Movies about Jesus violate 2nd commandment?

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Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Ah, but we never remember exactly right and we recreate our memories. After 20 years we begin remembering an illusion and this illusion would therefore become an image not rooted to reality.

The grounds given for the wisdom behind God's forbidding of us making any kind of images (including mental) is that the Israelites had not seen God: "Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth" (Deut. 4:15-18). But the apostles had seen Jesus, and so their memory of him is at least not one purely and simply conjured up by them, but is based on what they saw; and even though their physical brains would not have been able to perfectly remember every detail because of their fallen bodies, the same is even true of their physical eyes and receptors even when they saw Him in person. Yet the explained basis for the commandment given in Deuteronomy 4 is not "since you could not perfectly perceive every detail of the form you saw," but rather "since you saw no form." But that basis was not the case for the apostles with respect to Jesus.

And what's with John in Revelation temptingus to sin? A man with white woolen hair and a girdle.... If mentally imagining this is sin, then why would the inspired holy writers tempt by evoking such imagery?

As with so much imagery in Scripture, wouldn't a possibility be that it is simply there to communicate certain analogous things that the descriptions would symbolize, e.g. purity, age and wisdom from the woolen hair, etc.?

"You shall not make for yourself a graven 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; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I The Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My Commandments." (Exodus 20:4-6 RSV)


Isnt this qualified by the phrase after the semi colon? If no punctuation was used, then I alwas thought we are not to bow down to anything..

Again, it is still further qualified by the passage from Deuteronomy 4: The stated grounds for the commandment is that we have not seen Him; yet the apostles had seen Him, and as such, they would naturally remember the physical images of him in their heads. But any such mental images we attempt to picture in our minds are not memories of a form we have seen, but completely random, self-constructed misrepresentations.

Would these be considered graven images that God actually commanded to be made?

Of course not; for the command says "you shall not make for yourself" - and people following direct instruction from God is completely different from constructing their own creation for themselves. It's the same principle as prophecy, tongues and all special revelation: In Deuteronomy 18:20 it is said, "But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die." Here it is made clear that it is a sin to come up with one's own piece of instruction or supposed "prophecy"; yet we know that at the same time, God commanded people many times to proclaim the prophetic instructions He had given them. So it is with graven images - God forbids us from making them for ourselves, yet that is perfectly consistent with Him giving His own instructions at times for specific images, such as the serpent, and even the Lord's Supper as an image of Christ's body and blood.
 

Iconoclast

Puritan Board Junior
Bruce wrote this :
If it is a sin to create a "vision" of Christ based on John's Rev. 1 imagery (arguably very not-literal, the pieces/parts of which are meant to convey information and not a picture), then, we really can't blame John for our abuse of Scripture. It is not to the purpose to say "I'm not going to call it sin, because John must have wanted us to envision Jesus ourselves according to this description." One's conviction regarding the sin will determine whether we attempt to recreate any such picture, and whether we think of any such picture recreated AS the Jesus whom John saw and we worship.


The imagery in Revelation,in chapter one, or anywhere else in the book is God given.
While I am not going to whip out an easel and paint brushes to try to recreate the images in my best Bob Ross imitation, nevertheless considering these portions of scripture is highly instructive.
One thing that comes through is that although John had seen the risen Christ before the ascension,what he describes in Rev.1 he struggles to even put in words, ie

white like wool-his eyes were as a flame of fire-15And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

One thing is for certain, it certainly is not the hippie looking picture that I must remove out of my Thompson Chain bible everytime I buy one. The description given of an emerald rainbow around the throne,or of angelic beings is a God given Image. We are to think about it along with the description of Hebrewws 1;1-3,, or Jn 17
The Lord Jesus in full glory. We are meant to take comfort in the fact that are fully sovereign Lord is in control and ruling and reigning. To not come away with this is to miss the point of the writing.
The difficulty John had describing it ,shows the reality is beyond what we could even begin to try to make,draw, sculpt, or anything else.
 

Ravens

Puritan Board Sophomore
I also find it very hard to not visualize Christ "in some sense" in my mind. I'm not talking of meditating on His appearance, or dwelling on details and the like, but its hard for me to read the Gospels and think about the cross without forming some kind of picture of what's happening. Mostly I only have that problem when it comes to the cross.

If it is a sin to visualize Christ in your mind even in passing, or while reading (and I'm largely convinced that it is, even though I wouldn't bet all my chips on it), I think it is harder for this generation to deal with. And in that respect, the sins of the fathers are having an effect on their children. I saw pictures and images of Christ from the time I was in Sunday school, week in, week out, for year after year.

