“Man’s nature,” Calvin wrote, “is a perpetual factory of idols.” What Calvin is getting at is that all sin is idolatry. In Idols of the Heart, author and speaker Elyse Fitzpatrick seeks to unpack this idea by providing a careful examination of the human heart, how it pursues sin, and how God works to create a clean heart in us.
This is not a systematic, “6 Keys to Killing Idolatry” treatment of the matter. Rather, Fitzpatrick’s book gets to the heart, the emotions, and is aimed at the feelings of the reader. In this updated edition, each chapter ends with a section called “For Further Thought” with a few questions for additional discussions, and the publishers’ website also offers a free companion study guide, perfect for small groups who are going through the book together. Fitzpatrick outlines what kinds of people this book was written for in the introduction:
This book is written for those of you who desire to live a godly life and yet find yourself in a recurrently disappointing struggle against habitual sin and a lack of undivided love. This book is written for you who find yourself constantly tripping over the same bad habit, the same embarrassing weakness, the same sinful slavery that you hoped to be free of years ago. In this book you’ll learn that idolatry — love gone wrong — lies at the heart of every besetting sin that we struggle with. (15)
One of the things I most appreciated about this book is that Fitzpatrick has formulated and backed up many of her conclusions with the teachings of the Reformation and Puritans, drawing notably from men like John Calvin, Richard Baxter, and the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Puritans were a group of theologians who were intimately acquainted with idolatry and sanctification. Their books are some of the most helpful resources Christians have written on the subject. Fitzpatrick knows this and introduces their voice into a palatable work for those not steeped in the teachings and writings of the Reformation. Fitzpatrick’s writing style is easy to relate to and follow, making this book an enjoyable read.
Often in my Romans 7 groanings, when all I can think is, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?!” Sometimes books with a bent on spiritual growth use guilt-trip methods, making us feel so low that grace is minimized in the process. Other books overemphasize grace that we feel no obligation to act in obedience to God. Fitzpatrick’s Idols of the Heart is a good balance between resting in the grace of Christ’s finished work and our responsibility to pursue holiness.
Idols of the Heart is particularly useful for those stuck in “habitual sin” or “sinful slavery”. It is also a help to those who want a better understanding of what sin is and how to battle against it. Every Christian can all benefit from this kind of book.
A special thanks to Elyse for writing this book, and thanks to P&R for my review copy in exchange for my review.