Smashing Our Jesus Idols

From inside the dense cloud on top of Mt. Sinai, the Lord met with Moses and gave him two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Both Jews and Christians have come to adore these commands as the epicenter of God’s will for us. We even find them adorning the walls of the United States Supreme Court.

In my experience, the second commandment has been one of the least understood by most Christians. It reads,

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)

I believe there are three reasons for this prohibition against idols.

First, for ancient Israelites, it kept them from adopting and worshiping the idols from surrounding cultures. They were not to worship multiple gods of their choosing, but the one Lord God who delivered them from bondage in Egypt. Consequently, God would later exile the Israelites to Assyria and Babylon precisely for their idolatry.

Second, this commandment keeps Jews and Christians from containing God to a singular image. God’s vast greatness cannot be limited to any image, form, or description. That’s why very rarely will you ever see a picture of God. The only exception I can think of is Michelangelo’s iconic Sistine Chapel fresco depicting God reaching to touch Adam.

But there’s also a third, crucially important reason why God prohibited idols of any kind. Idols tend to be the projected wants and needs of those who make them. If someone is suffering a fertility problem, they would create and petition fertility idol. Anticipating a harvest, a village would make a harvest god to please with offerings and gifts. Through the ages, there have been idols for literally any need and want. Idols also tend to be projections of ourselves, too. People worship idols that represent their own aspirations and ideals in a well-meaning yet insidious form of self-worship.
For all these reasons, and for the sake of our souls, we must always call out and smash the idols we make.
Jesus idolThese days, the church is filled with plenty of idols that compete with our faithfulness to God. There are idols of material comfort, power, self-righteousness, traditionalism, and even the idol of religion itself. Since becoming a Christian, I have heard Christian leaders call out and attempt to smash these idols.

But I think there are even darker, more dangerous idols in our midst. These are the idols we forge of Jesus. These idols are our own self-projected needs, prejudices, and ideals that we shape into our version of Jesus. These idols come to shape innocently enough, but once they take full form, they turn Jesus into a singular thing that serves our own self-interests.

Scattered throughout my next several posts, I’m going to call out and smash some of these Jesus idols in my effort to point us to a more authentic, biblical understanding of Jesus. For non-Christians and post-Christian Agnostics, I fervently hope this might heal some of the wounds and deep misgivings you’ve had at the hands of  the church’s Jesus idols. For Christians, I hope to move us to a more faithful discipleship as we embody a truer semblance of the Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom we read about in the Scriptures.

Here are some of the Jesus idols I’ll be sledging apart:

  • the prosperity/Santa Claus Jesus
  • the get-out-of-hell-free/one-way ticket-to-heaven Jesus
  • the Jesus of blind love
  • the Jesus of great political causes
  • the Jesus of churchianity

There are undoubtedly many more of these Jesus idols, and there may be others you’d want to mention, too. I’d encourage you to call out and smash your own. However, I leave us all with one warning: don’t smash one idol just to make room for another!


Filed under Church Culture and Leadership, Spiritual Growth and Practice

23 Responses to Smashing Our Jesus Idols

  1. yve evans

    I am soooo on board for this! Bring it!

  2. So, “Soccer Savior” is out?
    Agree we need to remember that God created us in His image. It’s not up to us to recreate him in ours.

  3. I am in complete agreement Pastor Chris! Halfway through your post I thought “okay, but what about all of the images of Jesus?”
    I think why your posts appeals to me is is because I am coming off the high of just having read “The Shack.”
    Talk about shattering the image of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit!
    I think that Wm. Paul Young had a similar mission in mind. Because he put the Trinity in images that were completely unexpected, he forces the reader to look more at spirituality and a relationship with the Lord, rather than “churchianity” (love that), and iconography!
    Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Hi there- Yes, and Young has taken a lot of flack (unfairly!) from the Christian community for the ways he tried to get people to re-imagine the Trinity. I thought it was a good exercise in idol smashing. Thank you for your thoughts. I really look forward to more!!

  4. tssanders

    Nicely put Chris. To often we have “made God in our own image” to suite our particular “theology” or doctrine, or just to keep us feeling comfortable with our choice of lifestyle. I look forward to reading your coming posts. I anticipate them giving me and many others a lot to think about.

