A Short Catechism Based on Richard Lints’ Book: Identity and Idolatry

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Richard Lints. Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and its Inversion. New Studies in Biblical Theology. 36. IVP, 2015. 

1) What do we mean when we say humans are made in the “Image of God”?

It means humans are created as divine reflectors of God (Page 22) and divine representatives of God (Page 103). Our human identity is thus rooted in what we reflect (Page 30).

2) Where is the “Image of God” primarily manifested? 

The church is the fundamental context in which the image of Christ is manifested on this side of eternity…(Page 127).

…The church is the community of God’s people who, in their fidelity to Christ and to each other, bear the imprint of Christ. In a highly democratized environment such as the present, this stands as a necessary corrective to the temptations towards forms of piety that are strikingly individualistic…Being “in Christ” bears the fruit of recognizing that all who belong to Christ are members who all belong to each other (Page 127). This simply is to claim that the church is the context for our identity, but in a time when the church sits lightly on the minds and hearts of many Christians in the West it is not a surprise that Christian identity has become so fragile (Page 166).

3) Who is the PERFECT “Image of God”?

Christ is, because Christ is the “exact representation” and that which by the invisible God has become visible (Heb. 1:5 and John 1:18)… (Page 103).

…Christ is the perfect image who suffers in our place and for our redemption (Eph. 5:25-26). As a consequence, human identity is most clearly seen in Christ, the one in whom, through whom and for whom humankind was made (1 Cor. 8:6; Col 1:16) (Page 103).

4) What is idolatry? 

Idolatry is the conceptual “turning upside down” of our originally intended relationship with God (page 82).

The shape of the canonical story (think here of Scripture as a theological drama) suggests that the overriding relation of the image (humans) to the original (triune God) is that of worship, honor, completion and satisfaction, and conversely suggests the subverting of that relationship of image to original [idolatry] is that of perversion, corruption, consumption and possession (page 29).

5) When does idolatry happen?

Idolatry happens when humans look for significance and security from the created order instead of finding it in their Creator (Page 93).

[Humans are made in such a way as to yearn for something beyond themselves that will grant them significance. This yearning leads us in two different directions:

  1. Towards desiring our Creator (which is a proper worship) or,
  2. Desiring to replace our Creator with something in the created order over which we can exercise control (Page 80). [Which is, idolatry.]

6) What does idolatry create? 

Promising blessing, the idol creates bondage. Promising protection, idols create insecurity (Page 82).

The inversion produces an entirely predictable consequence – abandoning God results in an identity crisis wherein one’s safety and significance become endlessly fragile (Page 111).

7) Why is idolatry bad? 

Idolatry is prohibited on the grounds that it inverts the relationship between Creator and creature. Idolatry is that thing which most centrally threatens the security and significance of the covenantal relationship between Creator and creature, between Redeemer and redeemed, between Christ and his people. Paradoxically, the idol-maker is the theological opposite of the image bearer (Page 35).

8) How does idolatry invert the relationship between Creator and creature?

One, because creatures should not suppose that their Creator can be shaped according to their own imagination. And two, idols represent gods that do not exist (Page 109). Those who create an idol seek to possess it for their own purpose (Page 157).

Idols do not threaten YHWH since the deities they represent do not exist. But they do threaten Israel’s well-being, because Israel were those who ‘made’ the idols. Promising great blessing, idols create great addictions. As God has made humankind in his image, so idols remade the very humans who had made them. People become like their idols (Page 89). Worship fashions the worshipper into an imprint of the object worshipped (Page 94).

The central contradiction of idolatry is in the fact that God has formed humankind, God designs humans for significance, and God protects his creatures…Idolatry is the strange turning of this reality on its head, by suggesting the very objects of one’s making are the means by which one can gain significance and security (Page 97). The idol-maker ventures to make his own idol as the means to control his own significance and safety (Page 98).

9) Why are humans drawn to idolatry? 

Because humans desire to control their own destiny (Page 110), thus, we are “doxologically fragile” (Page 42). Humans are attracted to idols not on rational grounds but rather as means to gratify desires. We believe in idols because we want to, even as an alcoholic is attracted to alcohol because he wants it (Page 40).

As well, the fragility of the human heart disposes it to yearn for security on its own terms. Thus, idolatry is not in the first instance a cognitive error (believing in other gods) but a fallacy of the heart (yearning for control). (Page 85). Humans are under the illusion that other created things will satisfy their deepest longings and so we replace the Creator, with significant loss to ourselves (Page 110).

10) What is our best defense against our becoming idolaters ourselves? 

The Biblical canon strongly argues that the only defense against idolatry is God Himself. There must be a window through which he can be known, in order that a light may shine back upon the idols, unmasking them for what they are. It is only in comparison to the one true living God that the idols are manifested as mere pretenders.

The notion of a light shining or reflecting the identity of God into and against the idols is the function of the imago Dei rightly considered. The identity of God illuminates the identity of the imago Dei, which in turn illuminates the true identity of the idols. Put differently, images will reflect. The key question of the Scriptures is, what will images reflect? Will the image of God (humankind) image God?

It seems a simple question. Will the image of God find his or her identity in the reflection of God? (Pages 41-42).

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