How popular talent shows are exposing our American idols

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NOTE: Today’s Daily Article is by Mark Turman, pastor of Crosspoint Church in McKinney, Texas. He is also the Denison Forum Senior Fellow for Church Leadership. 

“Talent” shows fill our screens. Daily Articles about Luke Combs’ rejection by The Voice and Nightbirde’s withdrawal from America’s Got Talent testify to their popularity.

In fact, my favorite is America’s Got Talent. I like the variety of performers on AGT compared to the other offerings. I don’t have anything against music shows looking for the next great singer, but the world needs more than just singers.

Better known perhaps are shows like the nearly twenty-year-old American Idol. When Idol debuted in 2002, I thought, “This perfectly expresses the mindset of our culture. We have drifted so far from our biblical roots, including the Ten Commandments, that we are now eagerly and aggressively looking for the next thing or person to give our worship to instead of the true God.”

The late Lucille Ball was once reported to have said, “The problem with our world these days is that we no longer blush.” How true.

Jeremiah said this twice about the world of his day: “Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15 NIV, emphasis added).

We ought to blush about a lot of things, especially our passion for making idols out of false things.

What is an idol?

Idol means “an object of extreme devotion” or “a representation or symbol of an object of worship.” It can also be used in the sense of “a false conception” or something that is a fallacy. Its synonyms include hero, star, obsession, or symbol.

The Bible has a lot to say about idols. The word is used 223 times in the New International Translation. The most famous use comes in the second commandment God gave to Israel as he formed them into his covenant people: “Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them” (Exodus 20:4–5 CSB).

We likely think we don’t have problems with idols the way people in the Old Testament did. Surely as modern, educated people, we are too sophisticated for that! We don’t carve things out of wood or metal and then entrust our earthly and eternal lives to them!

Or do we?

Why do we create idols?

In Here Are Your Gods, Christopher J. H. Wright builds on C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Lewis wrote that the first distinction the Bible teaches us is that which exists between God as Creator and his creation, including humans. As Lewis indicates, the Bible declares that God is fully autonomous and self-sustaining. He always has been and will be. By contrast, everything else is dependent on God for its existence and always will be.

Wright then points out the problem: when God made mankind in his own image, with the freedom to choose, mankind chose to pursue a Godlike self-autonomy. In his authority, God instructed Adam and Eve about the limits of their freedom. He then warned them that disobedience would bring death (or separation) from him relationally and, eventually, physical death.

When the devil tempted the first couple, he said, “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 NLT). Wright explains that the problem is in the phrase “knowing both good and evil.” The outcome of man’s fall in the garden is that mankind now attempts to define morality and, by extension, reality and identity independent of God. As Jim Denison says, people now believe that all truth (reality) is personal and subjective.

In believing so, we’ve opened the door to the pursuit of all kinds of idols to serve as substitutes for the true God we rejected.

3 reasons we make idols

Wright gives further help from the Old Testament accounts, identifying three common categories of idol-making. If we can better identify the idols we are making, we are better able to reject them as fallacies.

First, like the ancient Israelites and other peoples of long ago, we continue to make idols out of the things that impress us.

We can be awed by things in this world. God created the world to be a place of blessing and wonder for us to enjoy. The sun, moon, and stars, mountains, rivers, oceans, and animals all have the ability to take our breath away. It’s been said that creation is God’s first book of revelation. The Bible says that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).

Additionally, the abilities of Olympic athletes, musicians, politicians, and business tycoons keep us amazed. But sometimes we choose to worship that which wows us in place of worshipping the God who created all these wonderful things.

Romans 1:22–23 says that we make a foolish exchange. We replace worshipping the Creator with the impressive stuff he created: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles” (NLT).

Second, we make idols of the things that scare us.

Sometimes, the same things that amaze us terrify us. The wind becomes a hurricane or a tornado. Rain and rivers produce a flood. A mountain erupts as a volcano. The same fire that warms our homes and cooks our meals devours thousands of acres, homes, and lives.

More personally, those who achieve great goals are discovered to have climbed ladders of abuse by misusing power to stand on the backs of their victims. There are a lot of things to be scared of in this world. Idol worship seeks to keep them at bay.

Third, we sometimes make idols out of the essential things we need.

We are needy creatures. We are sustained and enriched by air, water, food, sleep, sex, and purpose. These things are so important to us daily that our preoccupation with them becomes a temptation to deify them as the ultimate “gods” we need to pursue. See Matthew 6:19–34.

What idols are you serving today?

Wright concludes that there are good reasons to identify and reject idols.

  • Idols diminish the worship we should give to the one true God. If we are worshipping false gods, we are robbing the God of the worship that is rightly his, and he will demand we change.
  • Second, idol worship dehumanizes us. We become what we worship. When we worship false gods, we become less than the holy image-bearers God made us to be.
  • Worshipping and serving idols is always disappointing. This statement is powerful: “It seems we never learn that false gods never fail to fail.” The worship of anything other than God will leave us empty, frustrated, and more fearful.

So what idols, American or otherwise, might you be serving?

What or who is tempting you away from full devotion to Christ Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone created you, sustains you, and died on a cross to redeem you?

Is there anything keeping you from your first love for him today?

By Mark Turman

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