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April 1974 · Vol. 3 No. 1 · pp. 183–84 

Book Review

To Turn from Idols

Kenneth Hamilton. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973. 232 pages.

Reviewed by Abe J. Dueck

The biblical prohibition of the worship of idols is one whose relevance for modern man is seldom discussed. The reason seems obvious—man has outgrown the tendency to worship concrete objects. But Hamilton probes deeper and finds that the idolatrous imagination is not dead. Idolatry, he says, has not changed much except that it has become more subtle and “the external image has given place to an internal one” (p. 55).

In Part II Hamilton examines some of the chief “idols of the modern market-place.” Among the idols that man worships are “the cult of relevance,” “the abstraction of contemporary man,” and “the dream of liberation.” Hamilton is at his best, however, in his description of how modern man worships the Great God Change:

Present-day guidebooks to the New Christianity, the New Theology, Relevant Faith for Contemporary Man, Radical Freedom, Faith for the Twenty-First Century, and the like are full of this type of heady generalization ringing the changes on “out with the old and restricting, in with the new and liberating.” The point is that here “old” and “new” have nothing to do with time and men’s concrete existence in history. They are abstract terms, constructs of the imagination elevated to the position of powers ruling over the human spirit (p. 90). {184}

Part III is devoted to a discussion of the task of “cleansing the temple.” In place of faith in the Perennial New, Hamilton emphasizes continuity and the importance of a living tradition:

Those who accept the myth of the Perennial New cannot accept the possibility of a living tradition, and therefore they speak disparagingly of “the dead hand of tradition” and of “the utter futility of applying traditional thinking to the totally new conditions of today. . . .

Those who acknowledge the validity of traditions, on the other hand, believe that truth can manifest itself in different forms (p. 139).

Throughout, Hamilton manifests a tremendous depth of insight and the ability to focus the issues for the reader by the use of vivid imagery.

Hamilton’s discussion of the nature of worship and preaching is again very perceptive and stimulating. His conception of what he refers to as “the ceremony of preaching” and his view of the role of the professional ministry is quite different, however, from that which prevails in Anabaptist-Mennonite theology and practice. The ministry, according to Hamilton, cannot be considered simply from the point of view of immediate usefulness but rather for its symbolic value—the minister is here to represent the presence of the church in the world (p. 209). Perhaps this is an aspect that we need to reevaluate, especially because we have tended to follow the pattern of the professional ministry of other Protestant traditions in so many respects.

All in all, To Turn From Idols is a book which can be highly recommended. It is not only intellectually stimulating but also far-reaching in its practical implications.

A. Dueck
MB Bible College

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