Most of the Christians in our nation, raised in non-Reformed churches, grew up the same way. When you are taught to think of Christ pictorially in your formative years, its harder to root out. And in that respect, I would say its critical to keep images of Christ away from children; which is ironic, because I know some that would allow images in childrens' lessons and what not, even when they would forbid their use in adult magazines and movies.

I've sometimes wondered why the 2nd Commandment wouldn't apply to the burning bush (which, as I understand it, was a very common symbol in the Reformed churches), Jacob's ladder, wheels-within-wheels etc., also, . I would think it would bar the pictorial representation of theophanies in the same way that it prevents manifestations of the Theophany Himself. And that would also apply to representing the Holy Spirit in terms of a dove outline.
 

CalvinandHodges

Puritan Board Junior
How do we avoid a picture of Christ in our minds???? I don't really try to, at times when I read the Gospels....I can almost "picture" Christ talking to the Apostles. Like I say....it is not deliberate...it just happens. Am I alone here????:coffee: (I would like to add I am not advocating a mental image thing......I am just a bit curious if others have this happen.)

Hey:

As NaphtaliPress pointed out earlier: holding pictures of Jesus in the mind is a sin. However, this type of sin is forgivable. In order to keep yourself from committing this sin you have to trust that the Holy Spirit who works with the Word of God in your heart to prevent such things from happening.

As a means to this end: 1) Remember there is no accurate describtion of Jesus anywhere in the New Testament, and 2) Keep yourself from looking at all those fake pictures of Jesus.

What I find truly horrific about this is that we allow pictures of Jesus in children's books - even "Reformed" children books. What then are we teaching our children about this?

Grace and Peace,

-CH
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I have an old thread series which ran from April 3 to June 27, 1996 on Doug Comin's old Covie-Forum on the subject of 'pictures' of Christ. With the fpcr.org site in some kind of redesign, I am not sure it will appear as an available download there or not. It was available there for many years. I have the text file if anyone wants it. Rich, maybe it could be hosted here on PB somewhere? Word says it is 1,150,000 characters with spaces in size. It is long winded and meandering (you know, like threads on PB are;)). Doug may not remember this even exists, but he gave me permission to edit up the file years ago. I may pull one or two of my posts to the thread and put here just for kicks. Probably the one of post interest is a summary on mental images I tried to pull for John La Shell's dissertation, "Imaginary Ideas of Christ: A Scottish-American Debate".
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
That fish symbol needs to go too, I guess?

Why?

Are people trying to or being led to see God in the fish?

What does the symbol represent? I was under the impression that it was an ancient, quasi-secret identifier of Christians. The letters for "fish" were an acronym for the name/titles of "Jesus Christ Son of God Savior". Is the symbol an identity badge for Christians or a "picture" of Christ? I guess for me, I've never looked at a fish, or THE fish, and thought "That is a picture of Jesus, the Son of God." I suppose for someone who did, then perhaps they ought to ditch it.


It seems clear to me that there are fundamentally two different reactions to the notion that visual representations of "any persons of the Trinity," including Jesus, is simply sinful. Either one consents that it is wrong, and seeks to avoid indulgence major or minor. Or one starts looking at those with those convictions, and mocks and derides them for perceived individual "violations" of the command. How is this different from atheists who just go looking for Christian "moral" lapses? "So much for your morality--buncha hypocrites. I'll decide what's right and wrong for me."

We don't allow the unbeliever to get away with his caricatures. Saying things like, "Your so-called absolute commands--against murder, etc.--look how inconsistent you are! Death of a thousand convenient qualifications. Your 'commandments' are obviously bunk." We shouldn't adopt a similar posture when dealing with the 2nd Commandment among our own selves.

Like it or not, there is a "reformed" position, one defined by the Confessions, and held by a history with whom we are in continuum. None of us have to apologize for it, nor do we have to answer every snide mischaracterization of the position, every accusation of a lapse, especially when the association is baseless and irrelevant. If Jesus hadn't authorized the Bread and Wine, we should never have thought it up ourselves upon pain of blasphemy and "trivialization" of the Savior's death. But his own words elevated the same to the status of an ordinance.

If someone thinks differently from us on images of Christ, you can have them, all of them--we who are opposed to them don't want them. But please don't sit back on your cushion with the pea-shooter and plink away at those "straightlaced types" on the other side. If you want to take the position on, dress up and get out your heavy artillery.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
First of two 1996 post WRT John K. La Shell's work

Here is the first of two posts citing the work of John K. La Shell ("Imagination and Idol: A
Puritan Tension", WTJ, Fall 1987; “Imaginary Ideas of Christ: A Scottish-American Debate” [Ph.D. dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1985]). Matt has the first article posted here. I am editing out names in this post since there lacks context from the full thread. As for the nature of the post, folks will understand it is snipped from an old debate and I trust the reader will pardon mistakes and any 'immaturity' in an 11 year old post. Apologies also that it repeats points already made or ground already covered in earlier posts in this thread. The bits of interest are the La Shell remarks.
********************
Item #4
********************
Subject: RE: Covie-forum (May 17, 1996) Images: Some questions
for the "general" vs. the no exceptions opposers of Images
Date: Fri, 17 May 1996 17:31:08 -0500
From:Chris Coldwell
To: "'Douglas W. Comin'"


If Covie-forum will pardon yet another post on this issue of images
and if the moderator permits, I have questions which perhaps Pastor
C or those still in the debate may be able to answer, or at least
help me to understand more of the dynamic going on here.

