• Powers, Idols and Ideologies

    The principalities and powers mentioned by Paul (in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians and Ephesians) are, apart from a few exceptions (Titus 3:1, Rom 13:1, Luke 12:11, Acts 4:26),  “to be regarded as personal supernatural agencies.” with evil intent.[1] These include Satan, spiritual “world rulers, the stoicheia, and the mystery of lawlessness.[2]  These powers have received their death-blow at the cross, and their final doom is assured. But until that day, they continue to oppose God and God’s people, yet only by His sovereign permission.
    These powers are not to be identified with structures and institutions, yet they may come under their power. “It would appear that social, political, judicial and economic structures can become demonic.”[3] Any good thing that is made an end in itself instead of serving God’s purpose can become the prey of evil powers. This is true of the state (Rev 13), the economic and social order (Rom 12:2; 1 Jn2:15-16), and even the Law of God (Gal 4:3-5).

    The powers have a vested interest in idolatry, which is the worship of something other than God. Paul describes it as the worship of the creature rather than the Creator (Rom1:22-25). Such worship distorts or denies the majesty and truth of God, but it also demeans and enslaves humanity. Both of these results are pleasing to the powers. Any created thing or person which dominates our imagination is an idol.

    According to Bob Goudzwaard, “an obsession with a goal—ideology—legitimates the means [to that goal]. The means then gradually become idols. The goal of material prosperity, for example, justifies the means of continuous economic and technological expansion. It justifies these means with a vast system of redefined norms and values.”[4]

    Hence, a link can be made between the false teaching at Colossae and late/post modern forms of idolatry, which Brian Walsh indeed does. “Idols may well be human products, but they turn on their producers with demonic power.”[5] Walsh focuses on three contemporary idols: scientism, technicism, and economism.


    [1] See the careful study of the phrase “principalities and powers”  in the NT, along with a critique of major interpretations since the end of the nineteenth century in P. T. O’Brien, “Principalities and Powers: Opponents of the Church,” in  Biblical Interpretation and the Church: Text and Context, ed. D. A Carson (Exeter: Paternoster, 1984), 110-50.

    [2] From Frederick Fyvie Bruce, “Principalities and Powers,” a lecture given at RegentCollege.

    [3] O’Brien, 142.

    [4] Bob Goudzwaard, Idols of Our Time (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1984), 21.

    [5] Brian J. Walsh, Late/Post Modernity and Idolatry: A Contextual Reading of Colossians 2:8-3:4,” Ex Auditu  15 (1999), 3.

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