No God But God

Hardcore truths that we must never forget:

Thirty years ago a very important volume appeared edited by Os Guinness and John Seel. It has the title which I used above: No God But God (Moody, 1992). I have referred to it often and quoted from it often. While this will not be a proper book review, it is time to devote an entire article to this key volume.

I do this in part because just yesterday I penned a piece that dealt with some of the themes found in the book. In particular I wrote that just because Christians enjoy a personal relationship with God does not mean the Creator-creature distinction is obliterated.

It remains forever: God will always be God, and we will not be. We must always have a proper – that is a biblical – view of the Living God. And that is what this book seeks to do. It has some parameters: it is written for and about American evangelicalism, but it is relevant for the whole of the West. And in good measure it deals with modernity and how it has impacted the churches.

Above all this book is about the problem we Christians have with idolatry. We can be just as idolatrous as any pagan can be. Indeed, the subtitle of the book is “Breaking with the Idols of Our Age.” Until believers deal with the idols they are worshipping, we will have little ability to break the idols of the world.

Thus the importance of this book. Incisive essays by some leading Christian thinkers are presented here. The authors are, besides Seel and Guinness: David Wells, Paul Vitz, Thomas Oden, Richard Keyes, Michael Cromartie and Alonzo McDonald. Here I will simply present some key quotes from the first three chapters. The first two are likely penned by Guinness, while the third is written by Richard Keyes.

Image of No God but God: Breaking With the Idols of Our Age
No God but God: Breaking With the Idols of Our Age by Guinness, Os (Author), Seel, John (Editor) Amazon logo


“Our greatest need is for a third Great Awakening.” p. 11.

“It is time for our church to examine the integrity and effectiveness of its character and witness … For if the nation’s crisis is largely because of the decreasing influence of faith on American culture, the church’s crisis is largely because of the increasing influence of American culture on Christian faith.” p. 12

[We] recognize this critical moment and reaffirm the historic call to ‘Let God be God’ and to ‘Let the church be the church – and free’ … reminding ourselves that who we are comes before what we do, that faith comes before works, that worship and contemplation come before action, that citizenship in the city of God comes before citizenship in the city of man, and that as in the past the church can only be freed from its cultural captivity today by the free Word of a free God.
“We recognize that some matters must be left to God alone and acknowledge openly that a spiritual and theological awakening within evangelicalism is our greatest need, but it is not ours to predict, initiate, or effect. Such an awakening is a matter of divine sovereignty, not human engineering or historical cycles. Yet we know too the perils of fatalism, of a passive, private devotion to God, and of presuming that praying well is the best revenge for the loss of cultural influence.
“We therefore call for a humble dependence on God that is matched by vigorous rededication to doing what is ours to do.” p. 14

A better way for constructive engagement is to follow the prophetic dynamic of the gospel itself – law before gospel, judgment before grace, repentance before regeneration, and the disproof of Baal before the demonstration of Yahweh. We must require prophetic confrontation before personal and social transformation. The radical demands of the gospel will then be fulfilled with the demonstration that conversion, once begun, can never stop. Having touched a part of our lives, conversion must transform the whole.” p. 15

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has reminded us, just as a shout in the mountain can start an avalanche, so a word or stand for truth that does God’s work in God’s way in God’s time can have an incalculable effect.” p. 15

“In the biblical view, anything created– anything at all that is less than God, and most especially the gifts of God – can become idolatrous if it is relied upon inordinately until it becomes a full-blown substitute for God, and thus, an idol. The first duty of believers is to say yes to God; the second is to say no to idols.” p. 16

“The real problem is overlooked. Our problem is not that Christians are not where they should be, but they are not what they should be right where they are. In such fields as business or in such professions as law and medicine, Christians are plentiful in numbers, but are ineffective in discipleship, vision, and influence. Parallel to the priesthood of all believers, the calling of all believers is vital to the reformation of evangelicalism. Clerical dominance is a fatal handicap in secular, modern life. But the modern world has yet to see the power of lay Christian leadership exerted strategically across the multiple spheres of secular life.” p. 17

