H&S: Images II

What can I say? It was an epic night. Unfortunately the recording is a little plagued with wind, but if you listen close, I think all but a few phrases can be heard clearly.

Here are the .mp3s:

Note also related H&S on Images, Communion, and Baptism.

Make space on your calendar also for Dr. Bombaro’s upcoming lecture on Sanctification at Reformation Lutheran in El Cajon: 846 S. Johnson, Sat Nov 3 at 7pm.

And of course, don’t forget our good friends at Hess Brewing. Watch their calendar for events at the tasting room in Miramar for now, but also keep an eye out for the grand opening of the new facility, currently under construction on Grim Ave in North Park!

What’s The Word?

Glad you asked! The Word is a fantastic biblical graphic-design project by this dude Jim LePage, who has apparently been channeling Donald Knuth for almost two years! Why did he do it?

In the past, I’ve tried an approach like, “starting today, I’m going to read my Bible for 20 minutes every day.” While I may stick with it for a week or a month (sometimes even longer), inevitably I stop because I have no self-discipline for that sort of thing. I knew I didn’t want to try that approach again so I tried to come up with a new strategy that would work for me.

I began by thinking of things that I really like and want to do. One thing that kept coming up was design. So I decided to try and combine my love of design with my desire to read the Bible more. The result is a series called Word.

Basically, Word is a series where I create original designs for each book of the Bible. Before each design, I spend time researching the book, finding out the themes, historical context, weirdest stories, etc. I also scan through parts of the book looking for a passage or story that could translate into a cool design. Each design isn’t meant to completely represent the book, rather it is merely based on a passage from the book.

There are too many great designs in the project to try to link to here, but to inspire you to hop on over and check them all out for yourself, I’ll choose a few of the most “three-sixteeny”, i.e. those that most highlight words. Enjoy!

Another good way to browse them all is in his online shop, from which you can order prints. (And then you can hop over to his tumblr, Gettin’ Biblical [HT Pooka], where he shares great Christian graphic design from all sorts of books and such.)

What I Wish an Artist Would Say

An Artist Who Refuses To Create An Image

I wish I could find somebody who knows something about art, who would also argue against images of Christ. Without fail, all of my visual-art-enabled friends, are pro-images, and find anti-image argumentation silly and ignorant of what pictures really mean: how they are intended by artists, how they are received by connoisseurs. And I have not found any of the anti-image advocates (image anti-vocates?) to make any claims (or show any evidence) of competence or training about any area within the visual arts.

There are (at least) two possible explanations for this phenomenon. On the one hand, it could be that the iconoclasts are letting their iconoclasm determine their exegesis (which would make it eisegesis), and making ill-advised pronouncements about what they simply don’t understand. On the other hand, it may be that iconophiles simply are too attached to their idolatry to see it clearly as idolatry.

It would be helpful, therefore, to hear a case against images of Christ, from an otherwise-iconophile, someone with some kind of chops in art or photography or graphic design or something that would give them credentials as a hostile witness. Or an iconoclast of some form who would argue that the Bible mandates liberty, against their own personal preference.

I believe I myself can be of a little service in that latter role. I guess I’m not an iconoclast exactly, but I don’t particularly care about images one way or the other, which makes me close to a neutral witness.

One of the questions in the Q&A that I got pounded on was, “what’s the benefit of images of Christ?” intensified by DVD’s “what’s the motivation?” I reiterated my “liberty doesn’t require need” argument, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but I’m sure it sounded like a dodge (and surely it was).

Frankly, the reason I came back so weak on that question is that I just don’t care enough about images to have thought much about benefits. The right answer to the question is simple enough though, and I should have been able to come up with it. The benefit is that good things are good; beauty is beautiful. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.

DVD’s heroin analogy went unanswered as well. It went something like, “If somebody were to argue for liberty to consume heroin, you would naturally want to know why they would want to, what’s the reason?” The right answer is along the same lines. Apart from pointing out how a mention of heroin poisons the well, it is not necessarily the case that an argument for liberty implies that somebody just really wants to do something. For instance, I have no interest in either dancing or smoking (rather intense disinterest, actually), but I would argue for liberty. I can believe that somebody else can glorify God with their dance, and that a good cigar is a good thing.

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.

What He Wishes He Said?

I already talked about what I wish I had said. How do I know what DVD might wish he had said? Obviously I don’t. But some speculation…

To be fair, if I had pushed back on DVD’s argument that the second commandment admits of no distinction between making/worship of images, it would not have been a slam dunk. In re-listening, I heard some clues that indicated he might have had a nuance in mind that did not come across very clearly to the audience. Observe (at about 12:24):

I think it’s safe to say that for Deuteronomy [4:15–], for the scriptures as a whole, making images and using them for worship are part and parcel of the same thing. In other words, the idea that one might make an image and not use it for worship was not really a possibility that the biblical writers even imagined. Why would you make an image if it wasn’t to worship it? What kind of confrontation with the deity would you undergo if you would not respond with worship?

Given that phrase “with the deity,” I think it’s safe to say that DVD is not arguing for a lack of distinction between making/worshipping — and thus a complete prohibition — of images altogether. Rather, he is speaking only of images of objects of worship — of God or god(s). This qualification would provide shelter from an accusation that he proves too much, and his arguments forbid all images whatsoever.

