“Counterfeit Gods” by Tim Keller – Epilogue: Finding and Replacing Your Idols

Opening Prayer

Focus How is it different to serve someone out of a sense of necessity than to serve someone out of love?

Info – John Newton

John Newton was born in Wapping, London, in 1725, the son of John Newton Sr., a shipmaster in the Mediterranean service, and Elizabeth Newton (née Seatclife), a Nonconformist Christian. His mother died of tuberculosis in July, 1732, about two weeks before his seventh birthday.[1] Newton spent two years at boarding school. At age eleven he went to sea with his father. Newton sailed six voyages before his father retired in 1742. Newton’s father made plans for him to work at a sugar plantation in Jamaica. Instead, Newton signed on with a merchant ship sailing to the Mediterranean Sea.

In 1743, while on the way to visit some friends, Newton was captured and pressed into naval service by the Royal Navy. He became a midshipman aboard HMS Harwich. At one point, Newton attempted to desert and was punished in front of the crew of 350. Stripped to the waist, tied to the grating, he received a flogging of twelve lashes, and was reduced to the rank of a common seaman.  Following that disgrace and humiliation, Newton initially contemplated suicide. He recovered, both physically and mentally. Later, while Harwich was on route to India, he transferred to Pegasus, a slave ship bound for West Africa. The ship carried goods to Africa, and traded them for slaves to be shipped to England and other countries.

Newton was a continual problem for crew of Pegasus. They left him in West Africa with Amos Clowe, a slave dealer. Clowe took Newton to the coast, and gave him to his wife Princess Peye, an African duchess. Newton was abused and mistreated along with her other slaves. It was this period that Newton later remembered as the time he was “once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in West Africa.”

Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had been asked by Newton’s father to search for him.  He sailed back to England in 1748 aboard the merchant ship Greyhound, which was carrying beeswax and dyer’s wood. During this voyage, he experienced a spiritual conversion. The ship encountered a severe storm off the coast of Donegal and almost sank. Newton awoke in the middle of the night and finally called out to God as the ship filled with water. It was this experience which he later marked as the beginnings of his conversion to evangelical Christianity. As the ship sailed home, Newton began to read the Bible and other religious literature. By the time he reached Britain, he had accepted the doctrines of Evangelical Christianity. The date was March 10, 1748, an anniversary he marked for the rest of his life. From that point on, he avoided profanity, gambling, and drinking. Although he continued to work in the slave trade, he had gained a considerable amount of sympathy for the slaves. He later said that his true conversion did not happen until some time later: “I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterwards.”[3]

Newton returned to Liverpool, England and, partly due to the influence of his father’s friend Joseph Manesty, obtained a position as first mate aboard the slave ship Brownlow, bound for the West Indies via the coast of Guinea. During the first leg of this voyage, while in west Africa (1748–49), Newton acknowledged the inadequacy of his spiritual life. While he was sick with a fever, he professed his full belief in Christ and asked God to take control of his destiny. He later said that this experience was his true conversion and the turning point in his spiritual life. He claimed it was the first time he felt totally at peace with God.[1]


  1. The author says, “… idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong.”  Do you think that he is correct?  Why or why not?
  2. For us to turn away from our idols, we need to see not only our personal idols, but also the idols of our culture which we tend to blindly accept as our own.  What can we do to help us recognize our personal idols?  Timothy Killer lists 4 things (pp. 168-170):
    1. _____________________________________________
    2. _____________________________________________
    3. _____________________________________________
    4. _____________________________________________
  3. According to Timothy Keller, what else is needed in addition to “repenting that you have an idol, or using willpower to try to live differently” (p, 171-2)?
  4. “In fear-based repentance, we don’t learn to _________  _______   __________ for itself, and it doesn’t lost its _________________________  ____________________.  When we rejoice over God’s sacrificial, suffering love for us—seeing what it cost him to save us from sin—we learn to _________  _______   __________ for what it is.  Fear-based repentance makes us hate ________________.  Joy-based repentance makes us hate _______  ________.” (p. 172)
  5. “Rejoicing in Christ is also crucial because idols are almost always __________ things.  If we have made idols out of work and family, we do not want to stop loving our work and our family.  Rather, we want to _________  ___________ so much more that we are not ________________ by our attachments.” (p.173)
  6. What spiritual disciplines help you put the gospel “on video” for yourself? (p. 175)


  1. What have you learned from studying this book that you can take and apply to your life both now and in the future?


Closing Prayer

[1] “John Newton,” Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia (Internet; available at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Newton; accessed 15 Dec 2010).

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