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Idols of the Heart Review

March 7, 2012

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Idols of Another Kind

The country in which I live takes great pride in one little phrase, “freedom of religion.” America’s founding documents protect her citizens from compulsory worship. The government does not dictate to its citizens what worship is appropriate or inappropriate, when worship occurs, or who (or what) is worthy of our worship. Citizens are free to not attend worship of any kind, if they so choose. Some people even choose to deny the existence of deity at all, and do so without fear of repercussion.

We wonder in disbelief as citizens of foreign lands prostrate themselves before golden statues or make offerings to strange-looking goddesses. “Can’t they see it’s just a statue?” we wonder. What few understand, however, is that, while we may not bow to a statue, our hearts are taken with insidious idols of all kinds.

It was during a 12-day trip to the Orient that author Elyse Fitzpatrick witnessed blatant idolatry. That experience became the impetus for her book, Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone. She teaches that idolatry is not so much an outward act, but the root of all sin springing from our hearts. God has commanded that we have no other gods before Him. Our enjoyment of God hinges on how we go about identifying our sins and grinding out our root idols.

Fitzpatrick writes, “This book is written for those of you who desire to live a godly life and yet find yourself in a recurrently disappointing struggle against habitual sin. This book is written for you who find yourself constantly tripping over the same bad habit, the same embarrassing weakness, the same sinful slavery that you hoped to be free of years ago. In this book you’ll learn that idolatry lies at the heart of every besetting sin that we struggle with.”

A Functional Idolater

Fitzpatrick begins each chapter by providing helpful character studies of various people in the Bible, people who either were or were not bound by idolatry: Rachel, Martha, Abraham, Eli, Lot’s wife, Eve, Josiah, and Jesus, to name a few. Through these character sketches, she explains what idolatry is, what it isn’t, how to recognize it, and what to do about it.

No two people will create the same idol for the same reason, so how does one know when she is worshiping an idol? Fitzpatrick offers a helpful principle: “If you’re willing to sin to obtain your goal or if you sin when you don’t get what you want, then your desire has taken God’s place and you’re functioning as an idolater.” In addition to a few guiding principles, Fitzpatrick assists her readers toward an understanding of the roles our minds, hearts, wills, and emotions play when it comes to sin and its defeat.

While we do have work to do in the tearing down of our idols, Fitzpatrick is faithful to what Scripture teaches regarding the sovereign rule of God over our hearts. Indeed, we would have no hope were it not for the work He has already performed for us. And a knowledge of what He has already done makes us certain that He will be faithful to finish His work in us. Though she doesn’t always use the terms, Fitzpatrick gently guides her readers to understand several key doctrines: salvation, repentance, substitutionary atonement, double imputation, and sanctification. The absence of these truths is what is missing in the most popular books regarding freedom from sin.

Progressive Sanctification

Each chapter ends with questions for further thinking and self-evaluation. The questions are designed to help readers identify their idols and apply God’s Word. Each one moves the reader along to practicing the process of sanctification, putting off sinful thoughts, desires, etc., submitting our hearts to God’s holy Word, and putting on righteousness (following through with a righteous act in opposition to the sinful one). One principle I learned is that my repentance is not complete until I have followed through with a specific “put on” action.

There are many aspects of this book that I appreciate. It includes three helpful appendices (“Discovering Sinful Patterns and False Gods,” “What It Means to be Legalistic,” and “How Can You Know If You Are a Christian”), extensive notes, and a Scripture index.

Obviously, Elyse Fitzpatrick is a woman. She writes like a woman who cares for women. She understands our fears and insecurities, why we hold on to the things we do, how we can be overly emotional about life and children, and what lengths we'll go to achieve happiness. As a woman of God, she understands our even deeper need to find our greatest joy and satisfaction in God alone. She writes, “Learning to take great delight and joy in God is the strongest deterrent to idolatry.” I heartily recommend this book to any woman or man who desires to make God their never-ending joy and great delight!

Note: This review was first published at the Discerning Reader book review site. It is re-posted at the BCC with permission of Discerning Reader and Leslie Wiggins. You can read the original post here