Book Review: We Become What We Worship

G. K. Beale.  We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. 2008. 341 pp. 

we beomce what we worship

The thesis of We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry could not be simpler or better integrated into the content of this book.  As Beale states in the introduction, “the main thesis of this book is: What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” (16)  The remainder of the book sets out to demonstrate and defend this simple thesis from both the Old and New Testaments.

Foundational to Beale’s thesis is his interpretation of Isaiah 6.  Beale makes the argument that Isaiah was being commissioned as a prophet to minister to an idolatrous people.  In response to Isaiah’s ministry these people would

According to Beale “this is a just judgement from God, not a capricious happening out of the divine blue.  He is punishing them by means of their own sin.” (47)  Because Israel worship blind, deaf, and dumb idols they would remain spiritually blind, deaf and dumb.  “The principle is this: if we worship idols, we will become like the idols, and that likeness will ruin us.” (46)  This is certainly at the heart of Beale’s work.  In fact, Beale goes to great lengths to demonstrate that this formula (blinded eyes and deaf ears) is always connected with the idolatry of man.  It is an ironic and just punishment for going after the creation rather than the Creator.

Beale devotes an entire chapter to this concept in the Gospel and the teaching of Jesus.  This chapter, in particular, is a valuable contribution to Beale’s thesis.  It may not be easy for the reader to see the connection between latent Old Testament idolatry and its consequences.  The concept of idolatry is a bit more elusive in the Gospels.  But Beale, in part based on Jesus’ use of Isa 6, demonstrates the idolatry continued to be the the problem of the people at the time of Christ.  Their idols, however, were not graven images.  Their idols were man made traditions.  “The problem with these traditions was not that they were not necessarily unbiblical or bad in and of themselves, but Israel’s attitude to the traditions.  Israel trusted in these traditions instead of in God and his word.” (169)

Beale thoroughly examines his thesis not only in Isaiah and the Gospels, but also in the Old Testament (chpt 3), Judaism (chpt 5), Acts (chpt7), Paul’s Epistles (chpt 8), and the book of Revelation (chpt 9).  This thorough work is both the strength and the frustration of this book.  It is a strength because Beale does strong and high level exegesis to prove his conclusions.  The exegesis shown is intended to satisfy scholars while being accessible to laymen. This gives the reader a good opportunity to study along with Beale and test the validity of his thesis while at the same time develop the implications of the thesis in his own mind.

The nature of Beale’s approach is also going to be a source frustration for readers. Specifically, it will frustrate readers when they disagree with specific exegetical conclusions.  In a book that looks at so many different passages it is virtually impossible that a reader could agree with every detail of Beale’s interpretive decisions.  This doesn’t mean the thesis is invalid, but it will make the reader work harder while he is reading.  This, however, is a good kind of frustration.  It forces critical thought and interaction.

As a biblical theology Beale simply seeks to demonstrate support his thesis from a wide range of biblical evidence.  The thesis is tantalizing and seems to be consistently found in various sections of scripture (although probably not as often as Beale finds it).  It is hard to argue against the idea that “what people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.”  In fact, this thesis is screaming for a systematic theologians to pick it up and integrate it into other theological concepts and questions.  For instance, why do we resemble what we worship?  It is how God designed us, or is it a fair form of punishment and reward?  Or, how exactly do we resemble what we worship?  What is the process of hardening? Or, could it be that we choose idols that resemble us (Rom 1:18ff) rather than the idols conform us to their image?  The answer to such questions is beyond the scope of a biblical theology and not thoroughly answered by Beale.

Ultimately, Beale’s work is a significant contribution to the biblical concept of idolatry.  He cogently demonstrates that a consequence of idolatry is spiritual death.  If you worship what is dead you will be spiritually dead.  Or, as he refers to it, there is an idolatrous anesthetization that takes place when we replace the worship of the Creator for the worship of the creation.