1. If the images of Christ do not and are not intended to stir up
devotion, then what precisely *IS* the point of having them?

2. How is the conundrum, postulated by Durham down to Murray
(17th to 20th century) -- that rock and a hard place - of being
caught between the second and third commandments avoided? Or how
is the argument -- If the image stirs up devotion it is idolatry,
if it doesn't it is vain - unsound?

3. If the answer to question 1. is for artwork and decoration,
then I ask how can we avoid violating the third commandment?

4. If the answer to question 2 is to instruct the ignorant, then
how is this argument different from the one between the Reformers
and the Papists - the RCs said pictures were the books for the
unlearned? If the answer is that they are to teach children,
then I fail to see any difference. If we want any full assurance
that how we teach our children about God will redound to his glory
and their good, then shouldn't we look to Scripture for our rule in
this, for perhaps one of the most important things we do -
instructing the next generation in the ways of God? 2 Tim 3:14-17.
"And that from a CHILD thou (Timothy) hast known the holy scriptures,
which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which
is in Christ Jesus. (16) All scripture is given by inspiration of God,
and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for
instruction in righteousness: (17) that the man of God may be perfect,
throughly furnished unto all good works." Scripture is sufficient to
teach children the ways of God and furnish them unto ALL good works.
No pictures needed here by Lois and Eunice. If we are looking to do
our children good lets not go looking to break the commandment which
curses THEM and succeeding generations in the violating of it!

5. I appreciate Pastor C's or anyone's willingness to
continually examine what we believe and jettisoning whatever
is unsound no matter what the pedigree or history. However, I
have failed to grasp the significance or purpose in this case.
If the no exceptions folks are wrong in forbidding all use of
images of Christ, then what exceptions are allowed? If for
Instruction, then what objections in my question 4 are unsound
and why? If for artwork or decoration, then how without violating
other of God's commands?

I realize piling up questions like I've done may make it appear
that I'm angry (I'm not) or come across as bullying (I don't
intend to be); and I hope this doesn't sound shrill or scolding.
But I'm not dispassionate in this matter either. After all we
aren't discussing differences over flavors of ice cream! I have
appreciated the care with which Pastor C has couched his
"concerns" but I do want to know what practical use this discussion
has? Perhaps another, yet lengthy quote may be helpful, and that
from someone who is apparently not an absolutist on pictures of
Christ (according to my reading of him).

[I wrote this in an earlier]post to a different discussion group.
In one of the earlier posts on this topic of images, I
recommended John K. La Shell's "Imagination and Idol: A
Puritan Tension", WTS Journal, Fall 1987. There I said he
was not in the absolutist camp on the unlawfulness of pictures
of Jesus, but he was hesitant to endorse the benefit of their
use and qualified heavily any use they might have. Someone who
wants to seriously pursue a thorough study of the literature on
the topic should not ignore La Shell's other piece on the topic,
his "Imaginary Ideas of Christ: A Scottish-American Debate."
I obtained copies of both pieces in preparation of my support
document (Indifferent Imaginations, Blue Banner v. 3 #7-8) for
the petition one of our elders had before North Texas Presbytery
(PCA) on images at presbytery meetings. However, while holding
the door open to some images in a guarded way (realizing that
they can be a stumbling block to sin) in his attempts to evaluate
the psychological "insights of Jonathan Edwards and the equally
important cautions of Ralph Erskine," La Shell is far from the
aggressive endorser of pictures of Christ seen here on KR, nor
does he reject the historic understanding of the regulative
principle. It should be noted La Shell is mainly investigating
the study of the debate that took place between Ralph Erskine
and James Robe over visions and mental images of Christ, in the
context of the Great Awakening. This of course leads him into a
discussion of images as well as mental images of Christ. While
some of La Shell's theorizing may put him outside the historical
Puritan position, he seems to remain, for all practical purposes,
in that camp. From that standpoint he lends a great deal of support
to the arguments I previously posted against the expedience and
indifference of images.

