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Identity and Idolatry
The image of God and its inversion
Richard Lints
172 page IVP, 2015

In the first chapter, Lints makes clear that this discussion about the imago Dei will not concern “human nature”, but rather is an “account about how life is lived as reflections of God and as reflected in our communal contexts” (24). “The imago Dei captures this transitory reality – as an image is contingent upon the object for its identity, so the imago Dei is contingent upon God for its identity” (29).

In this respect, Lints’ thesis matches closely with the aphorism of Beale’s title, “We Become What We Worship.”

Chapter 2, “A Strange Bridge” works out the concept of “image” in some detail. The last paragraph of the chapter has this wonderful sentence, “Image bearers are not intrinsically idolatrous though they are doxologically fragile” (42).

The next two chapters begin to work the biblical text in greater detail as it concerns “image.” Being made as the image of God, we are hardwired, if you will to reflect: “Humans are made in such a way as to yearn for something beyond themselves that grants them significance, most notably the God who made them as his image” (62).

This thread will be developed in the second half of the book, when Lints turns to the question of

There is profound irony in idolatry. Human beings will become conformed to what we worship — we are built to worship and reflect (which are aspects of the same process). Now an idol is an image created by human desire coupled with the promise of fulfillment:

It was because the fragility of the human heart disposed it to yearn for security on its own terms. This disposition was made all the more dangerous when it was underwritten with the power to create gods in their own imagination. This points at the reality that idolatry was not in the first instance a cognitive error (believing in other gods) but a fallacy of the heart (yearning for control) (86).

It is a god who can be controlled and made fulfill and meet the human desire: and yet, that desire cannot be met by the idol, because the cannot do anything. And since those who make idols “become like them” (Ps. 115:8; interesting that Lints does not interact with this verse and only once makes mention of the Psalm; however, the concept is everywhere present in his discussion of idolatry), the idol worshipper becomes captivated by and transformed in unfulfilled desire:

Paul is insistent that idols will not deliver on their promises. Instead they create consuming passions in which there is deliverance. This inverted state is surprising from one angle-how foolish humans are to suppose they can have a god on their own terms. And yet the inversion produces an entirely predictable consequence — abandoning God results in an identity crisis wherein one’s safety and significance become endlessly fragile (111).
Chapter 7, “The rise of suspicion: the religious criticism of religion” is a brilliant summation of 19th philosophy its critique of Christianity — a critique which still plays in the broader culture. I am honestly amazed at Lints ability to aptly and fairly summarize Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx, Freud and Nietzsche in such a small space.I have lectured on these most of these men and know who hard they are to summarize in any cogent and fair manner.

The final chapter is good solid advice for Christians.

There are enormous gaps in my discussion of this book — because I want you to buy it and use it.