“Counterfeit Gods” by Tim Keller – Chapter 4: The Seduction of Success

Opening Prayer

Focus What is has been the high point of accomplishment in your life so far?  What has your life been like since then?

Inform  “You Might as Well Face It:  You’re Addicted to Success”


Forced to take a buyout from the Kansas City Star last summer, Paul Wenske lost his sense of identity. “I’d been an investigative reporter all my life, and then boom,” says Mr. Wenske, an award-winning journalist of 30 years. “Suddenly you’re not the same person you used to be. You look in the mirror. Who are you?”

The deepening recession is exacting punishment for a psychological vice that masquerades as virtue for many working people: the unmitigated identification of self with occupation, accomplishment and professional status. This tendency can induce outright panic as more and more people fear loss of employment.

“It’s like having your entire investment in one stock, and that stock is your job,” says Robert Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York. “You’re going to be extremely anxious about losing that job, and depressed if you do.”

Over-identification with work is one of many culprits in the epidemic of recession-related anxiety and depression that mental-health providers are reporting. Fear of losing one’s house or failing to find another job are likely bigger contributors. But unlike those problems, the identity dilemma is within the individual’s power to address, requiring no lender mercy or stroke of job-hunting fortune. One approach can require mental exercises, lifestyle alterations and a new set of acquaintances. But the science behind cognitive behavioral therapy, a psychotherapeutic approach that aims to change self-destructive thinking and behavior, suggests that that work can bring long-lasting rewards.

Like a drug, professional success can induce a feeling of ecstasy that quickly feels essential. Recapturing that feeling can require greater and greater feats, a phenomenon that — more than simple greed — explains the drive for ever-larger bonuses and conquests. “With riches, success and fame … you find that greater and greater doses of your ‘upper’ are needed to become ‘high,’ ” David Burns, a Stanford University psychiatrist and pioneer of cognitive behavioral therapy, writes in his 1980 book “Feeling Good.”…[1]


  1. There are two time periods when men are at a high risk for suicide.  One is during adolescence and young adulthood.  The other post-retirement.  What do you think is the reason that men are at high risk of suicide in their post-retirement years?
  2. On pp. 75-78, Timothy Keller gives three signs that indicate that a person has made success an idol in their lives.  What are those three signs?
  3. What differences are there between a culture where personal worth is based on honour, and a culture where personal worth is based on dignity?  How does the latter culture encourage an idolatry of success?  In which culture do we live?  (pp. 78-80)
  4. On p. 85, Tim Keller wrote “Naaman is after a tame God, but this is a wild God.”  What do you think this means?  How did Naaman’s misunderstanding about God play itself out in this Bible story?
  5. How did the slave girl of Naaman’s wife suffer the cost of forgiveness?
  6. How did God suffer the cost of forgiveness for us?
  7. How does God action for us replace our addiction for personal success?


  1. One of the hard-to-understand teachings of the Bible is that God works through weakness (see 1 Corinthians 1:29-31).  How can that help you during the next week?


Closing Prayer

[1] Kevin Helliker, “You Might as Well Face It:  You’re Addicted to Success,” The Wall Street Journal:  Digital Edition (Internet; available at:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123423234983566171.html; downloaded on 11 Nov 2010).

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