What I Wish You Had Asked

So how it goes with H&S is, I fret and worry and prepare for 3-4 months, building up a case, and preparing answers for every conceivable question. On the night, I have to ascend from the depths of the topic, back up to the level of the non-obsessed audience, and squeeze out 20+10+5 minutes. And then the questions roll in, and only a subset of the anticipated questions come in.

So what questions do I wish you had asked?

For starters, “Are you suggesting we can keep the 2nd commandment just on Sundays, and then it doesn’t matter if we break it all week long?

Or, to quote Lorraine Boettner (as quoted in Hyde’s In Living Color),

How would you like it if someone who had never seen you and knew nothing at all about your physical features, resorted to his imagination and, drawing on the features of his own nationality, painted a picture and told everyone that it was a picture of you?

My answer: I’d feel fine. Now that we’re done talking about my feelings, can we get back to the question of whether Images of Christ are permissible or forbidden?

I also wish the audience had asked questions that pressed harder on DVD’s position. For instance, if we are not allowed to depict the incarnation of the second person of the trinity as a God-man, are we also not allowed to depict the endoxation of the third person as a God-dove, or a God-pillar-of-fire or -cloud? What about the “Ben Hur approach” of avoiding Jesus’ face, depicting his hands, or the back of his head? Is that forbidden because those hands, or that hair, don’t match the particularities of Jesus’ actual hands or hair? Or is an ascension that shows only Jesus’ feet forbidden because they don’t look like his actual feet? Or how about the Great Commision Publications position on abstract representations?

the principle of suggestion is operative in the arts. For example, in a large scene a face or a figure may be suggested by a line or a blob of color. “Representations” of Christ of such a character would not necessarily go beyond the biblical evidence. Such a suggestion would only state that in some such scene Jesus took part as a true man.

It seems to me that, given DVD’s strong stance on the criticality of the specific physical feature of Jesus, he would have to forbid all of these boundary-pushing scenarios.

Among this group of questions would also be the question of depicting a generic baby in the manger. For that, we have a negative response in his article “Celebrating Jesus’ Birth — Without His Picture.” So I would guess he’d lean toward the negative for all of the previous scenarios as well.

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9 Responses

  1. Listened to the debate and q&a in my car yesterday. I always enjoy these debates – some topics, of course, are more interesting than others. This issue is a non-issue to me and all the churches I associate with, so I mostly enjoyed the give and take and the debate more than the topic.

    Rube – You have become a fine debater. I thought you gave as good as you got, even taking him off guard a little bit by the simplicity of your argument.

    The idea of no images at all is, of course, a radical one, but, for someone who doesn’t bow and scrape to the Presbyterian regulative principle in Sunday worship, it it sounds REALLY radical for me. Kudos for defending Christian liberty.

    On a personal note, we watched our wedding video on our 9th anniversary in a hotel room in San Antonio, and it was fun to see your “pushing the envelope” rehearsal dinner speech and to see you play the violin again. Fun memories…

    Keep the debates coming!

    • Hey thanks — although I wonder what you could get out of my argument if you don’t subscribe to the regulative principle even in worship.

      So remembering back, I can’t remember a single image of Jesus or anybody/anything else in the anti-denominational sanctuaries I grew up with. Why is that?

  2. Obviously, I’m for liberty like you. My point was that since we are not handcuffed by the Presbyterian regulative principle, we have a lot more liberty in our worship services as well (but your debate was about what happens outside the worship service).

    We prefer “inter-denominational”

    I suppose our lack of paintings on the walls is a reaction to the Roman Catholic tendency to worship them (especially here on the border)

    • We prefer “inter-denominational”

      That’s a new one on me. What denominations are you claiming to be “inter”?

      I grew up in the same circles; I’m sure you know as well as I do that “denomination” is a synonym for “withered branch” (Jn 15)

  3. We do set up a Christmas tree every year in our church building. Would that be an “image”?

    I often longed to be the baby Jesus in Christmas cantata, but I’m afraid that dream probably needs to die, unless I can find a 4XLT diaper and a really husky Mary.

    • That would have been a good question too. Our church also has a Christmas tree, but of course always outside the Sanctuary.

      I would say that a Christmas tree inside the Sanctuary is definitely an idol (as would be a nativity). In general, fresh flowers for decoration are probably acceptable, in the same category as paint on the walls. The line gets blurry with, say, Poinsettas, which are linked to extra-biblical ritual.

  4. Question, ‘bino: since you reject the notion that the 2nd commandment gives us the RPW, what do you see is the difference between the 1st and 2nd commandments? How is “don’t worship idols” any different than “don’t have other Gods”?

  5. “inter-denominational” simply means that we build bridges, not walls. “non-denominational” is such a negative word… in jest, we sometimes say, “non-abominational”.

    We worship Jesus together in a “multi-purpose” room with chairs and a platform in the front so the folks can see the preacher and the worship leader. There is nothing particularly sacred about the building, but when we worship Jesus together and preach His Word, it becomes a special place for those moments together. But the same could be said of my car, my home or an outdoor park where worship takes place. Stephen made clear in his last sermon before being killed by the religious people of his day that “The Most High does not dwell in temples built by human hands…”

  6. “inter-denominational” simply means that we build bridges, not walls.

    So I’ll ask again; which denominations are you building bridges between? Cuz when I was growing up, it sure seemed like we were intent on building walls between ourselves (true, lively Christians) and denominations (dead (un)orthodoxy). If anybody had suggested that we were in a de-facto (albeit anarchic) denomination ourselves, we would have been horrified at the idea, because we were Anti-Denominational. It’s a perfect description, I don’t see why you object to it.

    before being killed by the religious people of his day

    Did you just build a wall?

    nothing particularly sacred about the building

    I think you will probably agree with this: there is nothing at all sacred about the building. In the Old Covenant, God declared the Temple, and even the entire Land of Israel to be holy. But in the New Covenant, when God rejected national Israel, he got out of the business of sanctifying place; what is now holy is the assembly of God’s people, not any place where they may happen to gather together in his name.

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