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We Become What we Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry Paperback – 21 Nov 2008


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About the Author

G. K. Beale is Kenneth T. Wessner Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School, Wheaton, Illinois. His books include 'The Book of Revelation' (NIGTC), '1 and 2 Thessalonians' (IVPNTC), and 'The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God' (NSBT Apollos), and with D.A. Carson is editor of the 'Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament'. He is also a contributor to the 'New Dictionary of Biblical Theology' (IVP).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

(Extract from ...) Introduction

When my two daughters, Hannah and Nancy, were about two or three years old, I noticed how they imitated and reflected my wife and me. They cooked, fed and disciplined their play animals and dolls just the way my wife cooked, fed and disciplined them. They gave play medicine to their dolls just the way we fed them medicine. Our daughters also prayed with their stuffed animals and dolls the way we prayed with them. They talked on their toy telephone with the same kind of Texas accent that my wife uses when she talks on the phone. It was amazing. Most people, I am sure, have seen this with children. But children only begin what we continue to do as adults. We imitate. We reflect, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously.

Most people can think back to junior high, high school or even college when they were in a group and to one degree or another, whether consciously or unconsciously, they reflected and resembled that peer group. Members of the group may have worn polo shirts with a certain logo, and a newcomer needed to have the same shirt in order to feel a part of the group. Others may have been in a group that was very athletic, and so to be accepted in the group the new kid had to pursue athletics. And still others, unfortunately, ran with a crowd in which they felt they had to use drugs or participate in other harmful activities. All of us, even adults, reflect what we are around. We reflect things in our culture and our society, sometimes consciously and sometimes subtly and unconsciously.

These contemporary examples follow a very ancient pattern that has its roots in the beginning of history. In Genesis 1 God created humans to be imaging beings who reflect his glory. What did God's people in the Old Testament, Israel, reflect, whether consciously or unconsciously? We will see what they resembled in their sinful disobedience. As we see what they reflected, we should ask ourselves whether we reflect anything similar in our culture today.

What do you and I reflect? One presupposition of this book is that God has made humans to reflect him, but if they do not commit themselves to him, they will not reflect him but something else in creation. At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue: we either reflect the Creator or something in creation.

This book is not intended to be a comprehensive book on idolatry in the Bible but primarily an attempt to trace one particular aspect of idolatry as it is sometimes developed in Scripture. We will focus specifically on idol worshipers being identified with the idols around them. A number of the biblical passages that we will study express the idea that instead of worshiping and resembling the true God, idolaters resemble the idols they worship. These worshipers became as spiritually void and lifeless as the idols they committed themselves to. We will see that people are judged as their idols are; ironically, people are punished by means of their own sin: "Do you like idols? Then you will be punished along with them." It is difficult to distinguish between being punished like the idol and becoming identified with the character of the idol. Sometimes the idolater may not be viewed as reflecting the character of the idol but only suffering the same fate (e.g., being burned in destruction). At times it seems both are true.

Conversely, we will also discover how people are restored to the true worship of God and reflecting his likeness. Therefore, the main thesis of this book is: What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration. This then is a biblical-theological study of this one aspect of idolatry. Rather than attempting to observe threads of this theme throughout the Bible, we will proceed primarily by tracing the development of earlier biblical passages dealing with this theme and how later portions of Scripture interpret and develop these passages (what is today referred to as "intertextuality" or "inner-biblical allusion"). After setting forth these developments, a concluding chapter will address a sampling of contemporary concerns and applications of the study. ...


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Amazon.com: 13 reviews
79 of 80 people found the following review helpful
A Biblical Theology of Idolatry 23 Dec. 2008
By Trevin Wax - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (IVP Academic, 2008), author G.K. Beale teases out the implications of a truth he first discovered during an extensive study of the commissioning of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6). Beale believes that one of the central aspects of Isaiah 6 is that "what you revere you resemble, either for ruin or restoration." His book is an attempt to show how this teaching is woven into the fabric of Scripture. We Become What We Worship illuminates this teaching by presenting a biblical theology of idolatry.

