The Greatest False Idol of Modern Christianity

Not all idols are made of gold.

Idolatry is a horrible, dangerous thing.

Sadly, far too many of us are guilty of it.

You can see it in the way we complain on social media, in the way we comment on the news of the day; in the defeatist, alarmist language that we use to describe the world.

You see it in the way we furrow our brows, and throw up our hands and slam our pulpits.

It shows up in the lazy stereotypes and the religious rhetoric that flows so easily in church lobby coffee chats and extremist blog rants. It’s as if everything has now become an imminent threat: Muslims, Atheists, Gays, The President, inner-city criminals, Hollywood, illegal immigrants, The Government, school hallways.

The world outside the church building is broadly painted as a vile, immoral war zone, with “God’s people” hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned.

Parroting the politicized talk show hosts and reposting the latest terrible news stories, we perpetuate the now comfortable, Evangelical Christian narrative of impending destruction, and we make it clear at every opportunity: The sky is falling.

Though we will loudly, repeatedly and confidently proclaim Christ as Lord, in reality, many of us no longer practice faith in a God that has any real power, any true control or inherent God-ness. We seem to have little more than a neutered figurehead Deity, who doesn’t seem to be able to handle much at all anymore. He’s lost His Old Testament swagger.

The truth is, Fear has become a false God, one too many of us worship with complete and undying devotion.

Dig just beneath the sunny “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Bible covers, and the “God’s judgment is coming” bullhorn warnings and you'll find that much of America has imagined a powerless God who's mostly just keeping Heaven tidy until all the Christians get there. In the meantime, we live in perpetually frightened freak-out mode.

The truth is, Fear has become a false God, one too many of us worship with complete and undying devotion.

The symptoms of Fear Idolatry are pretty easy to spot.

When you’re not sure that God is there or that He’ll really come through, you start to spend most of your time defending Him in absentia. You become a self-appointed Crusader of Truth, whose mission is to do the holy work of policing the world, just in case God can’t or won’t.

You spend a lot of time calling out evil, forecasting disaster and predicting damnation.

When Fear is your God, you start majoring in exterior sin management. You slowly yet ultimately turn all of your attention to the things in other people that you’re certain really tick God off, and you make it your sacred business to modify their behavior in the name of Jesus.

When your God isn’t big enough, you’ll try to do in others what you’ve decided He wants, instead of actually trusting Him to "finish the good work He began."

You believe in a Jesus who is integral to personal salvation in the afterlife, but is useless for the life we live now. He may be able to save souls, but He’s apparently freaked out by a Muslim prayer breakfast or school prayer policy.

Is that really God? Is that Divinity?

Is that the One about Whom the psalmist wrote: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands."

When your God isn’t big enough, you’ll try to do in others what you’ve decided He wants, instead of actually trusting Him to "finish the good work He began."

Is that the God who spoke the world into being, calmed the seas, healed the blind and raised the dead?

So let's pray. Let's pray that all of us learn to stop worshipping the false idol of Fear.

Let's pray that our churches recapture a sense of the God who is worthy; not just of defending and quoting, but trusting.

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Let's pray for the rest, joy and humility that comes from putting faith in someone greater than ourselves and in the things we fear.

Every day, even with the mystery that grows on the journey, my security is growing.

I know how big my God is.

Do you?

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Top Comments

Tanner Hofs


Tanner Hofs commented…

Articles like this only serve to confirm the opinions of people in the Relevant demographic, not challenge them.

Although I'm certain there are groups who need to hear this message, it does nothing to convict or question its targeted audience. In fact, it sounds a lot like the pulpit-slapping and 'lazy stereotypes' that the article condemns - a speech that pats on the back all like-minded members, and allows us to maintain superiority over the inflated caricatures we create of the other side.

I love Relevant Magazine, but it would be nice to see more content that is self-aware. What if the 'other side' had a point that's reflected in other verses in the Bible? What if Christians who don't see the world as an enemy sometimes hold that view because they're afraid of appearing silly to the broader culture?

Jay Lyons


Jay Lyons commented…

Good stuff, John! I really appreciate your viewpoints on this topic! There are tons of people in our nation who treat the church buildings more like the Alamo than they do the House of God. I am ministering in an area of the country where people think that the U.S. is about to be invaded by Mexico while others are gathering rations for the oncoming zombie apocalypse (you laugh, I cringe. I couldn't make this stuff up if I wanted to). What people need to realize and understand is that God is actively at work reconciling the world to him. Our faith barometer is easily checked if we acknowledge to what level we believe that God is bringing His Kingdom here, to earth, as it is in heaven.

I guess this particularly stands out to me because it is part of an ongoing discussion I've been having in my ministerial context for the past two months. Thanks for the insight!


Levi Carter


Levi Carter commented…

Love this! Having faith in God leads us to do nothing, as often as it leads us to do something in the lives of those we love. -read more at

TJ Liwanag


TJ Liwanag replied to Levi Carter's comment

Can you explain what "Having faith in God leads us to do nothing" means?

Clarissa Gafoor


Clarissa Gafoor commented…

a great article John Pavlovitz. if one believes that 'it is finished' actually means/meant `it is finished' then why live in fear?
sure there are all sorts of dangers out there - and we do need to be aware. but the thing we need to be really aware of is our own lack of faith.
'be strong and courageous' by Colin Buchanan is a great (children`s) song to listen to when felling overwhelmed by it all.

Steve Cornell


Steve Cornell commented…

I think you'll appreciate the encouragement I suggest for those who allow failure or fear to become an idol,

Heather Werthmuller Voges


Heather Werthmuller Voges commented…

This is the best thing I've read in a long time.

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