Eufunctional Idols

I suppose it’s not too common to quote an author’s footnote (I’m not sure if I’ve ever done that before), but a line from a detailed footnote in an article I was reading really grabbed my attention. The article is by David Powlison, called Idols of the Heart and “Vanity Fair”. In it, Powlison accurately diagnoses both the inner (heart) idolatries and the “false masters and value systems” of our world, “which we tend to absorb automatically,” and from which only Christ can deliver and save us. Therefore, truly Christian counseling–counseling with Christ at the center–“is counseling which exposes our motives–our hearts and our world–in such a way that the authentic Gospel is the only possible answer.”

The footnote that caught my attention is this:

It is obvious that if idolatry is the problem of the “co-dependent,” then repentant faith in Christ is the solution… The literature [of co-dependency, Christian or not] may even use “idolatry” as a metaphor, without meaning “idolatry against God, therefore repentance.” The solution, without exception, is to offer different and presumably more workable idols, rather than repentance unto the Bible’s Christ! Secularistic therapies teach people eufunctional idols, idols which do “work” for people and “bless” them with temporarily happy lives (Psalm 73).

Therapy systems without repentance at their core leave the idol system intact. They simply rehabilitate and rebuild fundamental godlessness to function more successfully.

The Bible’s idolatry motif diagnoses the ultimately self-destructive basis on which happy, healthy, and confident people build their lives (eufunctional idols), just as perceptively as it diagnoses unhappy people, who are more obviously and immediately self-destructive (dysfunctional idols).

What stood out to me in this is that repentance must be at the core of any significant change. I have read much about co-dependency and struggled to break free from that by learning different patterns of relating, but I have not learned repentance. Confession has been a discipline that I have been trying to incorporate into my life for years, with minimal success. Admitting wrong and seeking forgiveness from those closest to me is not a regular occurrence. Could it be that I am doing the very thing Powlison is writing about here–self-righteously trading my dysfunctional idols for eufunctional (well-functioning) idols, rather than humbly seeking Christ’s deliverance from those idols through repentance? I need Jesus…not only because life is hard, but because my heart is so easily led astray by my idolatrous attempts to save myself.


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