TBC Notes | thebereancall.org

T. A. McMahon

Latter-day Idolatry 

I'm sure most of us have heard that the idolatry of our day involves our personal possessions. For some, that may be their cars, their homes, sports trophies they’ve won, or some other object that glorifies themselves. Webster's dictionary of 1828 (in which many of its definitions are taken from the Bible) defines idolatry as "the worship of a physical object as a god" or an "immoderate attachment or devotion to something." Whereas there's not a great amount of physically bowing down and worshiping an object as a god in our Western culture (yet!), there is a surplus of attachments or devotions that displace the devotion God's created beings are to have for their Creator. Nevertheless, there is an increasing idolatry in our day that is more akin to what we find in the Old Testament. What is it? It's the idolatry of visual imagery.

The Scriptures give us a very clear example of visual idolatry in contrast to the written Word of God. When Moses met with God on Mount Sinai he wasn't given a picture book. God himself gave him tablets upon which He wrote words. The Israelites, on the other hand, craved a physical object, something visual, so they had Aaron make a golden calf for them to worship. The difference between the idol and the words of God need to be understood. An idol is a creation of humans and is completely subjective. Its worship is manifested through the emotions and feelings of its worshippers, no instruction manual was included.

The words of God, however, are commandments and instructions that directed the Israelites in exactly how they were to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Any input from anyone else other than God, or is not specifically directed by God, is a corruption of His words, and constitutes both blasphemy and idolatry. That's why Proverbs:30:6 declares: "Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." Additions are lies. That should be obvious, especially when the additions are visual.

Words have meanings and their definitions are normally understood. Not so for a painting or sculpture, for example. Let's say three people are discussing a work of abstract art and each one differs in his evaluation of a painting. Each person's view is based for the most part on his or her subjective feelings. One likes the use of color, another the composition, and another how the shapes interact. Next to the painting is a sign with directions to be followed should the fire alarm sound. Should the alarm clang, the people would not likely stand around discussing their feelings about the sign's typeface or the boldness of its instructions. They would follow what the sign says and head for the exit.

The subjective nature of visual imagery rarely, if ever, constitutes objective instructions. That's one reason why the Bible is not a picture book, but rather a book of words, God's objective communication to humanity in words that can be defined and readily understood.

What then of translating the content of the Bible into the visual and emotionally predisposed medium of film? Such a translation is what The Chosen is all about. One only needs to consider the favorable responses to the film series to recognize its subjective influence. Many declare they now have a better understanding of the character of Jesus. They love his sense of humor, his humility, his love of children, his humanity. All of that which The Chosen supplies was supposedly lacking in the written Word inspired by the Holy Spirit. They are responding to the power of the film medium that's designed to manipulate the viewers' emotions. That's accomplished through cinematography, camera angles, lighting, music, dialogue, acting, directing, and much more. Each component often plays a significant part in influencing the movie's audience.

Consider then the latter-day idolatry of The Chosen. It is a man-made visual reworking of the characters found in the Bible (and some not found there), including Jesus Christ who is God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy:3:16). Those movie characters, fashioned in the imagination of screenwriters, did things and spoke things not found in Scripture, and in contradiction to the teaching of God's Word. The Apostle John's exhortation needs to be our prayer for those who are being seduced by The Chosen: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen" (1 John:5:21).

T. A. McMahon

Executive Director