Wooden Jesus: The Idolatry of the Prosperity Gospel

Idolatry has been a problem for mankind essentially since the fall. It often works itself out in different ways in different cultures. When the Christian is confronted with idolatry our response should be one of rebuke and correction because even those outside of the church often recognize idol worship as worship which is ultimately fake.

This reality is captured well in a song, Wooden Jesus, which is a sharp and stinging critique of one of the major forms of idolatry we see today, the prosperity gospel or better known as the health and wealth gospel. The amazing part of this song is that it is written by an unbeliever.

Authored by Chris Cornell, the song seems rather sacrilegious in that it talks about a ‘Wooden Jesus’ who is made either in Canada or perhaps Taiwan that can be purchased for the benefit of the buyer. The following line from the song is illuminating, “But I believed from the minute the check left my hand, and I pray, ‘Can I be saved, I spent all my money…’” The imagery is clear, this Jesus is an idol, it is a fake. It resembles a product which someone purchases for their own benefit. This 'wooden Jesus' is a carved image with no power.

The picture of the wooden Jesus is clearly a shot at the idolatry that Cornell sees being played out by some within 'Christianity'. But what drove him to write such a song? I had the opportunity to hear him explain why he wrote the song in person. Cornell explained that one night while being on tour and flipping through the radio stations and he came across what was essentially a health and wealth preacher. This preacher's message was, “Send me X amount of money and you will be saved” or essentially, “give me money and you will gain favor from God.” That is the message Cornell heard which sparked the outrage contained in this song and unfortunately many others hear this message on radios and televisions across the world. Cornell rightly rejected this false gospel because it was clearly a scam intended to line the pockets of the preacher.  

Don’t miss the importance of this, even unbelievers recognize the charade that prosperity preachers hock for their own benefit. Unfortunately for the rest of us Christians, these charlatans cast a heavy shadow over our witness to the true gospel. The idea that man can earn the favor of God through monetary gifts is utterly detestable and is eerily similar to the indulgence controversy that launched Martin Luther’s eventual rejection of the Roman Catholic Church. And it is a good thing that money does not earn us favor from God, because none of us would have the amount of money it would actually take.

So what should our response as Christians be to false gospels such as the health and wealth gospel? How do respond when we see secularists like Cornell attacking it? I think it would be wise to agree with their attacks on such lies! The prosperity gospel is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we as Christians should denounce it from every mountain top with clarity and passion. The idolatry of the health and wealth gospel stands in direct contradiction to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul offers us this warning about false gospels in Galatians 1:6-8:

 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about earthly treasures and it most definitely is not about having your best life now. Jesus calls his disciples to lose their lives so that they may find it (Matt. 16:24-26). Paul warns us that we will be troubled by those who present a “different gospel” but that their gospel is actually no gospel at all. Sending a check for a Wooden Jesus will not allow you to gain favor with God. Chasing the idols of this world will only lead to death. It is only through the blood of Jesus Christ that we find favor and blessings from God the Father. That is the true Gospel and it is way better news than being healthy, wealthy, and happy.