We Become What We Worship relies heavily on intertextuality - a method of Bible study that combines grammatical-historical exegesis with canonical-contextual exegesis. Beale uses this methodology in order to persuasively demonstrate that the concept of idolaters becoming like their idols is one that appears throughout the Bible.

The most helpful section of this book is the chapter on Isaiah 6. Pastors and teachers will find Beale's exegetical insights to be of enormous value. Next time I preach or teach on Isaiah 6, I will definitely consult this book again! Beale masterfully showcases the biblical allusions in the text, nuances that shed light on the passage's context and meaning.

Another important insight I gleaned from Beale's work concerns the Golden Calf narrative in Exodus. Beale shows how this pivotal event in Israel's history is alluded to in many Old and New Testament passages.

Many readers may not have the stamina to persevere through the rigorous exegesis that forms the heart of this book. We Become What We Worship is definitely geared to the academy and not the layperson. But I highly recommend that pastors consult this book whenever they are preparing to preach on one of the texts that Beale exposits. We Become What We Worship is a terrific resource that shines light on many passages of Scripture.
73 of 82 people found the following review helpful
Good, but not Great 1 Jan. 2009
By Shane Lems - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The major premise of Beale's book is that we become what we worship, either for ruin or restoration. This thesis is generally solid, since Psalm 115.8 spells it out clearly. For this reason, the book is worth reading. In depth, it explores that concept elsewhere in Scripture.

Beale's methodology is somewhat surprising. One would guess, knowing Beale's great emphasis on the NT interpreting the OT, he would start with a few NT texts on idolatry and use them to interpret OT ones and other NT ones as well. However, he uses Isaiah 6.9-13 as not only the source of his thesis, but also as the lens by which he interprets other OT and NT texts. This is troublesome first, because almost no scholar says Isaiah 6.9-13 has idolatry specifically in mind, much less that it shows an idolater becomes like an idol.

It is troublesome second, because he bases his thesis on the allusions to Isaiah 6 in earlier and later Scripture, using his interpretation of Isaiah 6 as the lens for other texts. This does make for some great - really great - biblical theological insights, but elsewhere the reader has to pause to wonder if the biblical author really was talking about idolatry and becoming like idols in a certain text (i.e. the seven letters in Revelation 2-3). In Beale's defense, Isaiah 6 is alluded to in earlier and later texts; the problem is with the lens and possibility of allusions.

Of course this is a methodological and hermeneutical issue; Beale does talk about this extensively in his intro. He says he is a maximalist when it comes to finding intertextual allusions. In my opinion, he is a super-confident maximalist while probably the better option is to be a cautious maximalist to prevent the interpreter from finding allusions that the author did not mean to make.

One other critique I have is that this book claims to be "a biblical theology of idolatry" (subtitle); yet I believe that is too broad a subtitle. Were it a complete biblical theology of idolatry, there would have been more discussion on the first few commandments, idolatry and spiritual prostitution, idolatry and witness (i.e. Is 44.8-9), and the biblical teaching that idols originate in the heart, etc. This would tweak the thesis of the book, to be sure. The narrow scope of the book is how Beale's thesis from Isaiah 6.9-13 is found elsewhere in Scripture; it is not a comprehensive book on the nature, origin, essence, subjects, and effects of idolatry. To be sure, he does say that he is just exploring this one aspect of idolatry, but by not discussing the other threads/meanings of idolatry in Scripture, it seems that this one dominates the others and runs roughshod over other huge idolatry themes. Beale does say that this thread of the strand is the chief thread in the OT and NT. I think this is debatable.

In summary, the book is very much worth getting for considering the topic of idolatry. Beale steeps all his arguments in Scripture; even if the reader does not agree with him at all points, it is refreshing to stay in Scripture. It is not for the average layperson, as Beale takes the reader through an exhaustive dot-to-dot of cross references and word studies. It will be a great resource to consult along side other such works and commentaries. I only hesitate to call it the definitive work on idolatry.
36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Awful to read, awesome to think about 20 April 2009
By A. Omelianchuk - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
G.K. Beale has written a book on one of the most fascinating subjects to be found in biblical studies. The title of his latest exegetical treatise is We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, and it is one of the most interesting-and poorly written-books I have ever read.

