Idol Factory

John Calvin said:

“The human heart is a factory of idols… Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.”

This truth is difficult to convey. Few people think of themselves as idolators. And when I as a pastor, or a friend, suggest to people that they – like me – struggle from this affliction, the most common response is a grinning dismissal.

For most people the concept of idolatry conjurs mental images of statues and shrines. And since few people I encounter would knowingly do something as primitive as that, it is easy to understand why that notion is so easily ignored.

Nevertheless it is a condition that needs to be recognized.  We need to recognize it as a general condition of humanity. And each of us needs to discover what kinds of idols our own hearts are producing. You see, what my production center cranks out is different than what your production center develops – both in product and in volume.

In a recent post, titled X-Ray Questions, Scott Thomas, President of Acts 29 Network succinctly addresses this subject. And in that post he offers 35 X-Ray Questions for the Heart.  Thomas’ challenge:

Examine the following questions and ponder your heart for the existent idols and then crush the idols of our heart before they crush you.

  1. What do you love? Hate?
  2. What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for? What desires do you serve and obey?
  3. What do you seek, aim for, and pursue?
  4. Where do you bank your hopes?
  5. What do you fear? What do you not want? What do you tend to worry about?
  6. What do you feel like doing?
  7. What do you think you need? What are your ‘felt needs’?
  8. What are your plans, agendas, strategies, and intentions designed to accomplish?
  9. What makes you tick? What sun does your planet revolve around? What do you organize your life around?
  10. Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, and security?
  11. What or whom do you trust?
  12. Whose performance matters? On whose shoulders does the well being of your world rest? Who can make it better, make it work, make it safe, make it successful?
  13. Whom must you please? Whose opinion of you counts? From whom do you desire approval and fear rejection? Whose value system do you measure yourself against? In whose eyes are you living? Whose love and approval do you need?
  14. Who are your role models? What kind of person do you think you ought to be or want to be?
  15. On your deathbed, what would sum up your life as worthwhile? What gives your life meaning?
  16. How do you define and weigh success and failure, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, in any particular situation?
  17. What would make you feel rich, secure, prosperous? What must you get to make life sing?
  18. What would bring you the greatest pleasure, happiness, and delight? The greatest pain or misery?
  19. Whose coming into political power would make everything better?
  20. Whose victory or success would make your life happy? How do you define victory and success?
  21. What do you see as your rights? What do you feel entitled to?
  22. In what situations do you feel pressured or tense? Confident and relaxed? When you are pressured, where do you turn? What do you think about? What are your escapes? What do you escape from?
  23. What do you want to get out of life? What payoff do you seek out of the things you do?
  24. What do you pray for?
  25. What do you think about most often? What preoccupies or obsesses you? In the morning, to what does your mind drift instinctively?
  26. What do you talk about? What is important to you? What attitudes do you communicate?
  27. How do you spend your time? What are your priorities?
  28. What are your characteristic fantasies, either pleasurable or fearful? Daydreams? What do your night dreams revolve around?
  29. What are the functional beliefs that control how you interpret your life and determine how you act?
  30. What are your idols and false gods? In what do you place your trust, or set your hopes? What do you turn to or seek? Where do you take refuge?
  31. How do you live for yourself?
  32. How do you live as a slave of the devil?
  33. How do you implicitly say, “If only…” (to get what you want, avoid what you don’t want, keep what you have)?
  34. What instinctively seems and feels right to you? What are your opinions, the things you feel true?
  35. Where do you find your identity? How do you define who you are?

Two other worthwhile resources on this subject:

Humble Calvinism: The Idol Factory

Idol Factory – A Series of messages by C.J. Mahaney & Mark Driscoll

6 thoughts on “Idol Factory

  1. WOW ! This would be a good exercise to consider and do. It would sure open the eyes to an honest person between what we would like to be vs what we are. But knowing we all have idols of some sort in our lifes and thoughts, I’d rather concetrate on making Chapters 3 and 4 of Philippians real in my life. Maybe these questions can help in doing that. My heart is with the the writter of Ps 27:4. Wish this body of flesh was as well…….Thanks Dennis for another great post in getting us thinking.

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  3. I can appreciate the desire for “positive” thinking that Philippians 3-4 provides. Certainly we need to press on to our goal. And looking to Jesus is both the motivation and the means to progress in our journey.

    That said, our hearts ARE little idol factories. Ignoring that fact, or even simply acknowledging it, does not empower or even strengthen us in our sanctification. But being aware of how we each develop our unique idols, how we are influenced by our sinful nature, prepares to “run the race”. David, as psalmist, understood this and expressed it in Psalm 139.23-24 when he asks the Lord to “Search” his heart to expose any lingering “iniquity”. The writer of Hebrews also understands it, as he writes in Hebrews 12.1 that we should rid ourselves of everything that “entangles” us in our quest. We cannot untangle ourselves if we are unaware – even blissfully unaware – of those things that entangle us.

    In summary, the suggestion that we “press on” to our goal is valid counsel. But this post focuses on the practical things that hinder us during the race more than the big picture end-goal of the race.

  4. I agree Dennis, we need to renew our hearts by Gos’s word as Rom 12:1 & 2 tells us to.

    I understand the condition of this flesh and the idols that so easily creep into our thinking and even action. (some are in fact hidden to us as you point out, I’m guilty and dead without Jesus)

    I have always thought that when we became new creatures in Christ that God gave us a new heart as well….II Cor 5:17 ALL things are new. But yes I get our flesh does battle against the Spirit, and we have hidden sin and desires, even idols and we do need prayer that God would reviel them to us. Asolutely…no questions

    It’s my hope that the practical issues of the day to day inhance the goals and objectives of the goal. Even if I don’t see it all the time…. (preaching to myself here) But I think the message of Phil 3 and 4 is so very much more that just taking the positive approach. It’s part of abiding in Christ that John talks about I think. there’s so much in those two chapters. So I tend to want to be close to Jesus because as I get close to him then the idols that so much of the time creep in kinda lose there grip sort of speak. Does that make sense? Anyway thats what I’m trying to say.

    I really like the post and the questions are heart renching and help to put things in perspective in a very practical way. So yes I agree and I for one need to do some more thining on these things.

    Again thats Dennis for the post.

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  6. Thanks for posting the bit about the Idol Factory.
    I linked it to a post at my blog here:

    I am a theological florist and I treasure my 5-pointed Calvinistic tulip above all other flowers.

    Black Horse Inn got me thinking and I finally had to depart from the overgrown thickets of Arminian excess and Charismania 11 years ago.


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