Postmodern Idolatry

Does God do what is right, or is it right because God does it?

Many think God is subservient or subject to external standards – that He does what is right because there is a higher moral code that even He obeys.

This denies God’s sovereignty, and as a result many today seek to hold Him to the standard of their own sense of right and wrong.

Scripture says otherwise. What is right and what is wrong is defined by His very nature – “Be holy for I am holy”.

For the theologians among us, ethics (what is right and wrong) and epistemology (what is true) proceed from ontology (God’s very being or nature), and not ontology from ethics and epistemology.

When we project our own notions of love, mercy, grace, justice, right and wrong – and even truth – on the Lord, we are engaged in idolatry. We are setting our own sensibilities up against God and His authoritative self revelation of scripture.

I seek Christ, and Christ alone, as He has revealed and interpreted Himself to us in scripture – both Old and New Testament. As such, I refuse to impose on Him my own sensibilities, but rather allow my sensibilities to conform to His nature as revealed in His Word – which then becomes alive in me through the Holy Spirit.

I set nothing up against Him and His authoritative, external self revelation – not even my own subjective perceptions of Him, because my subjective perceptions will always be colored by my own sensibilities.

I submit to all of Christ – even the stuff that makes me queasy like ultimate judgment, punishment and moral accountability – rather than deny that those also are part of His nature as revealed in scripture.

Yesterday was Reformation Day, which is the anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses that challenged the prevailing idolatrous sensibilities of his day – and the resulting doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic church.

I like what he said when told to recant:

My conscience is captive to the Word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Therefore, I cannot and will not recant. Here I stand, I can do no other.

Luther recognized the role of conscience – our own internal sense of right and wrong. But for Him, it must be “captive to the Word of God.” Only then do we have the courage and authority to stand against the pressure to conform to the dictates and sensibilities of prevailing religious and cultural idolatries.

Like Luther, we must let our conscience be captive to the Word of God as we proclaim Christ in the midst of the intrenched idolatries of our day.

Today, the prevailing religious and cultural idolatries we face are postmodern notions of love, mercy, grace, justice, right and wrong – and even truth – which many now seek to impose on the Lord and His Word.

Their doctrines and practices are more motivated by postmodern notions inherited from the prevailing sensibilities of our age, than by Christ’s true nature and His authoritative self-revelation in scripture.

That may shock you, because many think the big problem today is institutional religion. But that’s so yesterday!

The challenge we now face are those – often in reaction to the problems of institutional religion – who want to conform Christ and His Word (often by denying it’s even His Word) to their postmodern sensibilities. As they’ve foisted their unbiblical postmodern notions on the Body of Christ and dissed those who do not likewise conform, they have become every bit as legalistic – and dangerous – as the institutional church.

As for me? Here I stand – I can do no other – secure and confident in Christ and the authority of His Word as I go and proclaim Him, in all His authentic fulness, to a waiting world.

There we find life…

There we find the dynamic authority that’s ours in Christ…

There we see transform in our lives, the lives of others, and in our culture as His Kingdom truly advances.

~ Jim


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18 responses

  1. Well discerned, conceived and expressed. Egocentric by nature, we believe our own existential experience is the only reality and seek to impose it on all others, including God. This is the root of many false ideas within the church, both traditional, missional or historic tangents and movements. We read our own ideas about reality into the scripture and as Peter said at the end of his 2nd book, we torture the scripture to make them say what we want. Luther finally rejected the traditions he had been taught and allowed the scriptures to speak to his conscience, “reprogramming” his belief system to align with them. He submitted his beliefs to the theocentric word and in doing so saw the truths that initiated the Reformation. Thanks!


  2. Sounds very sensible. Sometimes you are a bit too theological and detailed and I have to read twice, but mostly I think I like your posts. I am in a very different environment from yours but it is interesting to follow your lives. Wathcing, for the moment, standby…


  3. Well said Jim! Freedom in Christ does not mean that we have the freedom to re-create Him in our own image! The Jesus of the Scriptures is the only legitimate Christ…not one created to reflect our specific comfort zones.