I am not going to mince words. This book was in no way a pleasure to read. Turgid and scholastic from its beginning it drags on for 310 pages containing some of the most tortured and inaccessible prose one will ever encounter. How on earth the publisher allowed the author to compose this overly-technical piece of scholarship is beyond me. True, it is produced by the academic division of IVP, but I fail to see why or how a book like this is required to meet such rigorous standards. Obviously, Beale is an academic who unfortunately does not seem to publish much for the benefit of the popular reader. After reading this book, I am not even sure if he even tried to conceive of a popular reader (can he?) who would otherwise be very interested in the subject matter at hand.

With that out of the way, I only have good things to say about this book! One of the most powerful themes in Scripture is one of the least understood. In the words of Beale, "We resemble what we revere for our ruin or restoration." This is the thesis of not only Beale, but, as he shows with great meticulous detail, also Isaiah as well. Isaiah's vision of God presents the framework from which Beale constructs his case. In chapter 6, particularly verses 9-13, Isaiah testifies to his mission that he is to go preach a message of judgment to idolatrous Israel and make the hearts of people calloused, their ears dull and their eyes closed, so they will not turn and repent (this following centuries of pleading for repentance).

This may seem like a strange place to start, but it is a text that is quoted in the Gospels, Acts, and Romans. Both Psalm 115 and 135 summarize its teaching. The message is clear: God judges those that run after other gods by making them resemble what they run after.

The tapestry this religious anthropology begins in Genesis 1 where it is said that humanity is made in the image of God. It is we, not what we make, that is made to bear a holy image. The travesty of idolatry lies in an unholy reversal that makes us the maker and the Maker the made. Idolatry refers to things both broad and specific. It can be thought of in the usual ancient Near Eastern way of bowing down to statues of metal and wood as well as the metaphorical way that sees ultimate security resting in created things (like wealth, power, sex) rather than the Creator. In general the Old Testament deals with ancient Near Eastern idolatry and the New Testament confronts it in metaphorical ways (though not always).

The genius of Beale's interpretation of both Testaments lies in his method of "intertextuality." This is the method of reading texts and finding allusions to earlier texts by way of some literary connection (similar wording, ideas). Beginning in Exodus, after Israel worships the golden calf, YHWH judges the nation as a "stiff-necked" people. This is a wry commentary on the nature of the people in connection with the object of their worship. They are like a "stiff-necked" calf who casts of the guiding yoke of its master that must be bridled into submission. Similarly, when the people devote themselves to Baal worship, they are said to "lay down as a prostitute" under "every spreading tree." The imagery references both the love-covenant YHWH made with his people and the pagan fertility rituals where worshipers performed sex acts as offering to Baal. Israelite worshipers were not only engaging in adulterous behavior among themselves, but were being "bought-off" by the Baals, so to speak, and became what they worshiped: prostitutes.

When idolatry transcends wooden statues it often reflects our pride in things we find ultimate security in. Beale draws our attention to Ezekiel 28 and offers a very nuanced and helpful interpretation. The passage is confusing because it alludes to three different people: Satan, Adam of the Garden of Eden, and the King of Tyre. This "telescopic" vision unearths layer after layer of the "main problem" with the human psyche in historic, mythic, and cosmic demensions: we become proud on account of our beauty and abilities and exalt ourselves higher than what God intended us to be. By pride in our wisdom we become fools.

