We Become What We Worship: a Biblical Theology of Idolatry

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We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry Book Review

Overall I am very impressed with the book, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by G.K. Beale, and would certainly recommend it to theologians in the academy as well as those in the ministry or preparing to serve. While this book will not be for everyone due to its length and sometimes dense exegetical analysis of selected texts, Beale does a superb job explaining his thesis throughout his work by means of tracing “one particular aspect of idolatry as it is sometimes developed in Scripture.” Therefore this book is interested only in one particular strand of Scripture as traced throughout the Old and New Testaments, rather than a Biblical or systematic theology of idolatry. And so immediately following, Beale lays out his thesis of “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration,” by making the assertion that we are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). We, therefore, are beings made to reflect God and His glory; however, if we do not commit ourselves to Him we will reflect something else in creation. This understanding is central in order to understand Beale’s thesis because at the heart of it, we are reflecting beings, either reflecting God or something else in creation. This is how Beale lays out the two competing understandings of one revering God for their restoration or one revering something in creation to their ruin in a juxtapositional dichotomy (p. 16).

To aid in understanding idolatry more clearly, Beale uses Luther’s Large Catechism explanation of the first commandment in Exodus 20:3, and agrees with him in “whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is your God,” with the addition of “whatever your heart clings to for ultimate security” (p 17). This of course is a move Lutherans would naturally agree with. As Beale continues, he refreshingly provides his theological presuppositions in a straight forward manner upfront. It is clear that Beale has a high regard for Scripture including its inspiration as authoritative through human authors. Beale also holds the two canons of the Old and New Testaments as being God’s Word in unity, cohesive together by understanding both canons developed through progressive revelation, and that the same basic message is continually brought forth throughout the Bible (p 22). This is another central idea to Beale’s work because the Old and New Testaments together form God’s unified Word, so it is not only possible, but likely that latter Old Testament writers and New Testament writers followed a pattern of alluding to previous Scripture when formulating their writings. This could be in the form of word-for-word quotes (or nearly word-for-word), or through the use of allusions to previously written texts. In this, Beale makes great use of intertextuality, or the study between literary allusions between texts of the Old and New Testament with an emphasis on the previously written Scripture the writer is alluding to (p 23). And within intertextuality, Beale asserts that he is a maximalist, meaning that he will further investigate and study any allusion from a given text to determine if there is a connection with a previously written text. This is opposed to a minimalist who will be leery of such allusions (p 24). With Beale being a maximalist, he further admits to doing hyperegesis where he sometimes will go beyond what the conscious mind of the original Old Testament writer could have known by transcending its meaning by latter writings. This method is supported by his understanding of progressive revelation revealing more depth than the original (p. 32). So in understanding Beale’s presuppositions, his methods of study must be scrutinized. We know that Beale intends to use intertextuality, studying allusions to the maximum, and even going beyond that, allowing latter Scripture to place additional meaning into earlier written Scripture...
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