“Contemporary evangelicals are no longer people of truth. Only rarely are they serious about theology. . . . With magnificent exceptions, evangelicals reflect this truth-decay and reinforce it for their own variety of reasons for discounting theology.” p. 18

“Yet truth and theology are the royal road to knowing God. No one can love God and not be a theologian. No one can follow Christ and not be committed to taking truth seriously.” p. 19

Introduction: The Idols in our Churches and Hearts

“Idolatry is the most discussed problem in the Bible and one of the most powerful spiritual and intellectual concepts in the believer’s arsenal. Yet for Christians today it is one of the least meaningful notions and is surrounded with ironies, perhaps this is why many evangelicals are ignorant of the idols in their lives.” p. 23

Radical opposition to idolatry is also fundamental to the Protestant principle. Confronting idols is the corollary to letting God be God, living by faith alone, and practicing the principle of ecclesia semper reformanda – the church always needs reformation. … Yet the Protestant principle is weak in American evangelicalism today. … Contemporary evangelicals are little better at recognizing and resisting idols than modern secular people are.” p. 25

This idolizing process is taking place within our evangelical churches all the time. It is a major reason for our modern Babylonian captivity. The cultural forms of idol-worship have changed, but their essential seductiveness and menace have remained potent.” p. 26

The Idol Factory

“An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as a substitute for God. All sorts of things are potential idols, depending only on our attitudes and actions toward them. If this is so, how do we determine when something is becoming an idol? Idolatry may not involve explicit denials of God’s existence or character. It may well come in the form of an over-attachment to something that is in itself perfectly good… An idol can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, a hero – anything that can substitute for God.” pp. 32-33

“By this definition, all the obvious candidates are potentially idolatrous – wealth, fame, pleasure, power, and so on. We can recognize ways in which we disobey God out of loyalty to them. But many nonobvious things can work as idols as well, causing us to ignore or distort God’s commands to us. For example, work, a commandment of God, can become an idol if it is pursued so exclusively that responsibilities to one’s family are ignored. Family, an institution of God Himself, can become an idol if one is so preoccupied with the family that no one outside of one’s own family is cared for. Being well-liked, a perfectly legitimate hope, becomes an idol if the attachment to it means that one never risks disapproval. Even evangelism, carrying out the Great Commission, can become an idol if people are misused – Christian or not Christian – in the zeal to do it.
To summarize, idols will inevitably involve self-centeredness, self-inflation, and self-deception. Idolatry begins with the counterfeiting of God, because only with a counterfeit of God can people remain the center of their lives and loyalties, autonomous architects of their futures. Something within creation will then be idolatrously inflated to fill the God-shaped hole in the individual’s world. But a counterfeit is a lie, not the real thing. It must present itself through self-deception, often with images suggesting that the idol will fulfill promises for the good life.” p. 33

This is just a small sampling of what is found in this vital volume. Three decades on and this collection of essays is just as timely as when they first appeared – even more so. The world has simply gotten even more worldly over this period, but so too has the church. We need to start dealing with the idols of our age – starting with our own.

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9 Replies to “No God But God”

  1. I agree little big brother. Younger stronger and smarter. Thank God. I glean from the four corners of the fields of teachers like you. David encouraged himself in The Lord. Be encouraged Brother. You and yours are loved.
    David K.

  2. I agree, i remember being in shock when I discovered something in my life was an idol, oh it was good, but it was an idol, and thank God He opened my eye’s, but I probably still need my eyes opened constantly, it’s easy to make things like ‘comfort’ or peace even an idol, and so many other ‘good’ things..

  3. There is but one God. He gave Abraham and Moses His name as I am who I Am. Jesus Christ also told witnesses I Am as one of His names. There is only one true who are Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each are all the One God. Man may prefer to ignore, dabble with all the glitters and entertains for awhile. Yet whether man accepts there is only one God, never-less He Was, He Is and always will be the only one True God.

