Review: “You are the treasure that I seek” by Grey Dutcher

You are the Treasure that I Seek (But there’s a lot of cool stuff out there, Lord)
Greg Dutcher
Discovery House, Grand Rapids, 2009, 208pp.

Do you have a sinful habit you long to be done with? Do you have a particular sin you keep on confessing to God and others? Do you have a sin that blots your conscience, leaving a stain that fades gradually, only to receive a fresh splotch of guilt the next time you fall prey to it? You hate it, and yet you are caught in it. It seems to be a sin you cannot live with­out. In fact, it feels bigger than that; it feels like a sin that cannot live without you. Perhaps in answering these questions you thought about pride, greed, envy or lust. Did the word ‘idolatry’ come to mind?

You are the Treasure that I Seek is a simple, short, practical book written by pastor Greg Dutcher to Christian idolaters (yes, you read that correctly). It’s a book for Christians who trust, serve or obey something other than Christ Jesus. Dutcher wants to encourage Christians to treasure Christ alone by learning how to identify their hidden idols in order to turn away from them.

The universal tendency towards idolatry tells us something interesting about people: we are all treasure hunters on a quest for personal fulfilment. But when we receive Christ as our saviour, we declare him to be our treasure. The treasure hunt is over, isn’t it? Well, not exactly; even after we come to Christ, our hearts have a tendency to lose sight of how supremely valuable Christ is. You might crave a designer suit, an iPhone, or, if you’re a preacher, perhaps it’s compliments on your sermons. We are all guilty of saying, in effect, “Lord, you are the treasure that I seek … but there’s some really cool stuff out there, too” (p. 15). This book has been written for ‘conflicted Christians’ like us (p. 14)—to help us close the gap between the place Christ should hold in our lives and the place he does hold.

Dutcher doesn’t ignore or minimize the problem. He delivers the bad news first: God has diagnosed humanity, and things are not good; we suffer from “an eternally terminable illness” (p. 22) of the heart. God’s prognosis is that this illness will get worse and ultimately attract his eternal wrath. This appalling news prompts the question “What is the nature of our disease?” It’s simple: we have made a bad trade. We have exchanged a unique master­piece for a “garage sale counterfeit” (p. 29); we have bartered God away for an idol.

Is there any hope for wrath-deserving idolaters? Better! There is good news: Jesus Christ came into this world to rescue idolaters. By dying on the cross, Jesus drained the cup of God’s wrath and endured the full measure of God’s punishment re­served for idolaters. Christ’s death means that idolatry has been deprived of its power to condemn. But—and this ‘but’ drives the rest of the book—idolatry can and does rob Christians of the joy they could otherwise have in Christ.

Given that God takes idolatry so seriously, why are so many Christians unaware of their own idols. Dutcher suggests it is because we have a messed-up, Indiana Jones view of idolatry: when we hear the word ‘idol’, we think of jungle tribes and totem poles. Idolatry is not our problem; we have modern, sophisticated problems like stress, financial pressures and job dissatisfaction. But it is a mistake to think of idolatry as something that exists out there, back in some remote culture; idolatry is much closer than that. It is rooted in and grows out of the heart. This means we take our idols wherever we go. Idols are remarkably portable; we can worship them anywhere, anytime, all the time.

Another reason idolatry goes unnoticed is that it often works in subtle ways. Think about it: has anyone ever come up to you and said, “Hey, you should ditch that Jesus. I’ve got this great idol back at my place. Why don’t you come over and we can worship it together?” Idolatry doesn’t work like that. Instead, it is often God’s good gifts that become our most cherished idols. Food, sex and recreation are all good things in themselves; they are part of the good world made by God. But their goodness makes them seductive—and popular—idols.

If that is not enough bad news for you, says Dutcher, wait: there’s more! Well, it sounds like bad news at first, but it’s actually part of God’s good news to recovering idolaters: God loves us too much to allow us to continue in idolatry. God, our loving Father, disciplines us mercifully so that we learn not to cherish, trust or fear anything above, instead of or even in addition to Christ. The hardships that come our way can often be painful reminders from God that our idols are not enough to carry us through life. In his kindness, God gives us time to learn to be content with Christ alone. He often shakes our idols, which can hurt a lot. But he does this out of love—to rescue us from idols, and redirect our attention and affections to Christ.

So is there anything we can do to deal with idolatry? Yes, says Dutcher. There are three things:

1. Read the Bible prayerfully. Discovering our idols is not easy. Have a go and ask yourself “What are my idols?” Give yourself some time to reflect and see what you come up with. If you’re like me, you’ll find it hard to be specific. You can sense that something is there, but whatever ‘it’ is is irritatingly good at remaining concealed below the surface. What I need—what we all need—is to read the Bible prayerfully. This will give us eyes to see—eyes that discover and identify what our hidden idols are.

2. Flee from your idols. That’s right: run, don’t walk. This might be inconvenient, painful and even disruptive; we are usually very fond of our idols. So don’t be surprised if you discover that your thoughts, habits and routines have settled into a smooth, effortless orbit around your favourite one.

3. Reflect on and treasure Christ’s beauty.

For those eager to deal with their idolatry, Dutcher provides two appendices. Appendix A contains four case studies—two about sex and two about stuff. Appendix B is a “First-Aid Kit for Recover­ing Idolaters”, which contains Bible passages, quotes and prayers to help Christians become aware of idolatry’s attacks; the uselessness, danger and wretchedness of idolatry; and the incomparable beauty of Christ.

Dutcher writes with candour, warmth, sensitivity and a pastoral concern that his readers do something practical about their idolatry. His style is engaging and lively, which makes You are the Treasure that I Seek an easy book to read. Each chapter concludes with a prayer, and is followed with a study guide containing questions to help the reader think through the practical implications of that chapter for themselves.

You are the Treasure that I Seek did, how­ever, leave me pondering a few matters. Firstly, Dutcher uses vivid and engaging illustrations, but he uses too many of them. I suspect this reflects the fact that the book is based on a series of talks. If so, perhaps more could have been done to adapt the illustrations to print. The plethora of them left me with the impression that Dutcher relies more heavily on his illustrations than Scripture to make his point.

Secondly, and at the risk of sounding like an evangelical ‘misery guts’, missing out on a greater experience of joy did not strike me as the most compelling reason to repent of idolatry. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for gospel-generated joy. But when I read through Paul’s letters, it seems to me that it is our incorporation into and participation with Christ (in his death, burial and resurrection) that is the basis for not offering our bodies to sin (in all its manifestations, including idolatry), but to God.

Thirdly, after finishing the book, I couldn’t escape the feeling that Dutcher’s concept of idolatry is bigger than the Bible’s. Dutcher expands idolatry so that it becomes so big, it effectively swallows up every other sin. I’m not sure this can be justified biblically1 or that it is pastorally necessary.

In spite of these things, God used this book to prompt me to ask myself some uncomfortable and penetrating questions. He (and Dutcher!) helped me see with greater clarity the good things that distract my attention and affections from his inestimable Christ, and equipped me to put those things in their rightful place. For that, I am very grateful.

  1. The Bible often reveals a strong nexus between sexual immorality and idolatry. But it does not say that sexual immorality is idolatry; the two are conceived of differently. (See Brian S Rosner, Greed as Idolatry: The Origin and Meaning of a Pauline Metaphor, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2007, pp. 111-115.)

Comments are closed.