La Shell concludes the following
"Another important area for investigation is indicated by a rising
consciousness of the arts as a valid Christian vocation. The
problems associated with Christian themes in art can be approached
from the viewpoint of the artist or from the perspective of the
Christian public. If Puritan exegesis of the second commandment
is essentially correct, then certain restrictions are placed on
the creativity and freedom of the artist. Even if art based on
Gospel history is permitted, <
that such art should focus on Christ, particularly on Christ
in any great detail>> the artist needs to steer a careful course
between two dangers. If he attempts to reproduce a biblical scene
as it appeared to a first-century observer, he may miss the inner
significance of the event. On the other hand, if he clearly depicts
the inner meaning of an event, he runs the risk of obscuring its
true historicity (Rookmaaker 1971, 16; La Shell 1976, 70-72). The
perspective of the Christian public poses, if anything, an even
more difficult problem. In the first place, many Christians are
extremely resistant to parting with beloved pictures. Second,
many of them find it difficult to make fine distinctions such
as those which have been discussed. They want to know if pictures
are good or bad - period. When faced with those alternatives,
it may be wisest to reject even Gospel history as a proper subject
for art.

Perhaps three incidents from the experience of the author will
help in illustrating the difficulties frequently encountered
among Christians who have never considered the implications of
the second commandment. In the first, a chalk artist produced a
larger-than-life head of Christ. While his family sang "Beautiful
Savior," the room was darkened and the picture flouresced under
ultraviolet light. Then the audience was invited to contemplate
the crucified and risen Savior. The atmosphere was charged with
emotion; scarcely a dry eye was to be found in the auditorium.
The service was followed by eager competition among the young
people for possession of the picture, and no one seemed to
consider that devotion stirred up by an image might be displeasing
to God. The second incident occurred during a pastoral visit in a
home. A grandmother asked her small granddaughter whose picture hung
on the wall. The child responded, "That's God." The author realized
that an image of God can only teach lies, and that the child had been
cruelly deceived. However, it would have made matters worse to tell
her that the picture was not really God, but only Jesus, for Jesus
is God. The final incident followed a (perhaps foolhardy) message
on idolatry delivered beneath a large stained glass image of the
Good Shepherd. One indignant parishoner provided perfect confirmation
of the danger of exalting images over the Word of God. Her icy glare
was accompanied by the claim that she frequently received more spiritual
blessings by meditating on that window than she did from the sermons.
As these examples illustrate, Puritan concern regarding images of
Christ has relevance even today. Moreover, the danger of external
images is totally unrecognized in many segments of the modern church,
what can be said about mental idolatry? As difficult as it may be, it
appears that the subject ought to be addressed. The perils of
coveteousness and of mental adultery are regularly proclaimed from
the pulpit. Perhaps it is time to include instruction on the ways
in which men defile God's glory by their vain imaginings of Him.
Thus far La Shell.
I appreciate Covie-forum's and the Moderator's indulgence.
snip.
 
Last edited:

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Second of two 1996 post WRT John K. La Shell's work

Here is the second of two 1996 posts to the old Covie-Forum, this one on mental imaginations of Christ.
********************
Subject: Covie-forum (June 19, 1996) #2
********************
Items Posted:
1. Chris Coldwell: mental imaginations of Christ
********************
Item #1
********************
Subject: RE: mental imaginations of Christ
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 1996 22:45:23 -0500
From: Chris Coldwell <[email protected]>
To: "'Douglas W. Comin'" <[email protected]>


Covie-forum:
Early on in my posts on the topic of pictures of Christ I quoted
a fellow named La Shell. I don't remember mentioning it at the time,
but would say John La Shell's dissertation, "Imaginary Ideas of
Christ: A Scottish-American Debate" (hereafter IMAG.) is pertinent
to the discussion on mental pictures of Christ. It would be very
helpful, particularly if anything official is ever done in any
presbyteries, for those involved to get a copy of that paper.
Not all of what he says is to my agreement, nor does he completely
support the iconoclast position, but he has done the homework, whether
we choose to agree with the conclusions or not. I think it is important
to "do the homework" or read someone who has so we don't get bogged down
in questions that are just not supportable historically, nor germane to
the real question (like redefining the meaning of LC 109 - no offense Tony).

In the Great Awakening (early 1740s) a number (usually reckoned a small
percentage of the total) of those who expressed concern for their soul's
state, claimed to have experienced visions - some of the Savior. Tangential
but related to the sometimes vicious debate that waged about the validity
of the revival itself, a rather lengthy discussion ensued between several
individuals about the legitimacy of mental images of Christ. The main
protagonists were James Robe and Ralph Erskine, but much of the background
to the "pro visions" side was provided by Jonathan Edwards. Robe endorsed
and went somewhat beyond even Edwards' position. Erskine opposed all mental
images of the Savior as idolatry.

