for their justification, and therefore they were actually breaking the first commandment. Their morality was self-justifying motivation and therefore spiritually pathological. At the bottom of all their law-keeping they were actually breaking the most fundamental law of all. When we give definitions and descriptions of sin to postmodern people, we must do so in a way that not only challenges prostitutes to change but also Pharisees.

There is another reason we need a different definition of sin for postmodern people. They are relativists, and the moment you say, “Sin is breaking God’s moral standards,” they will retort, “Well, who is to say whose moral standards are right? Everyone has different ones! What makes Christians think that theirs are the only right set of moral standards?” The usual way to respond to this is to become sidetracked from your presentation of sin and grace into an apologetic discussion about relativism. Of course, postmodern people must be strongly challenged about their mushy view of truth, but I think there is a way to move forward and actually make a credible and convicting gospel presentation before you get into the apologetic issues. I do it this way, I take a page from Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death and I define sin as building your identity—your self-worth and happiness—on anything other than God. Instead of telling them they are sinning because they are sleeping with their girlfriends or boyfriends, I tell them that they are sinning because they are looking to their careers and romances to save them, to give them everything that they should be looking for in God. This idolatry leads to drivenness, addictions, severe anxiety, obsessiveness, envy of others, and resentment.

I have found that when you describe their lives in terms of idolatry, postmodern people do not offer much resistance... 
 More to come tomorrow.