The banner at the top of this page — at least until the end of the Great Lent — is from the Feast of Orthodoxy, and I think it is symbolic of just how far I have come in the last few years.

Way back when I was a Calvinist, I was a Calvinist. I wasn’t one of those wussy Reformed Baptists who likes TULIP but doesn’t adopt any of the rest of the Calvinist worldview. That meant — of course — that I was a hardline iconoclast.

Consider: when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was released on DVD, one of the LC campus organizations used clips from it during a service. In response (to a service I did not attend, no less), I wrote an essay about how using images in worship is idolatry.

It’s a strong charge, but one that Reformed folks aren’t afraid to level.

My entire basis for this was from the second commandment — “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (ESV)”

The logic was that Christ is in heaven, so any depiction of him would be a violation of this commandment.

There a few problems with this though — the first being that just taking that verse at face value means that I can’t have a picture of my family, or a poster or the bust of a classical composer in my home, at least if I’m going to be consistent. Muslims think this way.

The second is that that understanding of the verse removes it from its context. The next verse goes on, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” (ESV)

So, the proper understanding of the second commandment is that you shall not make an image with the purpose of worshipping it, which is — ta-da! — idolatry. The image, in and of itself, is not bad.

My step in logic was to say, “Ok, that means that paintings and photos and statues are ok, but you can’t use them in worship.”

That’s a fine thought, but is biblically inconsistent.

The Israelite worship cultus was littered with the use of images, though the images themselves were just not worshipped. The real monkey wrench in all of this is that God Himself commanded that those images be constructed for use in His worship.

So my last line of defense was that even if images — graven or otherwise — were allowed, one could not create an image depicting Christ, because Christ is God and to create an image of God is to create an idol.

But that’s shoddy Christology — Christ is 100 percent God, but he is 100 percent man. To deny that he can be depicted is to deny Christ’s humanity, which is — oops! — heretical.

To quote St. John of Damascus:

Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works my salvation.

Some astute Protestant scholars have noted that Jesus still has a body, and thus specific features; that means that any picture of him is not, in fact, a picture of him that is perfectly accurate — in short, icons of Christ are not icons of Christ.

But the purpose of icons is to remind us of a spiritual reality, not to be an exact representation.

Peter Leithart has an interesting response to those iconoclastic critics, however.

Christ is in heaven, true, but he has also left us his body as both the Eucharist and as the Church as the body of Christ on earth.

If we are going to be considered as having done to Christ what we have done to “the least of these,” then when we minister to them by feeding, clothing them, visiting them, ect., then —Leithart argues — we see the face of Christ in them, and thus Leithart concludes that we can depict Jesus with the features of the faces we see around us.

(On second thought, it’s probably better if you read his own words. In case you missed the link the first time, you can read it here.)

When I write all of this, don’t get the wrong impression — I’m not going to wallpaper my house with icons, but I feel like I am free to have and appreciate them now.

This is probably a bigger deal to me than to a lot of folks, but let me assure you, it’s a big deal.

Advertisements