It all started with an e-mail I received one day—“See the latest deals on our new line of laptops!” With just one click of the mouse I was transported to the website of one of the leading computer retailers. The minutes quickly ticked by as I sat there dreaming of owning a more powerful machine, pondering any way that I could afford it, and contemplating the reason I would give my wife for such a “necessary” upgrade. What started as mere curiosity soon led to a disturbing amount of discontentment with the perfectly good computer I already had. Without even realizing it my heart had turned that advertisement into a full blown idol.
Greg Dutcher’s You Are the Treasure That I Seek serves to awaken us to the sobering reality that idolatry is very much alive and well in American Christianity, and indeed in our own hearts. “Idolatry is an old-fashioned word, consigned to social studies classes and Clive Cussler novels. But what if it’s alive and well, even in America? What if it’s a problem of such epidemic proportions that our unawareness of it is only making it worse?” (p. 16). Dutcher warns that to the extent that we have relegated idolatry to the jungles of Africa we have been deceived and have had our concept of idolatry shaped more by Indiana Jones than by Jesus and Paul. Written on more of a popular level, the book is a fairly quick read, although the subject matter and format (including a study guide with application questions at the end of each chapter) lend to a more thoughtful study of the book.
In the opening chapter of his epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul tells us that “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom 1:21–23). Dutcher identifies the essence of idolatry in that one little word in verse twenty-three—exchanged. He writes,
Humanity’s illness is the idolatry syndrome. We were infected when our first parents considered a piece of fruit sweeter than fellowship with God. We were ruined when they deemed the word of a snake better than the promise of ‘a God who cannot lie’ (Titus 1:2). They compared. They calculated. They traded in God for a ‘better model.’ We’ve been doomed ever since. (p. 30)
After identifying the essence of idolatry, You Are the Treasure That I Seek demonstrates the reality of idolatry in America, and even more disturbingly, in our own hearts. Commenting on Ezekiel 14:1–6, Dutcher writes: “The prophet’s observation was not based on surveying hillsides, but hearts. ‘These men have set up idols in their hearts,’ he says. Think about that statement. We don’t need to travel to distant jungles to find a place where idolatry is practiced; idolatry is going on inside of us” (p. 50). And the real danger, we are warned, is that the heart can make idols out of anything, even the good things of life (pp. 62–63). Finally, the book rightfully points us to Christ as the only real solution for the terrible bondage of idolatry.
Being enamored with Christ is the best offensive weapon against idolatry. When idols call for our attention, we should flee, yes, but in fleeing we need to ask God to show us the excellencies of the Savior. Hearts that cherish, trust, or fear Jesus more than anything else prove to be barren soil for idols. Counterfeit saviors cannot grow in soil that has been reserved for Christ alone. (p. 97)
While the book was written from a solid exegetical and theological foundation, I wished, as a pastor, that I could see more of that foundation. Obviously one of the strengths of the book was its clarity and concise format. The book’s brevity might have been sacrificed if much more was added, so perhaps I am found wanting to have my cake and eat it too. Especially significant for me in this regard was the brevity of the concluding chapter of the book. Dutcher rightly points us to beholding Christ as the cure for an idolatrous heart, yet gives only six pages to this important chapter. Granted, the second appendix, “A First-Aid Kit for Recovering Idolaters,” serves to supplement this chapter with dozens of Scripture passages and powerful quotes lifting up Christ and the cross, but it seems to me that it would have been better to have taken this material and worked it into a couple more chapters instead of relegating it to an appendix. Too often appendices are ignored or skimmed (something one would be wise not to do in the case of this book). Some of the most significant material in this book is in jeopardy of being neglected or slighted.
Perhaps the greatest value of the book lies in its excellent illustrations and applications. Dutcher is a gifted writer and it is evident he has carefully thought through this subject and worked hard to present it clearly and apply it well. Every pastor ought to deal with the subject of idolatry at some point, and any who do would be wise to get this book, if for nothing more than to see the subject illustrated well and applied effectively. The case studies at the end of the book particularly serve to flesh out this issue and bring the reality of the presence of idolatry much closer to home, helping us to see that idolatry need not be a little golden statue but can come in the form of hardwood floors or even text messaging.
Dutcher quotes extensively from many evangelical authors and theologians of a more Reformed persuasion, but most of the quotes are well chosen, serve to strengthen his case, and tie his work to a fairly solid theological tradition, even if we might object to a few of these authors at some level—particularly in their praxis. Many other quotations are from secular culture such as Oscar Wilde, the rock band Linkin Park, and The Godfather. These references might bother some Fundamentalist readers. While these often serve well to illustrate the devastating reality of idolatry in modern society, they also suggest an excessive level of familiarity with culture—one consistent with the broader evangelical approach of cultural immersion in order to reach society (as opposed to the more guarded approach toward the problematic elements in culture that characterizes—rightly in my opinion—much of Fundamentalism).
This approach to culture would probably be my only frustration with the book. Its clarity and concise nature lend it well to a Bible study or Sunday School class, yet the repeated references to some problematic elements of the world in which we live could undercut our efforts to call our people away from worldliness toward a holy life.
All in all, You Are the Treasure That I Seek is a solid work of biblical and theological teaching and is one of the better works out there on a subject that every pastor’s teaching ministry should include and that no serious Christian should neglect. Dutcher’s illustrations, case studies, and applications are especially valuable and provide substantial help to anyone teaching on this subject.
Idolatry is a real problem in America today and to the extent that we ignore that fact we are much more susceptible to letting it take up residence in our hearts and homes. Greg Dutcher has provided a valuable resource for us to address this issue on a level that should benefit nearly all in our churches. While some may think it wise to include a couple of disclaimers when using the book with less discerning members of their churches, it has considerable value and will greatly benefit all who give it serious study.