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Book Review: Idols For Destruction

Idols For Destruction, Herbert Schlossberg

Crossway Books 1990. (344 pages)


Review by Evan J. Nee


Evan Nee

Since the beginning of time, a battle has been steadily raging, having as its object the complete control and sovereignty over the mind of mankind. This conflict is over the most important question of man’s existence: who or what is god? Who holds the ultimate authority, and who establishes the standards that guide my conduct? The roots of this conflict are found in the Garden of Eden, where the first man and woman succumbed to the temptation to “be as God.”[1] This temptation has plagued the human race ever since, and our sin nature has, since the time of the original sin, willingly turned the human heart into a “perpetual forge of idols.”[2] In ancient times the drive to create idols manifested itself in the worshipping of stone and metal figures, or even in the divinization of certain men chosen to bear the ultimate authority in a culture, such as the Pharaoh of Egypt, and the kings of Assyria and Babylon. Today, however, one would be hard pressed to find such blatant and visible objects of worship, because modern idolatry is much more insidious. We have help in identifying modern idolatry, however, thanks to the book Idols For Destruction, by Herbert Schlossberg, which is a valiant and successful effort to unveil the modern forms of idolatry.


Schlossberg’s foundational argument is that, to truly understand both past history and present events, you must view them in the context of God’s covenant blessings to His faithful people, and His judgments on those people and nations which have rejected Him. To support this view, he puts forward the explanation given by Scripture as to why the nation of Israel fell: “Far from being a typical nationalistic exaltation of a ‘chosen people,’ the Old Testament portrays Israel as having become an evil nation, fully deserving the judgment that God meted to it. Its rebellion against God was accompanied by a turning to idols, and this idolatry brought the nation to its end. ‘With their silver and their gold,’ said the prophet Hosea, ‘they made idols for their own destruction’ (Hosea 8:4).”[3] Thus a disintegrating nation is by necessity an idolatrous one, its idols consisting of everything that its citizens substitute for the one true God.


Schlossberg continues throughout the rest of his book to examine all the modern “incarnations” of modern idolatry, starting with the idols of history, and then proceeding to those of humanity, mammon, nature, power, and religion. Each of these areas is given a chapter of their own, and is closely examined in order to give a complete understanding of the origins of each idol, the main subscribers to it, its basic beliefs, and its logical conclusion. Of particular interest are the multitude of quotes, references, and clarifications in each chapter, which draw from an amazing variety of philosophers, historians, theologians, and other people who have greatly influenced modern culture. The sheer number of such notes reveals the vast nature of Schlossberg’s research for this book, and gives readers an in-depth look at how idolatry has been expressed, and just how widespread it has become. His writing style is deep and powerful, and his grasp of the many complexities inherent in philosophical discussions is commendable. The only difficulty for the average reader is the depth of his analyses and his use of philosophical terms. These things may make it slow reading, but also makes it very rich and rewarding reading, and an excellent candidate for repeated readings.


Schlossberg is successful in his critiques of modern culture, and it is for this reason: he has both acknowledged the fact of God’s sovereignty over creation, and made it the foundation of his thought. He explains his own position very well: “Pontius Pilate’s question, ‘What is truth?,’ is everywhere on the lips of relativists who do not believe there exists a principle which affords certainty for any kind of knowledge, factual or ethical. The descent into irrationality is avoidable only by returning to the theological certainties. Human rationality stems from the divine reason that preexisted human beings. Only the certainty that man was created in the image of God gives a solid foundation to reason and therefore to the possibility of human knowledge.”[4] This certainty gives coherence to Schlossberg’s analyses.


After masterfully exposing idolatry, Idols For Destruction concludes on a positive note, giving readers hope for the future, as only faith in a sovereign God can do: “Biblical faith finds great power – as does its imitator, Marxism – in the conviction that history is going its way. Or rather, that since Christ is the Lord of history, it is going history’s way. Final victory is not dependent upon how well the work is done; rather it is assured regardless of all contingent factors. ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’ is not a pious wish, but a certainty. We do not question if we shall be able to bring such a happy state of affairs into being, but rather what our role should be in its inevitable fulfillment. Since the world’s powers were ‘disarmed’ in Christ (Col 2:15) their might is limited, despite the illusions of invincibility they are able to project. The eschatology of victory is a principal theme of the New Testament.”[5]


Idols for Destruction is a brilliantly written examination of the reasons and thought processes behind the deterioration of modern culture. The reader will be edified, enlightened, and encouraged by this book, and his/her understanding of modern culture will increase exponentially. I would recommend this book to all Christians who desire to engage today’s society in a Christocentric manner. This book is an indispensable resource for Christians who want to reconstruct their society according to the perfect law of God, and deserves not only a place in your library, but to be kept close by as a primary resource in understanding the modern world we live in.

[1] Genesis 3:5

[2] Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, Book I.XI.8-9

[3] Idols For Destruction, Herbert Schlossberg, pg. 6

[4] Ibid, pgs. 299 - 300

[5] Ibid, pg. 333