EDMOND — The pastor of a Southern Baptist megachurch has written a book aimed at helping people overcome idolatry.
The Rev. Dennis Newkirk has been senior pastor of Henderson Hills Baptist Church, 1200 E Interstate 35 Frontage Road, since 1992. He discusses his new book “No Gods But God: Confronting Modern-Day Idolatry (CrossBooks, $24.99)” in this question-and-answer format.
Q: What is the general premise of your new book “No Gods But God”?
A: The number one problem mentioned in the Old Testament is idolatry. No question about it, it's idolatry. In the New Testament, the number one problem mentioned is idolatry, but in the New Testament, there's a different word that's used for it — lust — which could be lust for anything. It's the desire to put something or someone in the place God should have in your life. I think most of us, when we think of idolatry, we think of some pagan religion, some stone-age people or remote Pacific Island or those types of things, but idolatry is alive and well and doing just fine in the United States right now and here in Oklahoma is not an exception to that.
Our idolatry isn't made so much of wood and stone, but people can become idols to us, our families can become idols to us. Our work, our possessions, our car ... you can just go down the list of things that can become idols to us, in that we are desiring something within Creation more than the Creator and we have a willingness to serve those things more than we serve the Creator. Or another way to put it is we are willing to disobey God in order to please or have the idol. So the story of the Bible becomes, in part, a story of God's desire for us to have “No Gods but God.”
Q: Why did you write the book at this particular time?
A: Years ago, I was involved in something that was really life-changing. I frequently spoke at our church's student summer camp in Colorado. That particular year, I came with a complete set of summer messages that I had prepared. The first night of the camp, I really sensed the Lord speaking to me to dump everything that I had done and to talk instead about the problem of idolatry and having no gods but God. I didn't put it in those terms but that was what it was about.
We hear about revivals that come and go and there have been revivals that shaped the course of history. By revival, I don't just mean people coming to Christ, I mean a renewal of our affections for God and the demonstration of the power of God among the people of God. Those kinds of great and mighty expressions of God came to that camp that week, unlike anything that I've ever seen in going on 40 years of ministry. ... Kids were calling back home and setting things right with their parents and there was deep personal repentance and a commitment to prayer unlike anything I've ever seen and people being saved. From there that was brought back from the students to our church and the impact was just phenomenal. In fact, the church grew so much we ended up having to relocate to this place (current location off I-35 and 15th Street).
So knowing that that had happened, that's been on my mind for many, many years and really, people in the church wanted to have the story written.
Q: Why do you think idolatry is a problem in society these days?
A: I think it's because we've got so much to idolize. God has called us to be worshippers. We are worshippers of something, so we have focused that worship on the thing we think is going to give us that desire but you know the idea that we can control our own lives is really just an illusion. God calls us away from that illusion to the only One who can control our destiny, which is Him.
I think that the wealth of our society, the relative peace that's in our society and our opportunities to seemingly control our own lives and destiny has caused us to draw away from God. Jesus said it is as hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God as it is a camel to go through the eye of a needle. I think that the biblical concept of rich was that we have become dependent and trusting in things that we possess. In our modern technological society in which we have more than what we need, it's very easy for us to trust that instead of God.
I think for many people in our society, family has become an idol and the result of that is that the family begins to take the place of God in our lives and the family is hurt by that and we're hurt by that.
Q: In the book, you share steps on how God confronts modern-day idolatry. How does God let someone know that idolatry is a problem in his or her life?
A: I think the history of the Bible is to say here's how God disciplines His children and He does this to gain our attention and draw us back away from our idolatry and to single-hearted devotion to Christ. The Bible says God disciplines those that He loves. A lot of Christians have no idea how He does that. It's like a parent disciplining his or her child and that child not knowing how or why he's being treated that way so the benefit of that discipline is lost.
Well, Scripture teaches us a lot about how God disciplines us and why. We are insensitive to it and I think often times we wonder why is it that God doesn't seem to be answering my prayer, why does God let this happen to me or what's going on in my life? We don't connect it with the fact that a loving God is redemptively drawing us away from the things that we put in front of Him and calling us to deep devotion to Him.
Q: What is your hope with the book?
A: My first purpose in writing it was just to fulfill the sense of calling that God wanted this, and also to call the church to see our preoccupation with idolatry. I think it is as severe today as it has ever been before but the Lord is calling us out of that and to Himself.
The people and objects we turn into idols are not necessarily bad or evil. We can turn perfectly good things into idols simply by wanting them too much.”