Book Review: Identity and Idolatry

One of the books in my 2017 reading challenge, this is a book I was meant to review for Churchman Journal back in 2015! I’ve finally got round to reviewing it, and you’ll likely see snippets from it popping up around this blog and in my other writing.

​”Human identity is rooted in what it reflects… Identity and idolatry are intertwined

Thus begins Richard Lints, author of this recent NSBT volume on being human. Tracing the fundamentally and important biblical-theological concept of the image of God through the entire biblical canon is an important task, and one that has been curiously ignored in recent theological discussion of what it means to be human.

Lints places his discussion, as his subtitle suggests and a key thread of the biblical narrative supports, in the helpful language of inversion. We encounter the language of image at key points in the biblical writings, and we also encounter a discussion of idolatry which sheds light on the topic at hand. This NSBT follows the usual pattern of the series, engaging carefully and widely. This is well demonstrated in chapter two ‘a strange bridge’, where the Divine initiative in the creator/creature distinction is emphasized helpfully. Lints is careful to note that “Clearly the imago Dei connotes a positive and ‘idolatry’ a negative representation“, framing his argument throughout.

Whilst echoing the NSBT distinctive focus, the relative paucity of biblical material on the Image of God, particularly in relation to the surfeit on idolatry, leads the author to discuss some unexpected issues. A particular strength is the discussion of ‘The image of God on the temple walls’, forming chapter 4, which is careful to emhpasise the need for the dependence of the image on the original. This flows through a helpful discussion of the relationship between idolatry and the prophetic in the Old Testament, setting the scene for the superb sixth chapter, which focuses ultimately on the person and work of Christ. There is a vital emphasis on the fact that the New Testament discussion of Jesus as the ‘image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15) “is not an abstract metaphysical claim, but primarily a confession about salvation“. This reviewer felt that it is in this chapter that Lints makes a particularly strong case for the engagement of Christians with the theological theme of the Image of God, with this book being a helpful tool for preachers and church leaders grappling with the topic.

The penultimate chapter, ‘The rise of suspicion: the religious criticism of religion’ is an unexpected masterclass in essentially public theology – engaging carefully with modern day and recent forms of idolatry. The discussion of Kant, and later on Nietzsche, could be particularly helpful to evangelical students engaging with philosophy, or for those responsible for pastoring the same. The closing chapter likewise draws the many threads of the book together, with particularly pertinent challenges to those involved in preaching and leading bible studies. The strong challenge to “celebrity pastors [who] serve as papal-like interpreters of the Bible” in this, the year of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, is one particular point for evangelicals to ponder. This is a superb book on a vital topic, and one I am likely to come back to for various pieces of work, both academic and pastoral, for biblical study and cultural engagement.

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