Walvoord, Chafer and Theissen all have good sections on these topics. Hodge has a detailed section on this as well. Since so much work has been done on the subject there will only be a brief introduction to the topic here.


There are many views of the creation, the being or power that did it, and the resultant oversight of the creation by that power or being. We need to look at some of these views.


1. Dynamism: There is in all things a force which can be tapped for either good or evil purposes. This force is not described — only used and worshiped. This is an impersonal force that is stronger than man. Does that sound like anything you’ve been seeing on tv in recent years? Sound like Star Wars? “May the Force be with you.”


2. Animism: All of nature has spirits that are personal and responsive to the worshiper. The spirit will do good or evil according to the worshipers activities. Help or injury can come from these spirits at the will of the spirit. This would be tree worship or moon worship etc.


Animism views all immaterial things as being and existing due to the immaterial part of the object. The immaterial is inseparable from the matter and gives the matter form and life.


In short if we were animists and I was to give you a test and you failed the test, you might well come to the desk that you took the test in, and feel that its spirit had been unkind to you because you left your gum on it. You might clean the gum off and do some ritual to get back into its good graces.


3. Fetishism: The idea that objects have spirits and the object must be worshiped because the spirit is there. The spirit is a temporary resident of the object so may leave the object. The term means magic. Many Indian tribes in South America and elsewhere have great problems with fetishes. When the people accept Christ one of the first things to go should be, and usually is, their fetishes.



In our previous illustration, if we believed in fetishism, you might, when you came to the desk, find that the spirit had moved. You might have to go find it.


This reminds me of the Roman Catholic Church in South America in years past when they removed some of the saint’s statues from the cathedrals because they were no longer saints. The people had been worshiping at those statues for several generations in some cases, and all of a sudden the saint wasn’t a saint and was gone — they had no one to pray to.


4. Idolatry: This is not the worship of sleep. The term means image. The idol is the permanent residence of the spirit and as such, is worshiped. The object is something that is man made normally and is sacred.


The difference between idolatry and fetishism is that the spirit is permanent in the idol while the spirit is not permanent in the fetish. The difference between animism, idolatry and fetishism is that the animist views ALL objects as having a spirit, while the idolater and fetishist view only some objects as having a spirit.


Jeremiah 10 has a great listing of the attributes of idols: they are cut from the forest, they are crafted, they are decorated, they are fastened so they can’t fall, they can’t talk, they need to be carried, they aren’t to be feared, they can do you no harm, they can do you no good, they are falsehood, they have no breath, they are vanity, they are works of error, and they will perish. So Why Worship Them?


You can then list all of these and compare them to God’s own attributes and see the difference. He, the Living God is what all of the idols are not. Isaiah 44:14-20 is a text you need to remember for speaking to the foolishness of idolatry. Take time to read it.


5. Monolatry: The worshiper selects one idol from all the rest and worships it exclusively and feels that his god is more powerful than all others. Quite often this idol that is worshiped will be a tribal god in the Indian cultures. In monolatry the object is import rather than the god. Sound like “money” today, indeed, the title is close.


6. Polytheism: This is not, as someone has suggested, the worship of parrots. It is Greek for many gods, or the worship of many gods. These gods are usually well defined in the persons mind. They may live in mountains or in other objects of nature. In the Greek thought they were well-defined gods of supernatural nature. Venus, Apollo, Jupiter etc. The Greek gods all lived on Matthew Olympus.


Quite often there will be one god that is over the other gods or at least more powerful than the other gods. This is also true of the Greek system of gods.


These gods are different from the idolater’s god. The god of the polytheist has form and is not related to an object. Their god is independent and can act as he wills, rather than being contained within an object.


There is indication in the Old Testament that many of the peoples of the earth were polytheistic. They all felt that each god had different levels of power. When they ran into a god more powerful than their god, they would add that new god to their list of gods. They might do this when as a valley people, they fought the mountain people and lost. They would naturally assume that the mountain people’s god was more powerful. The Old Testament pictures God as knowing that He was one god among many, however, He always declared Himself as the Living God, or as the God above all gods.


7. Henotheism: The worshiper chooses one of the gods of a polytheistic listing and worships it exclusively as his god. Within the Greek system of gods, the person might choose cupid and worship the god of love to the exclusion of all other gods in the system.


8. Dualism: This thought comes from the Latin two. Dualism is a belief in two equal gods of opposite character. One is good and one is evil. (Zorasterism) If you study the different ideas of the creation of the universe, you will run into the dualism of the ancient peoples. Many of the concepts of creation are based on two gods, one representing good and the other representing evil. They quite often are the products of one set of parents, or one producing force.


9. Tritheism: “This is the doctrine of three Gods.” (Cambron, Mark G. D.D.; “Bible Doctrines”; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954, p 21) I have read that this thought originated with a man that came out of the Brethren movement in years past.



10. Pantheism: All there is, is god and there ain’t no moe. God is all, and all is god, and all you see is a manifestation of that god. There is no matter

— only god. You are sitting on God, and you will eat God at lunch. It would be very difficult to honor your god within this system, since you have to use material things, while knowing they are your god. In this system you would definitely respect the things which you used.


