Idolatry and the Cult of Narcissism

In the last few years, quite a few Christian preachers and authors have written books that discuss idolatry in the Christian’s life.  Building on C.S. Lewis and other currently trendy Christian thinkers from the recent past, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll and other popular leaders do a decent job unmasking the idols many of us have.  I’m glad these teachers are helping us fight idolatry in our lives, but in my opinion their work takes a distant back seat to a book written nearly 30 years ago: Herbert Schlossberg’s Idols For Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture.

I have mentioned this book on the blog before (here and here), but it is important enough to mention again.  In Idols for Destruction, Schlossberg talks about these: 1) Idols of History, 2) Idols of Humanity, 3) Idols of Mammon/Money, 4) Idols of Nature, 5) Idols of Power, and 6) Idols of Religion.  The final two chapters are sort of application chapters where Schlossberg wrestles with the difficult questions of how Christianity relates to such an idolatrous culture.  This 300+ page book is a brilliant and scholarly walk-through and critique of the idols Americans worship daily.

For one example, listen to Schlossberg’s discussion of narcissism – or at least a little part of his discussion:

“Psychologies of narcissism fall into the mainstream of the new American society in stressing the importance of the experiences of life.  As materialism gives way to the new spiritualism, what is possessed seems less important than what is experienced.  People would rather save for a luxurious vacation than a luxurious car.  Experience is important because it is composed of sensations, and sensations are all that is left of man after the reductionisms of both behaviorism and pantheism destroy his being.  For behaviorists and pantheists human life consists of a succession of sensations inhering in nothing.  Without experiencing sensations, then, man loses his identity, even his existence” (p. 167).

After reading this book, the other recent books on idolatry seem elementary to me.  You might guess the book would be dated since Schlossberg wrote it around 30 years ago, but it is not.  Over and over again as I read it, I was amazed at how his explanations and discussions are completely relevant today.

If you read and study Idols for Destruction, you’ll save time and money: you won’t have to get all the recent books that discuss idolatry.  Granted, Idols for Destruction is a tough read; it is not for everyone.  It’ll take time and energy to work through.  But I guarantee it will be the best book on American idolatry that you’ve ever read. 

shane lems

2 thoughts on “Idolatry and the Cult of Narcissism”

  1. But I’ve always wondered… does this book bear any theonomic worldview?

    As for the quote you pulled out, it sure is true. Lost people talk about life being a journey to simply enjoy with no discernable goal or purpose. Indeed, “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.”


    1. Dante – good to hear from you again. You know, when I read it I didn’t always resonate with all of his ways forward (or whatever you want to call them). They didn’t strike me as theonomic – more like borderline biblicism. However, with Keller/Driscoll and company, there’s a very strong cultural/city transformation emphasis (eschatology), which is even less appealing to me than Schlossberg’s last two chapters where he talks about his ways forward. 80% of this book is a descriptive analysis of American idols, which is superb.

      Hope this helps. I’d be glad to listen to other perspectives here!



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