  4. “In such fields as business or in such professions as law and medicine, Christians are plentiful in numbers, but are ineffective in discipleship, vision, and influence.”
    I think a major cause of such ineffectiveness is the whole notion of separation of church and state. In modern crude terms, it basically says keep your religion to yourself and inside a church, and don’t you dare bring it outside anywhere else. Obviously, such notions will ultimately eliminate any public religious influence, which is exactly what the secularists want.

  5. You are so right Bill, a lot of things can be idols and my job/work became an idol to me once as you have your mind on work 36-40 hrs/week, 250 days/year.
    There are many idols today involving wealth fame and Baal worship. If you want to be woken up some more about what is happening in this world, here are 3 videos sent to me by a Christian friend on the Cabal or Iluminati that are not for the faint-hearted.
    Part 1
    Part 2
    Part 5

    If you don’t want to watch them here is a nicer one on ‘Donald Trump, Q and The Awakening’ that shows why President Trump visited certain countries while President and had a lot of what I believe child sex trafficking documents to show them.
    Thanks Bill, appreciate what you do and God is still in control.

  6. @Mark Wong.
    Mark, you are right in essence, I think, that we are encouraged (culturally) to separate church and public life (rather than ‘state’).
    I participated in a webinar yesterday that sought to look at the lack of obviously and effectively Christian prominent business people. This was a huge topic, and the webinar could be touch the surface.
    The starting point obviously is spiritual, intellectual and devotional development, and the pastoral focus has to be here. I think the church is good at the latter, but very weak on the first two factors.
    Then there is the church being sucked into the zeitgeist (world spirit); without any evident spiritual discernment; we applaud the materialist history of creation, we follow and sometimes uncritically absorb the lies about man and who he is (‘humanity’ as we impersonalise it today), we uncritically follow the either humanist or paganist trend of pretending that an ‘acknowledgement of country’ has a place in the gathering of Christians to worship and encourage each other in Christ, thereby diluting worship and displacing Christ, either indolently or demonically.

  7. The biggest Idol in the church today is called Jesus or Christ or Jesus Christ. It receives worship like Jesus, is called Jesus, is emulated like Jesus is to be BUT it is NOT Jesus!! It is a creation of man to make a easier on the eyes God a gentler, friendlier, cooler, ok with thing God who understands their problems with sin and doesn’t have an issue with it. One who lets things slide. One who is a perversion of a biblical verse with “let us create GOD in OUR own image!”

    Once churches start allowing for error in the Bible, not literal days or not real history, than it doesn’t take much to dismiss the description of God the father and of Jesus and to then SUBSTITUTE a different more pleasing description. The cartoon the descent of the modernists shows once you take that first step you will keep going you might not reach the bottom by the end of your lifetime but you have departed from God. Narrow is the path to salvation but many paths are SO close to that path they look virtually the same but the differences are important because ONLY the narrow path leads to salvation and all the close ones end in damnation. “There’s no turning back once you start down that road!” There are exceptions of course some lost sheep can be found and brought back into the fold but as a general rule it is true once they start on that compromise, that this isn’t true path they don’t turn back because they don’t want to. Too many sheep once they’ve started spending time in the fields of another master don’t want to return to their original master.

    The hard part is trying to find a way for each generation to have a fresh encounter with God. Head knowledge help but if they don’t encounter God themselves they either have dead faith or lose faith. Growing up in church counts for nothing as it has been said going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going to the garage makes you a car. It’s even worse if you grew up as a PK of a liberal/progressive preacher or one whose Jesus wasn’t the biblical once as you might be much harder for people to reach given your incorrect knowledge.

    We try to think one step off the path won’t hurt one little indulgence won’t hurt but it can start with one and keep going because it only takes one. How many people intend to do a deathbed confession after a life of hedonism since it seems so many Christians won’t give any negative pronouncement on someone’s fate because they might have repented before death??? Or how many don’t even think it is necessary to come to Christ because they’re a good person and that’s something the pastor at the last funeral they were at stressed about the deceased? How can we even win people to Christ if we can’t even say that a person who died NOT believing in the biblical Jesus is in hell?!

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