I read a lot of books in the “Christian Living” category and have read Tim Keller’s excellent book on idolatry, Counterfeit Gods (2011). Still, I think Steve Hoppe’s Sipping Saltwater (The Good Book Company, 2017) is the best treatment of idolatry out there. Hoppe combines a love for Jesus with sound theology and an incisive understanding of matters of the heart.
I found two things particularly helpful: First, his use of stories about real people to illustrate the ways we can abuse, reject, or enjoy the gifts God gives us. We can recognize ourselves in many of these stories, which help us see what it might look like to treat God’s gifts the wrong way. Second, Hoppe uses a very helpful three-fold division to show how we can treat these gifts (he deals with several, including sex, food, money, and rest). The three can be described with the terms “God,” “Garbage,” and “Gift.” With the first, we turn the good thing into a god: we invest in it our hopes and look to it for the satisfaction that only God can give. The second describes how we demonize something that in itself is good. For example, the ascetic who sees bodily pleasure or comfort as a threat to his spiritual status and vitality. Or, in the case of rest, the busy person who sees rest as something he cannot afford, which only lazy people enjoy. Finally, “gift” refers to the right treatment of something – as a gift from God to be enjoyed. Throughout, Hoppe asks good questions to help the reader identify what things he may be turning into a god or treating as garbage.
I’m grateful that Steve Hoppe wrote this book. It offers help and, more importantly, points us, in a firm and compelling way, to the one who alone can satisfy our thirst – Jesus Christ. I strongly recommend this book to all, whether Christian and non-Christian.
“Most of us radically understate the degree to which visual media – first television, now everything – eroded thoughtful childhood. The ‘disappearance’ of childhood is traceable directly, [Neil] Postman insists, to the rise of electronic media. What separated childhood from adulthood previously was a secret or guarded knowledge about full adult reality that was understandable only by literacy. Adults knew much that children did not – things about sex and money and violence and death… If you wanted to know what those hidden secrets were, you had to be able to navigate books. Learning how to read – an act of a budding adult – was a prerequisite to acquiring the new knowledge…
“Television changed all that, because it is a ‘total disclosure medium,’ operating around the clock, demanding and broadcasting a nonstop supply of new and titillating information. Practically nothing is taboo or off limits. Because television doesn’t know or care who’s watching, the medium effectively ‘adultifies’ children while infantilizing adults; it doesn’t judge its viewers, nothing is shameful.”
-Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance (New York: St. Martin’s, 2017), 51.
“The main problem behind our insufficient deep reading is a frenzied pace and boundless digital distractions, but we have also passively let the potential for reading quantity undermine the habit of repeatedly reading quality – of returning again and again to a small number of important texts…”
– Senator Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult (New York: St. Martin’s, 2017) 227.
“Both the paucity of books and his own intellectual bent led Lincoln to repeated reading of a relatively small number of books. He did not skim across the top of a thousand books but immersed himself in a dozen or two.”
– William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography (New York: Vintage Books, 2002), 49.
“Be careful, however, that there is no element of discursiveness and desultoriness about this reading you refer to, this reading of many different authors and books of every description. You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind.”
– Seneca, Letter II, Letters from a Stoic (New York: Penguin, 2004), 33.
As a member of the United States Senate, John Quincy Adams, son of the second president and founder John Adams and himself a future president, received a letter from his mother Abigail Adams saying:
“Seriously, I think a man’s usefulness in society depends much upon his personal appearance. I do not wish a senator to dress like a beau, but I want him to conform so far to the fashion as not to incur the character of singularity nor give the occasion to the world to ask what kind of mother he had.”
– Harlow Giles Unger, John Quincy Adams (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2012), 135.
Most of us have heard it said that people should not bring their religious views into the public square. At first this seems reasonable, until you consider, say, our own history.
In his recently released book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America (Thomas Nelson, 2017), Michael Wear who advised candidate and President Obama on faith issues, quotes a speech his boss gave as a senator in 2006 to support his claim that Democrats and progressives should neither ignore nor seek to marginalize faith. The quote offers a compelling reason why we should not ask people to check their religion at the door of the public square – namely, because faith has impelled many to fight for some of the most important and desirable political and social changes in our nation. (Another reason is that there is no such thing as a morally “neutral” public square; everyone, religious or not, appeals to ultimate values and beliefs. The question then becomes: Whose values, whose morality, should dictate discourse at the public square?)
“Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King—indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history—were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their ‘personal morality’ into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition” (18).
Read the full speech here.