The dissertation also enters a great deal into Edwards' view and the
Puritans view of 'imagination.' La Shell writes: "Edward's assertion,
that no one is able '? to fix his thoughts on God or Christ, or the
things of another world, without imaginary ideas attending his
meditations' proved to be a bombshell." (IMAG, p. 103). He says
"In stating that imaginary ideas almost inevitably intrude into a
man's thoughts of the divine, Edwards is stepping perilously close
to the brink of acceptable Puritan dogma." (IMAG, p. 70).

La Shell writes: "In addition, the Westminster Larger Catechism,
Question 109, specifically warns against the dangers of mental
idolatry. On this basis ministers of the Secession Church in Scotland
charge the revival party with encouraging idolatry. The mental images
of Christ, experienced by some of the converts, seem to be a clear
violation of the second commandment. Edwards, however, appears unmoved
by such considerations. Why?" (IMAG, p. 72). La Shell after a lengthy
discussion helpfully summarizes Edwards:
"In the preceding pages it has been suggested that Edwards' view may
have differed from the traditional Puritan appraisal of mental images
of Christ. Although he regarded them with a degree of caution which
often approached suspicion, he also afforded them a measure of
credibility as natural concomitants of genuine spiritual experiences.
Several reasons for his approach have been pointed out. These may be
summarized under four headings.

"Edwards' EMPIRICISM provided an openness to the evaluation of experience.
When he found that mental images of Christ were reported by some whom he
regarded as genuine converts, he was not inclined to ascribe them to
Satanic agency. Second, the PSYCHOLOGY which he adapted from Locke
treated the human soul as a unit. Because of this the imagination could
not be easily dissociated from the understanding as it sometimes had been
in Puritan psychology. There was no longer room for the distinction
between the 'sensitive' soul and the 'intellectual' soul. In addition,
it became impossible to treat the new spiritual sense of the Christian
as a separate faculty which could operate independently of the rest of
the activities of the soul. Therefore, the imagination could be operative
even during the most spiritual of experiences. Also associated with Locke's
influence is Edwards' theory of LANGUAGE. An imaginary idea of Christ may
be simply a sign used in thinking about Him. In this case, it is little
different than the word 'Christ' which fulfills the same role. Finally,
Edwards' IDEALISM provided him with a view of the world in which he could
develop new theories of typology and aesthetics. The relation of the
physical world to the spiritual world suggests that the beauty of a
mental image of Christ may (at times) function as a type of the eternal
and primary beauty of God." (IMAG, pp. 101-102)
La Shell goes on to point out most of the Edwards material to understand
all of the above was not published in Edwards' lifetime, and turns his
attention to the Scottish debate between Robe (Established Church) and
Erskine (Secession Church).

La Shell lays out the difference between the parties: "It was this
connection posited between the senses and the understanding which
proved to be a major target for the attacks of the Seceders.
"What part do the senses play in our knowledge of the world or of God?
Can an imaginary idea of Christ's human body be considered either
necessary or helpful to saving faith, especially since imaginary ideas
relate only to the sensible world? These issues were raised by James
Fisher [Fisher's Catechism fame -- CC] in his <Review of the Preface>:

"'?if there be the least sensible or visionary Representation of God or
of Christ formed in our Imagination, we do that very Moment think upon
a false God and a false Christ. Our Senses and Imagination, cannot assist
us at all, in thinking upon the Divine Nature and Perfections' (Fisher
1743, 13, body).

"An important part of the question is the natural constitution of man.
If it is true (as most acknowledged) "That we cannot think upon spiritual
Objects without imaginary Ideas attending our Meditations?," is it because
of our created nature, or is it "?owing to our lapsed and imperfect State"
as Willison suggests (1743, 7)? Even if imaginary ideas attend spiritual
exercises primarily because of the fall, it can be asked, 'Do you think
God hath created the Imagination, or any inferior Faculty of the Soul,
merely for the Devil's Use? Hath he not Access to the Imagination himself
when he will" (Willison 1743, 10)? Robe insists "?a natural Fruit of
Corruption?," but they arise "?from our natural Constitution, or from
our finite and corporeal Nature?, and would have been as unavoidable,
if we had continued in a State of Innocence as now?" (Robe 1743, 5-6).
Erskine was equally adamant for the opposing view. Even if they are
unavoidable, imaginary ideas of Christ's human body are sinful and
idolatrous. At one point he confesses with evident shame:

"'I must own and acknowledge, that, while I write upon this speculative
subject, I am conscious to myself of so many vain imaginations of my own,
that I am obliged to write against myself as well as Mr. Robe, and my own
imaginary ideas as well as his' (Erskine 1745, 220)

