“Counterfeit Gods” by Tim Keller – Chapter 5: The Power and the Glory

Opening Prayer

Focus Do you know of anyone who has lived under a repressive regime?  What was it like?

Inform Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre (6 May 1758 – 28 July 1794) is one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution. He largely dominated the Committee of Public Safety and was instrumental in the period of the Revolution commonly known as the Reign of Terror, which ended with his arrest and execution in 1794.

Robespierre was influenced by 18th century Enlightenment philosophes such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Montesquieu, and he was a capable articulator of the beliefs of the left-wing bourgeoisie. He was described as being physically unimposing and immaculate in attire and personal manners. His supporters called him “The Incorruptible”, while his adversaries called him “dictateur sauvage” (blood-thirsty dictator)….

As an orator, he praised revolutionary government and argued that the Terror was necessary, laudable and inevitable. It was Robespierre’s belief that the Republic and virtue were of necessity inseparable. He reasoned that the Republic could only be saved by the virtue of its citizens, and that the Terror was virtuous because it attempted to maintain the Revolution and the Republic. For example, in his Report on the Principles of Political Morality, given on 5 February 1794, Robespierre stated:

If virtue be the spring of a popular government in times of peace, the spring of that government during a revolution is virtue combined with terror: virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country. … The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny.[12]

Robespierre’s popularity and appeal to the community came out mostly in the way that he spoke. His speeches were exceptional, and he had the power to change the views of almost any audience. (This is one of the reasons why he became such a strong force in the Terror.) His speaking techniques included talk of virtue and morals, and also quite often he had a few rhetorical questions in his speeches in order to identify with the audience. He would also gesticulate and use ideas and personal experiences in life to keep the listeners’ attention. And his final method was to state that he was always prepared to die in order to save the Revolution. (Ironically, his death would be an end to the Revolution.)[1]


  1. What are some indicators of idolatry in politics (pp. 98-100)?
  2. On p. 103, Keller writes (as he has elsewhere in this book) that “idols are good and necessary things that are turned into gods.”   What is an example of a good value in a country that was elevated into an ultimate value?  What was the result?  How was that country blind to the negative side of that value?
  3. The deep idol of power can express itself in ways other than politics and government.  What are some examples of these other ways (pp.11-112)?
  4. What idol did King Nebuchadnezzar have in his life?  What happened to him to change him?
  5. How does Jesus heal our will to power?


  1. In response to what Jesus has done for us, how do we relate to power?


Closing Prayer

[1] “Maximilien Robespierre, Wikipedia:  The Free Enclopedia (Internet; available at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilien_Robespierre; downloaded on 18 Nov 2010).


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