Idolatry is at the core of our everyday experience. We often turn our hearts towards something or someone other than Christ, and this is the subject tackled by Steve Hoppe’s first book, Sipping Saltwater. In it I found a compelling analysis of the problem of the human heart, combined with some practical suggestions of ways to fight idolatry.
Hoppe, a pastor at Park Community Church in Chicago, argues that we have a problem with spiritual thirst. And we have this thirst because we live in a broken, far-from-paradise world. The metaphor of ‘salt water’ is used to mean anything which is good but ultimately never intended to satisfy us: “It comes in the form of money, sex, control, or comfort. It comes in the form of busyness, people, food, or works. It can come in the form of anything.”
The author shares his own story of how he tried to sip the ‘salt water’ of academic success whilst at college in order to satisfy his spiritual, emotional and psychological needs. But instead he experienced a ‘hangover’ of depression and anxiety, which drove him to work even harder. And so the cycle continued.
If ‘salt water’ can’t help us, then what can satisfy this thirst? To answer this question, the book moves on to examine the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4. Hoppe applies this passage with great insight, explaining how Jesus is the only source of living water that can quench our spiritual thirst. We receive it not by works, but by faith in Jesus alone. Hoppe then shows us the means of accessing this ‘living water’ by turning to Acts 2. We see how the early Christians were devoted to the Bible, prioritised fellowship with one another, were dedicated to prayer and praise, and were passionate about evangelism. These ‘water fountains’ are not the living water themselves, but are the means by which we grow and flourish in our spiritual lives.
Finally, there is a helpful survey of the different gifts from God which we either tend to idolise or disparage as ‘garbage.’ Money, sex, food, and comfort are all gifts to be enjoyed, but often we turn them into ultimate things or go to the other extreme and demonise them. Here there is a challenge that calls us to reflect on different areas of our lives, to see what we treat as ‘gods’ or ‘garbage’, and encouraging us to change that mind-set to one of ‘gift.’
Sipping Saltwater is really accessible and, at 148 pages, is a pretty short read. If you enjoyed Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods, this book will unpack some of the same ideas using a slightly different approach. The author tells his own story in such an intimate way that I’m sure many readers will be able to relate to his experience. And alongside this he shares some good application of the Bible’s warnings against idolatry. It will be tremendously helpful for anyone who is caught in the ‘salt water cycle’ of looking for satisfaction in things that were never designed to provide it. It will be useful for new Christians who may be surprised that they are still tempted by the old sins of their former lives. And for older Christians too it will serve as a caution against trying to satisfy our thirsts in anything other than Christ.