"What then are the substantive issues which divide the revivalists from
the Secession ministers? First, they are theological. Is an imaginary
idea of Christ's human body helpful to faith or is it idolatrous? Second,
there are philosophical dimensions to the problem. How is faith related
to that world of sense by which the imagination is limited. The disputants
attempted to prove their cases by appealing to approved divines and
philosophers, but they also turned to the Scriptures" (IMAG, pp. 107-108).
La Shell turns to the two points in detail. I cannot summarize it well
here, but Robe found some wiggle room in some language of a couple of
the Puritans (which Erskine found difficult to explain away), while
Erskine (relying particularly on Owen) demonstrates the preponderance
of the support of previous authors put him in the mainstream of the issue.
"Considering the variety of witnesses adduced by both Robe and Erskine,
it is fair to ask whether there existed a Puritan consensus regarding
mental images of Christ. ? The great respect accorded to the Westminster
standards among Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Calvinistic Baptists
(who all adopted forms of the Confession) suggests that there was something
of a consensus on basic principles?[LC 109 cited]?Puritan authors,
including those cited above, frequently denounced mental idolatry and
saw in it the evil source of all external image worship. James Robe,
by his own admission, stands within that tradition. However, the
controversy which began in 1742 appears to be the first attempt to
define precisely the limits of mental idolatry. When do the natural
and unavoidable mental symbols by which men think became idolatrous?
That is the question.

"Although there is room for disagreement, it appears that Ralph Erskine
stands within the conservative mainstream of tradition, while James Robe
is stretching its borders. Erskine is certainly harsher than some of his
predecessors when he condemns all mental imagery of spiritual things.
However, the expressions which seem so congenial to Robe's position may
not have been intended to include the vivid imaginary ideas which Robe
defends. ?

"Robe blurs the distinction between the normal symbols used in thinking
and vivid mental images. That blurring is a natural result of the
traditional definition of the imagination, which includes both kinds
of experience under the same faculty. When early Protestants adopted
Scholastic forms of thought (in spite of warnings from some of the
Reformers), they inherited a number of problems. Among these was a
potential conflict between their understanding of the imagination
and the rejection (by some groups) of mental images of God. Since
the medieval Church embraced all kinds of images, no such conflict
was possible for it. The Cambuslang revival provided a stimulus for
focusing attention on the problem, but it does not seem that either
Robe or Erskine recognized that their differences stemmed from
inherent inconsistencies in the traditions of reformed scholasticism."
(IMAG, pp. 128-129).
La Shell summarizes the philosophical debate:
"What then can be concluded about the philosophical background of
Ralph Erskine and James Robe? First of all, it was mixed, and that
very lack of uniformity allows both men to appeal to their common
traditions for support. Second, as noted earlier, neither Erskine
nor Robe seems willing to concede the existence of these differences.
Third, Erskine is probably closer to the mainstream of Puritan tradition
in his insistence that some knowledge of God is innate. Robe does not
appear to deny this explicitly; perhaps the arguments based on Adam's
knowledge of God and the animals were too strongly imbedded in his
background to dispute. Finally, however, Erskine's occasionalism is
a more novel answer than he recognizes. Many of the sources he cites
to prove innate knowledge or the independence of the soul from the
senses do not directly deal with this aspect of the problem?"

"Win, Lose or Draw
"In eighteenth century Scotland there was no neutral panel of judges
to determine whether Ralph Erskine or James Robe had won their debate?

"Perhaps the best way to evaluate the controversy is to consider the
points upon which the disputants agree. It is then possible to ask which
of them best adheres to the common terms of the debate. Both parties accept
the principle that external or internal images of God are idolatrous. Our
ideas of God must not be attended by any mental pictures of Him. Both also
accept the traditional definition of the imagination as the image-producing
faculty of the mind. They differ on whether an imaginary idea of the human
body of Christ should be considered idolatrous. Robe's doctrine would be
more defensible if he were content to state that such ideas are completely
neutral events with purely psychological explanations. His insistence that
imaginary ideas of Christ's human body are helpful and necessary to faith
places the matter in a far more unfavorable light from the traditional
perspective. ..

"On the other hand, Erskine's declaration that propositional truths are
not the objects of fancy is open to serious question. He believes he has
found a way to conceive of Christ as man without the aid of imaginary
ideas of corporeal objects. However, it is difficult to think of the
virgin birth without imagining a woman and a baby?Perhaps his rejection
of all imagery in thinking of spiritual objects is a case of philosophical
overkill." (IMAG, pp. 155-156).
La Shell goes on to champion Edwards' view (receiving imagery as a
significant aspect of thought) against Erskine's denial and concludes
that the psychology of Erskine be reject while some aspect of his charge
of idolatry be maintained.

