Tim Keller on The 3 Biggest Idols In Western Churches Today

What idols are plaguing the western church today?

Tim Keller sat down with Jefferson Bethke way back when to discuss the idols that are most prominent in western churches. You can watch the full video here, or you can just read below to gather Tim’s thoughts.

In Keller’s eyes, here are the three biggest idols in western churches today, followed up with secondary points that Keller includes:

1) Experience. 

  • Instead of looking to the Word of God to be their norm and their guide, people tend to look to their own experience, feelings, intuitions, and impressions to be their guide.
  • This is part of American individualism.
  • Emotion and expression are very good, but when you make it more important than the Word of God, or put it higher than the Word of God, it becomes an idol.

2) Doctrine.

  • This might surprise some people that I say this.
  • But I do think some people make an idol out of doctrine.
  • There are some sectors of the church that say if you have your doctrine straight, and if you have your doctrine right, then you’re pleasing to God.
  • If you have your doctrine right, they say, then you are part of the solution, not the problem: you’re not heretical like everyone else.
  • There is a pride and a smugness about having good doctrine that, to me, almost puts it into the place of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

3) Consumerism. 

  • Instead of looking to the church to give themselves into community, people look to the church to get the services they want.
  • They have emotional, vocational, and relational needs and they go to a church because it is a good place to network.
  • People see the church as a mall, rather than a family that they give themselves to.
  • Consumerism becomes the idol — that is, my felt needs become an idol; they are more important than being apart of a community.

From Keller’s point of view, these idols are the ones that are most prominent. But this is not the consensus — not every church struggles with the same idol in the same way. Keller adds, “These idols don’t exist equally across the whole church. Certain sectors of the church struggle more than others, but these idols are all there, and they hurt us quite a bit.”

Idols can’t just be removed; they must be replaced. As Keller points out so well in his outstanding book, Counterfeit Gods, if we don’t replace an idol with the gospel, another idol will grow. And by God’s grace, if we’d all just recognize, remove, and replace these idols, our churches would be much better off.

Post your comments below.

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18 thoughts on “Tim Keller on The 3 Biggest Idols In Western Churches Today

  1. 1 Thessalonians 1:9 “For they are reporting about us, what kind of entrance we had toward you, and how you turned toward God from the idols, to be slaving to a living and true God.” Surely slaving to the living and true God beats idol worship any day! And they became this way because of the gospel, as you say. God’s choice of them was also involved. ” . . . having perceived, brothers loved by God, his choice of you, it being that our good message came to you not in word only, but in power, and in holy spirit, and in much assurance, according as you have perceived what we became among you, because of you.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4,5) Similarly in Corinth, “And my word and proclamation were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of spirit and power, that your belief may be not in wisdom of humans, but in power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4,5)

    As Paul said five or six times in his letters, “All is out of God.” Here we see it portrayed. God chose the the believers. God sent Paul. God gave the word. God gave the power, the holy spirit, and the assurance to the believers. Enjoying the power and holy spirit of God, of course they turned from the idols. There’s no comparison between the two! I have to say, God saves from idol worship, and he does it through these means, by his grace, as you said.

  2. I am not familiar with this writer, but this is very well known, but is anyone in the church hearing? Probably not. People, not necessarily believers, like it that way…having one foot in the world and one in the church. End times…

  3. Thanks for liking my post on. Best Ressurection Sunday.. I visited your blog and enjoyed reading the articles by Keller. Thanks for putting this information out there! Very important!

  4. What about the idol of “peace”? How many times have we heard “I have peace”? Why do we use “peace” as a standard for decision making or using peace as an indicator that we have heard from God? I’m not down playing the importance of peace. I’m asking is it possible for us to be crafting God into our image (idolatry) when we use an attribute of His as qualifier instead of using Him as the qualifier?

    1. Hi, John. Guess I’ve never thought of it that way. I see what you’re saying: Subjective feelings shouldn’t be our guide, the Bible should be. Keller once said that he didn’t really feel that much peace about planting a church in NY and he still did it. That turned out okay. 🙂

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