Idolatry & the Crisis of Being

My previous post, A Lifetime of Habits, arose out of an initial reflection on Peter Enns’ blog post about some recent statements by American pastor Timothy Keller. While those statements were most specifically related to Keller’s views on sexuality, they allude to a much more important question: how do we believe?

Most fascinating in Keller’s perspective is the acknowledgment that a shift in belief on issues such as human sexuality would demand a complete dis-assembly of the way in which many evangelicals read the bible and understand scriptural authority.

In response, Mike Todd suggested:

The metaphor of disassembly is unfortunately appropriate. What kinds of things require disassembly? Things welded, or glued, or put together with nails and screws and nuts and bolts. Things that are fixed, that were never meant to bend, to shift, to move.

Things that require disassembly are made of human hands. Like the Golden Calf of the Exodus, they are idols. 

In The Idolatry of God, Peter Rollins says, “what we see taking place in the church today is the reduction of God to an idol.” And this idol, Rollins posits “can be understood as that object which we believe is the answer to all our problems, that thing we believe can fill the fundamental gap we experience festering in the very depths of our human experience” (26).

The crisis of meaning comes when the idol is smashed and we’re no longer sure what, or where, or in whom we should put our faith. 

Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems that this idolatry should be of greater concern to Keller et al. than it appears to be. And so, when our way of reading scripture turns out to be an idol, when all that is solid melts into air, where do we turn?

Crisis of Being

Keller articulates only one option – that of kicking faith out the door. But surely there are others. We could suppress the dissonance and doubt, or, we might allow our encounters with folks in the LGBTQ community to transform our habits through a generous space of radical hospitality.

In the comments following my previous post, Brian Walsh put his point starkly:

Evangelical Christians will not embrace their LGBTQ brothers and sisters because they have first come to a different understanding of scripture. That is not the way things work. Rather, they will come to a different understanding of scripture as they practice the habits of hospitality, as they embrace real, physical, in the neighbourhood, in the family, in the church, living, breathing, weeping and laughing friends who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer.

Indeed, we will never be able to ‘know’ the scriptures differently, and to ‘know’ our God differently, until we ‘know’ these sisters and brothers first. Habits of living and rituals of inclusion shape habits of reading.

If the good news of Jesus Christ is more than a constructed set of rules and regulations; if it is more than dogmatically held thoughts and ideas; if this good news is indeed a word made flesh, then our response to the movement of the Holy Spirit must be embodied. Our approach towards the world must not be limited to the world of thoughts, but must encompass the whole body. The body of the individual and the body of the beloved community.

Bodies are storied things. The can be poked and prodded and dissected, but they are much more. We can observe behaviours, but in order to move forward in any human(e) way, we desperately need to engage the stories that undergird specific behaviour(s).

This will require work. It will require the creation of spaces where true human encounters can take place, and where the Spirit of God would be permitted to transform and renew us in heart, mind, soul and strength. It will require the support of a community open to the movement of God’s spirit, and open to seeing God in ways unconstrained by idolatrous systems that limit the power of God.

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg clarifies:

“It is facile to imply that smoking, alcoholism, overeating, or other ingrained patterns can be upended without real effort. Genuine change requires work and self-understanding of the cravings driving behaviours.”

If it is true that genuine change to our ingrained habits and patterns will require real work, we will need to identify the cravings that drive our ongoing patterns of exclusion. And we must do this not only for our own sake, but for the sake of the gospel of Christ.

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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

3 Responses to “Idolatry & the Crisis of Being”

  1. Neil Elliot

    “If the good news of Jesus Christ is more than a constructed set of rules and regulations” That’s been my whole problem with evangelicalism – the rules get put before the word – didn’t Jesus say something about that. I am for no rules apart from love – a relational word, a story word, a word that gets interpreted in the stories of community and communities.

    • andrew

      There’s the rules based approach of evangelicalism and the sciencey (also rules based) approach of liberalism. Pointing beyond such reductionism to a more storied (and therefore infinitely more complex) means of being is a challenge to versions of faith that have been incubated in modernity.

      I think of the quotation attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

      Such complexity, I suggest, is found in the inter-weaving of our stories. In this context – the context of Christian Faith and the gospel of Christ – this will involve the interweaving of out stor(y)(ies) and God’s stor(y)(ies). It won’t lead to easy answers, but will call us into something deeper, more profound, and perhaps, more true.

  2. Fellow Travellers | Empire Remixed

    […] we explored in previous posts (A Lifetime of Habits and Idolatry & The Crisis of Being), this particular statement is indicative of a larger challenge. Keller’s statement triggers […]


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