    He was the expressed image of the Father then…and is the same today!

    To detach our view of Jesus from the Written Word is to invite theological chaos and create a false god. That may be convenient…but it is not Biblical Christianity!


  4. I also take who God is from what he says about himself, which just so happens doesn’t line up with what most christians preach about Him. God has been twisted into the churchs image in order to control with fear amongst other things.
    That said, for the most part believers participate in this nonsense unintentionally, thinking they are being true to scripture even against their natural reasoning.


    • God uses our natural reasoning (which is part of His likeness which He created in us) and also the sense of the Holy Spirit speaking to us, to alert us when someone’s claim about “the Bible this” or “the Bible that” is wrong. I know that’s often been the case with me. When that happens, the warning in my reason and in my spirit drive me to dig deeper into understanding what scripture really says, and what the Lord has really revealed there. There have been times when I can’t come to immediate resolution, and so I simply have to trust and obey based on what I do see in scripture – and then later on in His timing He will provide the missing piece in my Biblical understanding that ties it all together.

      In addition, by being created in God’s likeness we also have a conscience with an innate sense of right and wrong. Paul said in Rom. 1 that we are all held to account – even those who have never heard of Christ – for “what can be known” about God due to that innate sense and also what we can see in creation. He then says that when those who have never heard of Christ disobey even the limited things that “can be known” about God and what is right apart from specific revelation, then they condemn themselves and thus they have no grounds to protest about not having heard of Christ.

      So there is a basic level of knowledge that is innate in all individuals as part of our conscience and that is evident in creation itself – but it is never presented as sufficient to fully know God and know about Him apart from His more complete, direct revelation in scripture.

      Thus, Luther (as mentioned in my blog), said that he was acting in accord with his conscience as shaped by the Word of God when he refused to recant. He didn’t deny the moral authority of his conscience, but acknowledged that even it ultimately is subject to scripture on matters – like those addressed in his 95 Theses – where God has spoken in scripture.

      C.S. Lewis did a good job in talking about the basic moral code innate in all people in his book, The Abolition of Man.


  5. Was it you who directed us to Greg Boyd’s sermon, “From Shadow to Reality in Christ”? ( I find it fascinating to have the argument that the shadow of the New Covenant was not a vague version but a “negative outline” of the reality and that we should take our picture of God entirely from what we see of Jesus Christ! That solves for me the confusion of “mushing together” both Testaments in defining God while still accepting the inspiration of Scripture.
    As a Christian…a follower of Christ…I like the idea that ALL that can be known of God is shown in Jesus. It eliminates the gymnastics of justifying the pictures in the OT. I didn’t absorb all the fine points of his sermon…he is not your typical quick-20-minutes preacher anymore than his very fine print books are easy reads…but I need to listen again. It rang true to my ear in the first hearing, anyway.


  6. I was interested to read this article. I have only two problems with it:
    1. The notion of what is right and what is wrong stems from the fall when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
    2. It also stems from the argument from our theological position. Is Calvin, Luther or Arminius correct? don’t forget, Calvin and Luther became bigots, killing fellow Christians because they disagreed with them.


    • Hmmm… The very postmodern “trees” argument. See my related blog:

      Yes, Luther, Calvin et al have blood on their hands. I condemn them for that. But I have also learned from history to discern what is good, and reject what is bad, even with deeply flawed human vessels.

      It really bothers me about some of the violence and coercion associated with the reformation – on both sides. I don’t want to appear to minimize those aspects of what happened. But I also don’t want to minimize some of the good that came out of the reformation. How to reconcile those two realities, however, is difficult if not impossible. But then, history is never unambiguous.


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  12. When i try to pursue absolute truth as a separate entity, thereby excluding my personal experience, i am dangerously splitting myself off and arriving at a half-truth at best, because i am part of truth, since i exist (hello). On Judgment day, God will judge me not His Word, and what will he judge about me? My experiential knowledge and application of his Truth. “I never knew you. (You never knew me.)” “You obeyed my commands.”


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