Book Review: We Become What We Worship by Beale
G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008), 341pp. Paper. $26.00
In the introductory chapter of his book, G. K. Beale asks the question, “[W]hy is the Old Testament so soaked with the explicit problem of Israel’s idolatry, but the New Testament is not so occupied with this subject?” (28). Seeking to answer this question, he traces idolatry, particularly idol worship, throughout the pages of both the Old and New Testaments. While he uses several key Scripture proofs, his central text is Isaiah 6:9-10. Moreover, as he seeks to answer the above question, his thesis is: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (16).
We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry is a thought-provoking and thorough examination of idol worship. Beale supports his points utilizing Scripture from cover to cover. From time to time, he also transliterates the Hebrew or Greek. This, in conjunction with his use of biblical theology, makes it a loftier read than your mainstream popular theology book. Admittedly, Beale recognizes this and he attempts to make the book as user friendly as he can (22). You will have to be the judge as to whether or not he succeeded.
As Beale surveys certain passages in the Old Testament to support his thesis, he is clear and concise. But when he is making a point that may not be so clear, he uses words like, “likely,” “possibly” or “probably.” While this may not seem substantial to some, it allows the reader to note Beale’s transparency and honesty. If a point is not entirely clear, he lets the reader know. Furthermore, he occasionally references biblical scholars who do not espouse his view in certain areas. While this is not done frequently, nevertheless, he does provide avenues in his footnotes and bibliography for additional reading with those who disagree with him.
About halfway through his book, Beale turns his attention to the New Testament. He immediately notes that while idol worship is in the New Testament, it does not necessarily take the same format as displayed in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, one way in which idol worship was displayed was through the erection of golden calves or other wooden statues. However, in the New Testament, idol worship is demonstrated less through statues and the like and now more through anything that takes one’s heart away from his or her loyalty to God. While this may seem somewhat general at first, Beale goes on at length to prove his point. He further demonstrates the notion of idol worship in the New Testament by taking a brief moment to focus on the appearance of demons. Beale claims, rightfully so, that behind the appearance of demons throughout the New Testament is idol worship. He notes, “The intense activity of demons in the Gospels also hints at Israel’s commitment to tradition as an idolatrous activity, since (1) demons were understood to be ‘behind the idols,’…. Similarly, a number of passages in John’s Revelation directly link idolatry with demons…” (172).
Overall, Beale’s work is carefully prepared and biblically sound. But there are times when one begins to wonder if he is stretching the Scriptures to prove his point. Thankfully, he is aware of this potential error and asks the reader to disregard any point he is making if the Scriptures do not support his thoughts (32-33). The only other potential issue, one which is extremely subjective, is that his book begins to get a bit monotonous. There is very little variation throughout the book because he is proving his thesis from every text he cites. Thus, about halfway through his book, you realize that you are getting the same thing but from different angles.
Because each of the latter criticisms are extremely minor, they should not stop you from purchasing this book. Indeed, it is a must have! It will open your eyes to see God’s Word through the lens of idol worship in a new and profound way. And perhaps, personal sanctification may occur as you read this intriguing book.
Leon Brown, MDiv