The Idolatry of Revelation

The Mystery of God has a dedicated website with an excerpt to read. Please visit Mystery of God Book.


The last chapter of The Mystery of God titled “Mystery and World Religions” is enlightening on many levels. The authors hold strongly to the exclusive claims of Christianity, yet acknowledge the need for intellectual humility when engaging other faiths. In fact, an over-zealous enthusiasm for the truth of God could actually become the object of Christian worship causing believers to commit a kind of idolatry, confusing the message with the Messenger. Embracing intellectual humility will not only advance discussions with alternative belief systems, but stave off the tug toward idolatry. Using the classic Flatland storyline by Edwin Abbott, the authors artfully craft their point. Consider the following extended quote that unpacks these ideas.

While God’s revealed truth needs in no way to be corrected by anyone or anything, there may be all sorts of ways in which my particular grasp of the truth needs to be challenged and refined. Whenever we think about God, and especially when we think truly about God, we inevitably risk substituting for God himself our “true thoughts” about him.

Of course, we all recognize the problem when we think about it. The God who is “inconceivable” is, by strict necessity, far greater than even the truest of our true concepts. The God who is “past finding out” always exceeds whatever it is we have found. To appeal once again to the imagery of Flatland, the three-dimensional object is inevitably more than any two-dimensional sketch or photo can show—and with a “more” that a two-dimensional thinker cannot grasp, however accurate the photo may be. If a grandmother pulls a photo out of her purse and says, “look, here is my new grandson,” none of us pauses to marvel at how thin the child is—so thin, in fact, that if we turn him sideways we cannot see him at all! Why? Because we know that the paper-thinness that we see before us is a function of the photograph, not a characteristic of the child. We mentally adjust to take into account the lack of a third dimension in the photo, and we adjust so quickly that we are not even aware that we are adjusting. But a Flatlander cannot make this mental adjustment. However perfect the photo may be at representing the child in two dimensions…, the Flatlander who clings to the photo as an exact representation of the child will inevitably go astray.

In a similar way, the ideas we have of God, even ideas rooted in divine revelation, always point beyond themselves. Indeed, they are accurate precisely to the extent that they point beyond themselves. The concepts we have, even the most orthodox, are penultimate rather than ultimate, the means rather than the end, a two-dimensional picture rather than the living, three-dimensional reality itself. Hence, we must cling to the revealed ideas and images; yet if we cling to them in the wrong way, as though the ideas and images were indistinguishable from the reality itself, we unwittingly cling to what is not God. And “clinging to what is not God” is one very simple definition of idolatry.

(p. 227, emphasis mine)

In reading this, I could not help but recall this Zen saying, made popular by Bruce Lee in his film Enter the Dragon,

Only a fool would continue looking at the finger that points to the moon.

If the “fundamentalist” shoe fits….


Similarly and after the spirit of this post, see also J. P. Moreland’s “How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What can be Done about It“.

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