This is echoed by Paul in Romans 1:18-24, which is the NT's most extensive treatment of idolatry. After expositing the gospel Paul gives the reversal of idolatrous worship with true worship in Romans 12:1-2. Instead of offering our bodies to whatever urge we might have, we offer them unto God for his purposes and use. Instead of serving created things we commit a "spiritual act" of worship that transforms and renews our minds. Rather than being subject to futile thoughts of a depraved mind that does not even retain the knowledge of God (Romans 1:28), we are able to approve of what is good and discern the right way for our lives and ultimately be conformed the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

Though the above passages focus our attention on sexual issues, the Gospels portray this theology in much more ironic terms. Jesus is frank in his charge against the religious establishment of his day. The Pharisees, the wise and respected Teachers of the Law, are accused with putting the traditions of men above the word of God (Mark 7:6-13). The hypocrisy of staged religion and its pious showboating bring indignant condemnations anyone familiar with Jesus' ministry will know (Matthew 23). White-washed tombs. Blind guides. Dirty dishes. They are all images of what the hearts clings to when it is zealous for religious practice that is about exalting us rather than God.

Beale concludes his long meandering study with some "final thoughts" that constitute the best part of the book. He takes time to excoriate the vacuous concepts of self-esteem, the church's pandering to people's "felt needs," the practical atheism found in the media, and vain philosophies of life that have no sense of transcendent meaning. While one may not fully agree with where Beale applies things, one cannot come away with not applying the very relevant themes of this book to an examined life. A great deal of good thought and self-reflection can reveal where our hearts rest where our spiritual compass is truly pointing in our lives.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
We resemble what we revere-- either for ruin or restoration 8 Feb. 2009
By Jason Bradshaw - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Beale's thesis, that we reveal what we revere either for ruin or restoration, is shown in multiple biblical contexts in both the Old and New Testaments. I found his arguments to be very persuasive and, overall, an incredibly fair treatment of the text.

There were a few times in the book where I didn't see the connection that author was making, but, on the whole these passages were in the vast minority to sure-footed interpretive decisions. Of particular importance are his commentary on such passages as Psalm 115, Isaiah 6, and Exodus 32-34.

Overall, I found the book to be very enjoyable--thoroughly Biblical and immediately applicable.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Worth Reading 16 Oct. 2010
By Russ White - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What is the meaning of the various passages in the Scriptures that say Israel like an Ox, or Israel has a stiff neck? What are we to make of Yeshua's words, during the Incarnation, that he was speaking so those who heard him would not hear, and those who saw him would not see? What are we to think about God hardening the heart of Pharaoh through the ten plagues that resulted in Israel finally going free?

This book is an attempt to answer those questions by considering the idea of becoming what you worship in the Scriptures. The author begins by examining what he considers to be a foundational example of Israel becoming what they worship in Isaiah 6. This section of the Scriptures is dealt with in great detail, providing the concepts and terminology used throughout the rest of the book.

Mr. Beale then examines the rest of the Tanakh, marshaling evidence of those who become like they worship. The author moves into an examination of idolatry in the Tanakh, placing its origin at the first sin of Adam.

After this survey of the meaning and origin of idolatry, Mr. Beale examines the concept of becoming what you worship specifically within the context of Judaism, and then in the context of the Gospels.

The sin of the Jewish leadership in Matthew 13:10-15 is following that of the sins of the nation Israel; the terms in which this sin is described is in terms of Israel becoming like the idols they have chosen to worship. Hence, in their refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah, they are in effect committing idolatry. To refuse God is to choose to worship something else.

He examines idolatry in Acts, Paul's Epistles, and finally the Revelation.

Overall, this is a well argued book. The author does subscribe to a slightly different hermeneutic than many in the evangelical world; he focuses on intertextual clues as well as textual clues to gain a stronger understanding of what a specific piece of text is saying. While there are some places where Mr. Beale might go too far in his search for meaning, the hermeneutic is sound, and could be a guide for more productive study of the Scriptures. Beyond going beyond what I would consider appropriate in some places, the author also assume some things in the Revelation are symbolic, and clearly indicates he is an amillennialist. This does flavor some portions of his work in a negative way, but these sections are easily spotted and accounted for.

His final chapter, Why Does It Matter, is a tour de force in application. He shows how much that we would not consider idolatrous is, in fact, and how the principle that you become what you worship acts in our every day lives.
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