He says:
"In these warnings concerning mental idolatry, two principles
are operative. First, the imagination is the root of all idolatry because
of its power freely to fashion images which are not in accord with reality.
Second, it is generally assumed that the same kinds of external images
which are forbidden are also prohibited in the mind.
"Exceptions
"In the controversy over mental images, Robe finds himself cast into a
defensive position. His argument amounts to an assertion that there are
exceptions to the general rule. Can that position be sustained? Perhaps
it will be helpful to review briefly the tradition which he faces. The
basic premise is that all visible representations of God are sinful.
Second, images of Christ are forbidden because His divine nature cannot
be pictured; a picture can only represent His human nature which is but
half a Christ. If it stirs up devotion, that is idolatrous worship; if
it does not, the picture serves no useful purpose. Third, even mental
images of God are specifically condemned. In order to demonstrate the
validity of some mental images of Christ, these three premises must be
weakened" (IMAG, pp. 193-194).
La Shell goes through these three points and how they might be weakened.

Under point one, he holds out some theoretical support for gospel history
being pictured (focusing on the work of Christ and not his person).

Under the second point he states:
"A more difficult problem arises when the mental image represents the Lord
Jesus Christ. In accepting some such images, Robe and Edwards appear to be
weakening the second premise of the Puritan position on images. The union
of Christ's two natures in one person forms the primary basis for Puritan
rejection of images of the Savior; to present the mind's eye with half a
Christ is heresy at best, or idolatry at worst. Robe's clear response is
that it is not heretical to think of the humanity of Christ apart from
His deity. Therefore, it is permissible to have an imaginary idea of His
human body. Such an idea does not preclude a simultaneous realization of
His deity. In fact, an imaginary idea of Christ as man must be combined
with an intellectual comprehension of his deity in order to arrive at a
true and complete conception of the Mediator.

"Robe's position implies conclusions which he might well have rejected.
Erskine charges Robe with teaching that external images of Christ are
also lawful (Erskine, 1745, 155). The accusation is based on an inaccurate
reading of one sentence in Robe's <Fourth Letter> (Robe 1743, 44).
Nevertheless, the connection between mental and external images does
seem to be very close. If meditation involving a mental image does not
blasphemously divide the natures of Christ; why should meditation
stimulated by a picture of the Lord be subject to that charge?"
(IMAG, pp. 195-196)
On point three La Shell says:
"In spite of these concessions, not all of the imaginary ideas defended
by Edwards and Robe can be justified. Reports of visions include pathetic
images of a crucified Savior and beautiful images of a glorified Savior.
In both cases the visions must be regarded as portraits rather than signs
of historical events. For this reason, it is necessary for Robe and Edwards
to defend mental images on the basis that they are involuntary. This
constitutes a weakening of the third Puritan Premise regarding religious
images - that mental images of God are sinful. Edwards appears to be
saying that vivid mental images which arise spontaneously as a result
of truly gracious affections may be beneficial (at least to the ignorant).
Those which result from elevated but non-gracious affections are deceitful
and harmful because they induce a false assurance of salvation. That is a
step in the right direction because if images are inherent in man's
thinking, it is only possible to locate the sin of idolatry in the
attitude of the imaging subject. But more must be said. He who accepts
his images as visions from heaven, he who trusts in them and rejoices
in them - that man is an idolater. Notice that such an interpretation
entails a paradox. The man who appears to benefit most from a mental
image of Christ is the one who benefits least, the one who may actually
be destroyed by what he perceives. Thus, it seems impossible to allow
Edwards' suggestion that imaginary ideas of Christ resemble Old Testament
types. They are too dangerous for such a positive evaluation."
(IMAG, pp. 198-199)
In his wrap up La Shell concludes in relation to the subject in question:
"The third contrast between Edwards and Erskine consists of different
responses to the problem of mental idolatry. Actually, this aspect of
the controversy is more clearly addressed by Robe than by Edwards. The
study has suggested that Robe and Edwards hold a weaker view of the
dangers of mental idolatry than many of their Puritan ancestors.
Considering the wide variety of images which they defend as valid
psychological experiences, it is difficult to know precisely which
kinds of mental images they might have condemned. Erksine's steady
rejection of all imaginary ideas of Christ seems far more in keeping
with Puritan exposition of the second commandment. Reflection on the
scriptural insights of Edwards, Erskine, the Puritans and Calvin
prompts the formulation of guidelines which seem applicable to both
external and mental images. The study suggests that portraits of any
person of the Godhead ought to be rejected, while historical pictures
of the life of Christ may have some limited validity." (IMAG, p. 219).
My assessment. Erskine's main fault is getting entwined in a defense of
his view of occasionalism and innate knowledge. He evidently takes a
beating there. However, Edwards and Robe really never safe guard their
arguments from the fault of idolatry. La Shell favors Edwards' view of
receiving imagery as a significant aspect of thought, which I know some
will take issue with in relation to this discussion (IMAG, pp. 175-178).
Dick Bacon for one would contend that the assumption needs to be proved
(La Shell does not, but simply appeals to what appears to him to be
reasonable) and disallows its relevance to the subject. However,
despite the assumption of this theory or at least tipping the hat in
favor of it, La Shell still concludes a very limited use of actual
pictures and casts doubt on Edwards' and Robe's view of mental images.
I've quoted La Shell previously on his personal experiences with how
people feel about their pictures, so I won't repeat it but refer you
back to my earlier post.

