“Counterfeit Gods” by Tim Keller – Chapter 6: The Hidden Idols in Our Lives

Opening Prayer

Focus Have you ever had a time when you ignored something because you didn’t see it?

(Excerpts follow from an interview of the author of “The Shack,” William Paul Young, by Phil Callaway of Servant Magazine):

William Paul Young (P): …In the story of the prodigal son there is never any question whether or not the two boys are his sons. At no time are they going to be disowned as sons. The question really is, When are the boys finally going to realize the love of the father? because they’re both functioning outside of the love of the father. The love of the father is constant throughout the story, but the boys don’t understand that so one turns to rebellion and one turns to religion. The beauty is that the one who turns to rebellion is the first one to come home. The other one has been in the house the whole time.

Phil Callaway for Servant Magazine (S): So which one are you?

P: I’m the religious one. For sure. But I’m a shame-based religious person, not truly pride-based. Shame was so deep in my life that it was the motivation for everything that I did. When I accomplished things or did things that people approved, or applauded I always felt like I’d lied my way to it or faked it. Shame was the reality inside my shack.

S:The back cover of the book says that you suffered great loss as a child and young adult. And I read in USA Today that you were involved in an affair a number of years ago. In the wake of what we’ve talked about regarding shame, how did you get through that?

P: It just about killed me, let me tell you. That’s the piece that Scott Mitchell helped me through. Because when it all blew up I was 38 years old and my sixth child was born, that’s when the affair happened. But the childhood stuff that built the shack was not being connected to my parents, being on the mission field, growing up inside another culture, being a third culture kid, etc., and all of the sexual abuse that was part of that culture as well as at boarding school, all of that stuff made me a damaged person seeking the approval of a father who is only angry. So that is the basis for The Shack.

The Shack is a place that houses the decrepit house of the soul. Other people have helped you build its foundation on pain and lostness. You have rooms where you hide your secrets and rooms where you store your addictions and all your lies are the fabric that holds this house together. And meanwhile you build a façade that’s outside, the thing that you want people to see. And you paint it and make it as beautiful as possible so that people will think it’s perfect. You change the colors as people’s expectations change, but really the corruption in the shack is never touched by all the performance on the outside.

My façade was the three-month affair with one of my wife’s best friends. …

And in the confrontation of that moment, it was – If I don’t deal with all this crap…, because I could just not hold the religious façade together in the face of this kind of devastation. So it was either do I face this, or do I run? If I run you might as well kill me. So do I allow the shame at this point to kill me or do I face it?…

I knew I was out [of the shack] when joy had become a constant companion, my identity was in Christ, when Kim and I were good, and when I was the same person in every situation. I’m the same with my kids as I am at work, as I am at play, when I’m alone, when I’m travelling—I’m the same person. And that was just unbelievable to me. The integration and the healing of the pieces of my heart took 11 years.[1]


  1. What are 3 examples of idols within religion, including Christianity (pp. 131-2)?
  2. How has religious idolatry contributed to people across the nation abandoning God has the hope of our nation and replacing it with Nation or Self (pp. 132-3)?
  3. In Jonah 2:8, Jonah says, “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.”  What blocks the coming of grace into people’s lives?  Why did Jonah so badly misunderstand God’s will?
  4. Tim Keller states, “Corporate gods of the culture and religion can supercharge personal idols and create a poisonous mix” (p. 133).  What were Jonah’s personal, cultural and religious idols (p. 136)? What are the idols of our culture (cf. p. 130)?
  5. When God first called Jonah to go to Nineveh and call the people there to repentance, he ran in the opposite direction; then he reluctantly warned the Ninevites to repent, but was very upset when they did and God forgave them; then he was upset the vine which was providing shade for him died.  How were Jonah’s actions connected to his idols?
  6. Read Mt. 12:39-41.  How is Jesus like Jonah?  How does what Jesus did for the world go far beyond what Jonah did for the Ninevites?


  1. Tim Keller paraphrases God’s question to Jonah in this way, “Shouldn’t your love be like mine?  Will you come out of your self-absorption and idolatry and begin to live for me and for others” (p. 152)?  How do we answer that question?


Closing Prayer

[1] Phil Callaway, “Extravagant Grace:  Interview with Author of The Shack,Christianity.ca:  Canada’s Christian Community Online (Internet; available at:  http://www.christianity.ca/NETCOMMUNITY/Page.aspx?pid=6133; downloaded on 2 Dec 2010).


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