  5. miscellaneoussoapbox

    As in many things, it’s hard to get past our preconceptions when thinking about the person of Jesus. Perhaps it’s even harder to get past our desires as concerns Jesus. In a sense, as you point out in other words, that’s just what an idol is: our desire for the way that deity should be, whatever that desire might be. We desire Jesus to make us prosperous (rather than induce the suffering of persecution, say), so, bam! (sorry Emeril), prosperity/Santa Claus Jesus. And so on. I’m looking forward to those posts.

  6. well i think its okay to make pictures of him and statues but not to worship them, i think the bigger issue is idols that aren’t really idols! like things that we ‘worship’ but not really. Like if we spend all of our time watching TV or going on facebook, than we are ‘worshiping’ that i guess. And my opinion is that idols don’t just exist as statues, they are anything that gets in the way of worshiping God.

  7. The use of “Jesus Idols” in the United States is beyond measure in my opinion. From pandering politicians to snake-oil religious evangelists who take money from the poorest of the poor in the name of Jesus. It’s really quite sad.
    One can only imagine what Jesus would think if He were to stop in for a visit! (I can’t believe I wrote that!)

  8. YAR! I be liking your scrawlings!
    Idolatry is a big deal in the Old Testament and yet many Christians set about idolizing all sorts of things in their church, even in this home (American Idol anyone ;-)). I tend to be more Zwingli on this issue and try to keep my cabin simple and clean. My ship be ornate but me quarters be Ikea!
    We even make a idol out of the Bible, placing on it things that it doesn’t claim. 2 Timothy 3:16, it says that the Scriptures are God-breathed (inspired) and useful (for teaching, training, and correction). It does not claim inerrancy nor does our traditions up until the turn of the last century.

    • You know, it’s not every day that someone claims Zwingli as a theological launching point! That’s very interesting… And I very much agree with you on your assessment of the Bible. I’ve often said that some Christians elevate the Bible to be the fourth member of the Trinity! I firmly believe in the Bible’s inspiration and the centrality it holds in defining our theology and life as believers, but like you, I’m not a Fundamentalist. The Bible was not written to be a science text book. It’s human sources had a very different understanding of history than our modern conception of it. I like the Anglican/Wesleyan understanding of the Bible: the Scriptures contain all things necessary for our salvation. That’s a great way to understand the Bible’s purpose and power.

      • Yar! We pirates be liking Zwingli as he died in battle, swashbuckling to the end. It not be very “turning the other cheek” but then again many pirates don’t hold to that too well despite our best efforts. I be liking the Anglican/Wesleyan idea of the Scriptures too.
        The best part of being a pirate is that you can use whatever theologian for ye launching port. Wesley, Erasmus, Luther, Nouwen, Polkinghorne, and even Billy Graham!

  9. I am one of the agnostic Christians that you refer to in one of your earlier blogs, and I must say that I find your pursuit of something beyond religion quite refreshing. As a student of the humanities I respect your ability to take evidence from the Bible, look at it from different perspectives, and yet still come back with a basically faithful Christian set of ideas, still at the root of the texts that have been misinterpreted. People like you give me hope not only for my own spiritual journey, but for the future of our conception of faith as a community. Because I think you are right, that we have created idols all around us, even clinging to the Religion god in an attempt to fulfill our lives and give them purpose.
    When I am asked about my religious beliefs I always tell people that I believe in God, and I always get 1/2 responses: 1) Why??? (hear the disbelieving, slightly sarcastic tone), or 2) Oh. What Church do you go to? Neither of which bring me any comfort. Your sense of the complexity of spirituality does.
    Sorry this comment was so long.

    • Hello Sam- Thank you for your thoughtful reply. It’s always good to know that I’m not too far off my rocker! Sam, I hope we all can work together to create Church communities that are authentic expressions of who Jesus is and not just the religiosity and traditionalism we often falsely pass off as Christ-like. I do have a lot of hope that it’s possible, even if we’ll never perfect it.

  10. Pingback: Smashing the Jesus Idol of Churchianity « Pastor Chris Owens – - Musings, Rants, and Reflections

  11. Kim

    Do you have any idea how many people selling images of Jesus on their toast on eBay you just put out of business?
    (excellent post, I cannot add to the already thoughtful comments, so I went of silly instead).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *