No More Touchdown Jesus


Touchdown Jesus, Big Butter JesusIf you’ve not yet heard (despite the fact that it was the #1 Googled phrase on the Web so far today), the massive Jesus sculpture on I-75 north of Cincinnati burned to the ground last night after being hit by lightning.

Some have called this “Touchdown Jesus” for the pose. Others labeled it “Big Butter Jesus” for its odd, buttery color.

Now it’s just a pile of ashes.

As I live in the area, I’ve driven by the statue many times. Like many people I’ve talked with, I feel strange about it. While I know other Christians who find it a source of inspiration, I was always uncomfortable when I saw it. To me, it depicted not the Savior of the World but the worst of Evangelical excess and misdirection.

At the risk of sounding like Judas, I’ve always been struck by the question, “Couldn’t this money have been used in a better way?”

I mean, I live in Ohio. noted recently that most of the major cities in Ohio made their Top 20 Most Miserable Cities list (including all the major cities in northern Ohio). With all that misery here in one state, you’d think Christians would have something to say—and do—about it.

Instead, we got a fiberglass and steel sculpture.

I dunno. Maybe I’m just a soulless crank. Still, I’ve got to pose that Judas question again.

Because, to me at least, nothing speaks faith more than Christians investing their time and money in the imperishable Kingdom, sowing into people’s lives in an unforgettable way.

The statue cost Solid Rock Church a quarter million dollars to build. Recently, it was repainted and repaired—more money.

Consider just these few ways the church could have used that money:

1. To help members adopt children currently living in orphanages or extended foster care.

2. To start an outreach to the many Ohio unemployed.

3. To plant churches in countries where no church previously existed.

4. To work toward racial reconciliation in downtown Cincinnati.

5. To provide loans to local people in poorer areas so they could start their own companies and break the grinding cycle of poverty.

Those are just five ways. Millions more exist.

The name “Touchdown Jesus” pokes fun at the depiction of our Lord with outstretched arms. But whenever I saw the 6-story sculpture, only one not-so-funny verse spoke to me:

I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices…
—Isaiah 65:2

Right now, the loss of this statue seems to me to be a metaphor. A few years ago, Evangelicals were crowing about their newfound power and prestige. Now we seem to be on the ropes. And it is mostly our own doing, as we have forgotten what we’re truly to be about. We got enamored of earthly kingdoms, and the only true Kingdom was left to fend for itself.

Perhaps, yesterday, that Kingdom fended for itself in an unusual way. And perhaps that message needs to sink into our hearts just a little bit deeper.

36 thoughts on “No More Touchdown Jesus

  1. Tina

    Oh how I hope that they decide to no rebuild that horrible display and opt for one that is a tangible benefit for the kingdom. I too have never had a comfortable feeling of driving by either.

  2. I personally share every one of your sentiments … at the same time I recognize that one could say the same about nearly everything I own, build, invest in, etc… so I am reserved in vocalizing these …

  3. I thought that Notre Dame had the real and original “Touchdown Jesus”? Let’s hope that they don’t get the urge to rebuild the copy made out of butter. 🙂

  4. Jenny

    Personally, I feel the same about the sculpture–it seemed excessive and ostentatious, and was not to my taste at all. However, let’s not rush into a judgmental position just yet.

    I don’t know anyone who goes to or works at that church, so I couldn’t possibly comment on how they spend money. I also hesitate to condemn something that may be a heartfelt act of worship where it is harmless to others. I try to refrain from interpreting acts of God through nature as judgment or signs where I don’t possess a lot of other information. It may well be that God is not happy about the way Solid Rock spends, or it may be that God is speaking to them about letting go of material things. I couldn’t possibly know, being outside that group of believers.

    I don’t begrudge you your opinion, Dan, in fact I share it–but only because my cultural mores and personal tastes brand the scupture a waste of money. Were I a member of that congregation, it might seem to me that no price was too great to express my love for Jesus by building a tangible monument depicting His love for us and His relationship to the Father and His incredible joy on our behalf. We on the outside can’t really say that it was misappropriation, just because we would have chosen differently.

    • Jenny,

      I found it strange that some at the church (at least those mentioned in the article link) deemed the destruction “a sign.” If it’s a sign in their eyes, it seems as if they didn’t think it was a good use of money, either.

      Just sayin’.

  5. I had never seen it in person, though I’m not far away, but I’m kinda glad it’s gone, for all the reasons listed. In the article you linked, the commenters seem to equate the lightning strike with judgment from on high. I won’t go that far to say that it is, but it does make you think.

    The article does say that there is a “We will rebuild” sign already posted. 🙁

  6. It certainly does seem like the money could have been better spent by the church, doesn’t it? ‘Excess’ seems to have been the key word to describe the economic boom of the last 9 years though. Maybe it’s destruction is fitting now that that boom has come to an end and it’s now time for Americans to get back to practical matters that don’t involve housing booms and financial speculation.

  7. I’d never heard of it, but my knee-jerk reaction on hearing it burned down was “good.”

    Of course, if a fire destroyed all of Leonardo’s paintings, I would probably consider it a tragedy. So I guess may be a sort of arbitrary judgment on my part. However…

    It does bring up a question about the type of spirituality we’re awash in: essentially, does the Church’s worship and corporate expressions of Christ require authentic fascination with Jesus, or is it easy to put on a really attractive show and then continue with business as usual- selfishness, etc.

    In other words, it’s quite possible to have a 7-(or even 70-) storey statue of Jesus and want nothing to do with taking up one’s cross. Or even know what the cross was and is. As Eugene Peterson said, we’re in danger of admiring Jesus instead of following him.

    I would apply the same question to Christian music and worship music- it’s patently accepted, usually, that having this brand of music around demonstrates devotion to Jesus, and sometimes it’s even assumed that it’s an essential part of Christian spirituality. That seems to me to be a good excuse unload Jesus, and the Jesus-inspired life, from the wagon altogether in favor of smoke machines and big sound systems.

    With respect to the artist, and I admire people who tirelessly devote themselves to artistic work they believe in, things like this statue are completely unnecessary to tangible, authentic, deep, relational expressions of Christ-ian love for one another. Not that it couldn’t be a part of it. But it’s very dangerous to assume that because we have giants statues that we must be authentically worshiping Jesus.

    • Jenny

      Oh, I agree with you, Nate. But I feel it’s equally dangerous to assume that having a giant statue means they are NOT authentically worshiping. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I find it hard to assume one way or another about any congregation, without having worshiped with them and talked with them. When pressed on all sides by liberal agnostics and atheists about how intolerant Christians are, I find myself willing to err on the side of sympathy for Solid Rock.

      I have been fascinated (in a train-accident kind of way) by the conclusions to which many people (within the Church and without) are leaping regarding this statue’s destruction. We may speculate all we like about God’s opinion (or action or inaction) on the matter, but we just don’t really know what He had in mind, or how He is going to use it. Perhaps His purpose is what’s happening right here–a thoughtful exchange of ideas.

      Everyone posting here has been of the opinion that the statue’s loss is a good thing. Consider that there are subcultures here in Ohio who consider such a statue to be symbolic of God’s generous love and incredible blessing, and that such an event is more the work of the devil than an act of God’s judgment. Just because we don’t care for it as a work of art or an expression of devotion does not mean that others weren’t encouraged and uplifted by it.

      Yes, the money could have been used for the poor. Dan’s original comment about the Judas question is a valid point. But Jesus’ answer in Mark 14 was telling as well: “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could.”

      All I’m saying is that saying it’s good or bad is really not a call we can make. There are hundreds of points on both sides, and in the end, only God knows.

      • Absolutely, and I wouldn’t pretend to know the “why” of it. I do think it could tell us something about the assumptions we like to make about people unlike us. Like if lightning struck a gay bar and it burned down….well, I shudder to think what some Christians would say. Needless to say, those particular people’s mouths are probably shut on this one.

        My “good” reaction to its destruction is admittedly knee-jerk, and doesn’t reflect any knowledge of that church, it’s simply based on what I know of culture in which we live. It certainly could be something like Mary’s expression of love that you reference. It’s not necessarily commendable simply because it’s uplifting though. Lots of people get uplifted by abusing Scripture verses.

        When it comes down to it, you can’t really say anything unless you truly know the folks involved. It’s a big ego trip to try and speak for God without bothering to be in relationship with them.

    • Mark


      Our society is awash with external exhibitions that mean nothing.
      “things like this statue are completely unnecessary to tangible, authentic, deep, relational expressions of Christ-ian love for one another.”

      How true.


  8. Heard this story on NPR (after seeing it on your blog first of course) and there are already plans to rebuild. The pastor is using Arnold’s “I’ll be back” line on the church sign to convey their commitment to rebuild. At least he didn’t go on to say “…on the third day”.

  9. Having taken a lot of art history in college, I got to see plenty of genuinely great works of art. However, the last time I looked much of our contemporary xtian art has never advanced very far beyond the stage of Warner Sallman. (Another case in point: how did the Painter of Schlock Light™ manage to become so rich and famous?)

    Anyhow, I have lots of strong opinions about Art. And seeing some of it burn up doesn’t bother me too much.

    • How things change. Recently the Painter of Light™ has fallen on some hard times. See Joe Carter’s article at First Things, entitled Thomas Kinkade’s Cottage Fantasy. Joe pretty much concisely summarized things as follows:

      This is what makes Thomas Kinkade exasperating: He is both a creator of some of the most inspiring paintings of the past two decades and a producer of some of the worst schlock ever manufactured by a talented artist.

      Sad and very true.

      • I’d probably be tempted to tie one too many on, too, if I were an accomplished artist who became rich and famous by painting pictures that appeal mostly to old women. Why is Kinkade rich? Because evangelicals won’t buy his “real” art.

  10. Jenny

    This facebook post from a friend of mine, ” My friend Jeff who is good friends with the Pastors of Solid Rock says: ‘Jesus has gone away, probably for a little longer than 3 days this time. In his place though, he’s left behind a comforter… A giant transformer in his image! His name… Salvatron! He will protect or pond and serve as a monument until Jesus returns!'”

  11. John

    Every time I drove past that place I wondered what kind of church would put up a creepy statue. Although I had no idea how much it cost, I knew that the money could have been used in much better ways to advance the kingdom. Glad to see it’s gone, and sad that it’s coming back, And probably “Bigger and Better”.

  12. “For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her” (Matthew 26:12-13 KJV).

    Well, it seems wheresoever the Gospel is blogged in the whole world, this lightning strike has been told for a memorial to Touchdown Jesus. But seriously, there just seem to be some Christians for whom no Christian T-shirt, no Christian bumper sticker, no Christian artwork, no Christian film, no Christian music, no Christian Gospel tract, no Christian witness, no Christian exhibition of any kind is ever good or good enough.

    • Poet,

      For me, it’s the price tag. They built it for a quarter million. Talk is that the rebuild may be $700,000. Seriously, is there not a better witness for the money?

      • Inflation and banking mechanics aside, the money does not disappear. Artisans work for that money. Suppliers sell for that money. (Time, however, does vanish: the time it cost the givers of that money to earn it; the time of laborers who may have been, maybe, hired out to other projects; etc.) Was “The JESUS Film” a waste of money? How much money has been spent over the centuries preserving Rembrandt’s paintings of the Gospel? Was that wasted money?

        I get perturbed by issues like this partly because I write poems that Christians often treat as a waste of time and talent. (They certainly don’t “waste” any money on them.) Someone designed that statue. There are those who would consider a two-dollar replica of that statue to be every bit a waste of money as a $300,000 replacement of it.

        Do I consider it an excessive sculpture of gauche kitsch? Yes, I do. But I also think it is a striking sculpture of considerable workmanship and place.

          • Jenny

            I couldn’t get to their website at all yesterday, and I tried repeatedly. I’m with you on the issue of paying artists for their work. Popular culture makes the work of artists seem like it’s easy, but I don’t know of one artist or crafter or writer or artisan who says it isn’t hard work.

            Regarding the use of the money, I still think it’s between them and God. We can get worked up about it, but can we influence them or God one jot by doing so? And if this debate does not influence us as individuals to mind our stewardship more closely and work to establish or support the ministries we believe Solid Rock should be doing with the money God gave them to mind, then we are nothing but hot air. We cannot govern the behavior of others, but we can govern our own behavior and choices.

    • I don’t think anything that used as a good luck charm distraction from the real Jesus is good enough. Not that I could make that call about the statue, but I feel slightly (though not totally) justified in having a “guilty til proven innocent” assumption about Christian kitsch in that regard.

  13. Tina

    The statue was estimated to cost $300K to rebuild, the remaining $400K is the damage to the building that was behind it and to the structural stuff surrounding the pond. I would like to think that $300K could build and stock a very nice and useful food pantry for the community! Or perhaps a facility that could provide job training and a clothing store of sorts for those who are trying to get back into the workforce….. Would Jesus use $300K to build a statue of himself, or we he use it to help the community?

  14. Dave S

    I can’t say I’m a fan of the statue by any means, but if we object to the cost of a statue because the money could have been used for a better purpose, why stop there? Doesn’t that leave any infrastructure expenditure open to the same criticism? Why spend money on a church building? My church, along with many others, rents space in a school. Isn’t any church that buys or builds wasting money? Or what about salaries for church employees? Many churches around the world operate with volunteer staff. Couldn’t the money spent to hire pastors, musicians, office staff, etc. be better used to help the poor?

    I don’t think any of us would go that far. We see those expenditures as necessary. But this church sees it’s Jesus statue as necessary.

    I think that the Mk 14/ Mt 26/ Jn 12 passage tells us to not have Utopian ideas about eliminating poverty in this world. In the end, I think that the Jesus statue in question is just a matter of taste and not whether or not the expense is appropriate.

    And Dan, don’t put yourself in the Judas role. After all, he was going to steal the money that was saved for the poor!

    • Dave,

      Doesn’t that leave any infrastructure expenditure open to the same criticism? Why spend money on a church building?

      Those are questions worthy of discussion. Honestly, I think most churches have wasted enormous amounts of money on buildings. And yes, I am sensitive to the need for construction workers. et al., to have employment. But stuff balances out, too, at least in regard to the construction industry: It bears what it will.

    • Mark

      I agree, I think those questions deserve further look in the body. The N.T. stresses the importance of mutual edification. The gift in each of us is to be shared with everyone else, so that we grow into maturity. How do you mutually edify when there are 1,000 people in a church service? This is not to say that there isn’t a place for one person to speak to many. There certainly is. In my opinion, however, this shouldn’t be the norm. I find a strong parallel between modern day churches (the “house of God”, and the “sanctuary”, which is considered holy) and the Jewish Temple. Fortunately for us God no longer indwells a building. He indwells us, and WE ARE his building. As such, what is the purpose of such massive buildings, that get used precious little, and certainly not enough to justify the enormous cost to build and maintain them.

      The question of salaries also needs to be examined. The N.T. model that I read speaks of a plurality of elders, leading by example, from among the body, not over the body like we so often see today. Although I wouldn’t say it is categorically wrong for someone to be paid to minister, again I don’t feel it should be the norm, as Paul himself set a very strong example on this issue. Although we can never cure poverty (nor are we called to), there certainly is a better use of that money in His Kingdom.

    • Mark

      One more thought. It is marginal to think that it is the job of government to spend to stimulate the economy. It CERTAINLY is not the responsibility of The KIngdom to stimulate the economy. Spending large amounts of money, with the intention of creating jobs, is not going to accomplish the purposes of God’s Kingdom, and will likely detract from that purpose.

      “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
      James 1:27

      again, not to say that our purpose should be focused only on these things, but the point is still valid.

  15. “To me, it depicted not the Savior of the World but the worst of Evangelical excess and misdirection.”


    You’re certainly not the only one. Though I think you’re right on to acknowledge their sincere (though misplaced)zeal to make Jesus known…though ultimately it will be a cross-centered life that speaks far more powerfully than any six story statue – no matter how elaborate.


  16. suzanne

    Amen! That thing gave me the creeps and it was all more ridiculous by the building near it supporting fake animals on the roof. We Christians wonder why the world thinks we are irrelevant???

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