I have two lines of response to this hypothetical nuance.

First, the second commandment doesn’t give us that nuance. If anything it heads in the opposite direction, never mentioning God at all, but going to great lengths to prohibit everything but God (heaven, earth, waters).

Second, do we really believe that all images of objects of objects of worship are forbidden? It was for this reason that I wore that night a t-shirt with Kokopelli emblazoned on it. Kokopelli is the pagan god of fertility, music, and trickery for many Indian tribes of the American Southwest. How egregious could images of objects of worship be, if I was openly wearing such an idol on my chest, and nobody even blinked? But the opportunity never presented itself, so I let the ambush pass.

Note, my Kokopelli shirt was primarily there in preparation for a question like the following accusation of obeying the commandments only on Sundays:

Those who say that images are forbidden, but only for worship, imply that we can fulfill the command of God by not having images in worship, while we have them in books or at home on our walls. The logical conclusion is that we can have idols, but just not in worship. (Daniel Hyde, In Living Color, p. 87)

“Really, we can’t have an idol? If we visit an African country, we can’t buy a statue for ornamental purposes if somebody may have worshipped it before? I can’t go to Joshua Tree and buy a T-shirt like this one with Kokopelli on it?”

Continuing in this vein, where is the line to be drawn between what may not be imaged because it is an object of worship, and what may not be imaged because it is a potential object of worship? Who knows what people might or might not worship? I mean, look at the response to a coincidentally Mary-shaped scorch mark on a grilled-cheese sandwich! And again, consider the exhaustive nature of the second commandment. If there really is no distinction between making and worshipping, then isn’t the point of the second commandment that anything in creation, if imaged, might be worshipped by some crazy idolater, and therefore all images are absolutely verboten? In particular, God would have a lot of ‘splaining to do about all those images he commanded the Israelites to include in the house of worship he designed for himself.

What I Wish I Had Said

H&S: Images of Christ was a great night. But it was a rough night. In addition to the stress of going up against my “idol,” I was uncomfortable with the conflicting desires of honoring DVD because of how much I respect his genius, and the strategic need within the forum of Hoagies & Stogies to discredit him and his arguments. Because of this I felt discombobulated the entire evening, and was not able to think on my feet quickly enough to decide how to use all of my time, which is why I left time on the clock in all three segments.

After listening to the .mp3, there are a few elements of DVD’s arguments that I wish I had had the presence of mind to address with the extra time that I gave away.

First, I was surprised that DVD came so strong with an explicit single/unified interpretation of the second commandment (since that was also a cornerstone of my argument). DVD explained that, in the Bible’s view, it was inconceivable that someone would make an image without then worshipping it. I should have pointed out that the implication of such an analysis is that all images are forbidden, a position he surely would not want to defend.

Second, he insisted that worship and teaching are inseparable. I strongly disagree with this, and feel that it is more characteristic of the “All of life is worship” view that neither of us affirm. If worship and teaching are inseparable, then the regulative principle governs teaching. I can think of many problems with this implication, but the most relevant is certainly that images would be forbidden in teaching. Not just images of Christ, but (the same as in worship) all images whatsoever. I wouldn’t be surprised if DVD would be comfortable with an image-free sunday school curriculum, but I would be surprised if he felt the church could bindingly enforce an image-free sunday-school curriculum.

Speaking of enforcing, I also missed a major opportunity in the Q&A period, when we were discussing The Passion of the Christ. DVD was unwilling to outright forbid Christians to view the movie, saying he had to affirm some degree of “Christian liberty.” I should have jumped all over that, because it’s a damning admission, that basically concedes my fundamental argument. If DVD is right, and images of Christ are forbidden, always, how could there be liberty in the question of viewing 30 images per second, for more than two hours?

H&S: Images of Christ

It’s been a long time, but finally we had another Hoagies & Stogies, on the topic of Images of Christ, with myself and Dr. David Van Drunen of WSCAL.

Here are the .mp3:

Everyone there had a great time. Give the mp3 a download and have a listen!

For further research, you can find some of Dr. van Drunen’s writing on the topic online:

And it’s not online, but you should get to a seminary library so you can read:

Also, there is Danny Hyde’s book In Living Color: Images of Christ and the Means of Grace

Great Commisions Publications (who make, among other things, Sunday School curriculum for the OPC and PCA) set out their policy for the OPC GA.

For the other side, I would first recommend the long article

There is also a position paper by the RPCES, but note that, “in the providence of God, the RPCES never instituted the proposed changes in its edition of the Westminster Confession or Catechisms, due to its reception into the PCA in 1982.” You could also check out John Frame’s Doctrine of God, ch 25-26, especially pp. 484-486.

And for posterity’s sake, here is my outline that I worked from.


And of course, look out for the great events that Mike announced; check the Hess Brewing website or their Facebook page for more details:

  • Thu Jun 16: Free Tri-tip Thursday
  • Fri Jun 24: F. A. C. (Friday Afternoon Club) with live music, and discounts if you bring your Hess glassware.