11. Panentheism: This system of thought is very similar to Pantheism. Pantheism holds that all is god, and god is all that exists, while Panentheism holds that all is god but god is more than exists. In other words, god is in all things, but all things are not the extent of god. The universe is god, but god extends further than the universe and is more than the universe.


12. Deism: Deism
comes from the Latin for god. There is one personal supreme god that is personal. He is far off from mankind and as a result is very seldom worshiped or heard from. He’s Way Out I Guess You Could Say. God is known from nature and reason, but not from the Scripture. (Many of our countries founding fathers were Deists. Benjamin Franklin for one.)


He created but doesn’t sustain the creation. “God is the Maker, but not the Keeper.” (Cambron, p 20)


Theissen states, “God is present in creation only by His power, not in his very being and nature. He had endowed creation with invariable laws over which he exercises a mere general oversight; he has imparted to his creatures certain properties, placed them under his invariable laws, and left them to work out their destiny by their own powers. Deism denies a special revelation, miracles, and providence.” (Thiessen, Henry C.; “Lectures In Systematic Theology”; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949, p 74)


13. Monotheism: From Greek for one. Monotheism presents a personal ethical god that is in the world yet distinct from the world. One god only.


We as Christians are monotheists. Among monotheists we find not only Christianity, but Islam and Judaism.



14. Theism: Theism is the same as Monotheism, with the added idea of self-revelation. God has revealed Himself via our nature, the creation and the Word. “Theism is the belief in the existence of a personal God, Creator, Preserver, and Ruler of all things.” (Pardington, Revelation George

P. Ph.D.; “Outline Studies In Christian Doctrine”; Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1926, p 57)


15. Idealism/Realism: This is not usually a form of worship yet could be. It is often listed with Realism for they are opposites.


Idealism would be the worship of ideas. Idealism states that what is, ain’t, and realism states that what ain’t, is.


The idealist would view a chair as only an idea and not real. The realist would view a chair as real because he can perceive and be conscious of it.


Realism relates to things of which we are conscious. If we are conscious of something then it is real. Logically speaking from their definition, if you sit in a chair and feel it on your backside it is real. If your rear area goes to sleep then you don’t feel it and it really isn’t there so you will fall on the floor.


16. Positivism: Positivism limits itself only to the knowledge which can  be gained by and through phenomena. In other words if a lightning bolt hits one of them they can observe the result and know of that item. In relation to god, there can only be knowledge of god if there are some observable phenomena to study and draw conclusions.


17. Pluralism: This system sees the mind as the determinate factor as to what the world is. Thus each person has their own world because each person has their own mind. To a
point this is what Humanism is. Humanism teaches that everyone is free to choose their own thing and own way.


18. Atheism: “Atheism is a denial of God’s existence.” (Pardington, p 57) Indeed, the atheist tries to prove that god does not exist.


19. Skepticism: “…a doubt of or disbelief in the existence of God.” (Pardington, p 57) I suspect that most modern day atheists are more correctly defined as skeptics. They attempt to prove that He doesn’t exist indicating that there is a strong possibility that He does.



20. Agnosticism: Agnosticism “…is a denial that God or his creation can be known.” (Pardington, p 58) Pardington relates the term to another interesting term. “Etymologically, agnostic and ignoramus mean the same thing. The former is from the Greek, the latter from the Latin.” (Pardington, p 58)


Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary mentions of an ignoramus, “…..ignorant lawyer in Ignoramus (1615), play by George Ruggle… utterly ignorant person: DUNCE…..” (By permission. From Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary copyright 1991 by Merriam-Webster Inc., publisher of the Merriam-Webster (registered) Dictionaries.)




21. Materialism: This view holds that there is no spirit realm but only matter. Matter exists, and matter is all that exists. There is no god that created matter, nor is there a god that formed matter into creation.


The use of the term materialism in our own day is actually a slight redefinition of the term. When we use the term, we usually mean that a person is taken up with material things, such as cars, homes, stereos, etc. The underlying principle is still there however. The person may not really believe that there is no god and that only material exists, yet they are living so as to indicate this belief.


22. Monism: This system attempts to reduce all things into one principle or substance. There are different types of monism.


Materialistic monism = matter only exists. Idealistic monism = Ideas are the only reality.

Pantheistic monism = “If monism denies the reality of both finite personal life and finite physical existences, through affirming both as phenomenal manifestations of an impersonal ground, the doctrine becomes pantheistic monism.” (Reprinted by permission: Walvoord, John F. editor; “Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology”; Wheaton: Victor Books, Vol. I & II, 1988, p 130)


I once illustrated the pantheistic monist to a class as follows. If I believe I don’t live and don’t exist, but I manifest life and manifest existence then I am a pantheistic monist. Everything is a manifestation, but not real. Since I’m a manifestation, I can’t dismiss class, but I’m leaving. I guess you’ll have to sit here for eternity.


In all of these systems you can see man’s attempt to explain his environment, and his inward knowledge of God. The problem is that they have rejected the God of the universe for a god of their own making. The only real God that we have discussed is the monotheist’s God — the God that we know to exist, that we know to support His creation, and that we know to be our Salvation.[1]



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