Some may be dismayed that Edwards at least in part supports or has
conclusions that coincide with some of Tony Cowley's. Well, he can
have Edwards and we can take Erskine<g>. My point in posting from
La Shell is to show that aspects of what we've been discussing are
not new. La Shell really should be in anyone's library who may be
seriously tackling this issue in any way.

All in all, whether you agree or disagree with La Shell, or my take
of him, I commend the study as a scholarly job well done.

Regards,
Chris Coldwell
naphtali
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Wow, thanks for the above.....interesting.




BRUCE: No pea-shooting intended. But how abstract must an image be before a mental image or art becomes a symbol?

I remember a thread last year of someone asking about the Lion in the CS Lewis movie if it were idolatry since it was an image - or at least a symbol - of Christ.

When early Christians drew a fish, they were drawing a representation of Christ, even if abstract, rigth? Does this mean that a realistic painting cannot be done, but perhaps a Picasso type representation of Christ can be done?

What level of abstraction marks the difference between a picture and a symbol? Is a stick figure on a cross idolatry?


What about a Reformed children's book I saw. It drew a white outline in the shape of Jesus' body. Instead of picturing a man dividing fish's and loaves, a weird white outline was holding the fish. Isn't this also a representation?



I agree with Edward's above that an essential part of imagination is mental imagery. Add this to the descriptions of Jesus' actions and even his white woolen hair and the Bible encourages this sin of mentally imagining Jesus.



It appears rather that the forbidding of idols (to bow down to) was the idea behind the 2nd commandment.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
Isn't the Icthus more of an identity with the works of Christ and his people? It is not a representation of Christ but of his work. ( ie the miracles and His feeding us)
 

SRoper

Puritan Board Graduate
When early Christians drew a fish, they were drawing a representation of Christ, even if abstract, rigth? Does this mean that a realistic painting cannot be done, but perhaps a Picasso type representation of Christ can be done?

What level of abstraction marks the difference between a picture and a symbol? Is a stick figure on a cross idolatry?

I've never heard the fish symbol being used to symbolize Christ. I always thought is represented Christians.

What about a Reformed children's book I saw. It drew a white outline in the shape of Jesus' body. Instead of picturing a man dividing fish's and loaves, a weird white outline was holding the fish. Isn't this also a representation?

Yeah, I don't think that is an adequate solution to avoiding images of God. It might be better to have him totally obscured by someone or something or just frame the picture so he is out of it altogether. I mean Adam and Eve always have something strategic obscuring their genitals they aren't just airbrushed out.

I agree with Edward's above that an essential part of imagination is mental imagery. Add this to the descriptions of Jesus' actions and even his white woolen hair and the Bible encourages this sin of mentally imagining Jesus.

I suppose we can say that some passages might encourage lust. So what?

It appears rather that the forbidding of idols (to bow down to) was the idea behind the 2nd commandment.

Then it is only a republication of the first commandment.
 

Amazing Grace

Puritan Board Junior
Here is a Jewish understanding of the 10. And Yes lutherans and episcopalians split them like the rcc

I I am the Lord your G-d who has taken you out of the land of Egypt.
II You shall have no other gods but me
III You shall not take the name of the Lord your G-d in vain.
IV You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy.
V Honor your mother and father. Y
VI You shall not murder.
VII You shall not commit adultery.
VIII You shall not steal.
IX You shall not bear false witness.
X You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
What about book covers and stained-glass windows with images of Christ on them?
Anything.
:ditto:
One year at the annual GPTS conference, I believe the one where the psalmody debate took place between Rev. Schwertley and Dr. Shaw, the subject of images of Christ came up. When the correct stance was forthcoming from, I believe, Dr. Piper, someone asked about the stained glass window in some part of the building. It was intimated that the cost would be very great to remove it. My informant and others immediately took up a collection. I believe the window was replaced. Someone may have a better telling of this; but that is as best as I remember how it was related to me.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The conference that year (and the next) was held in a nearby baptist church, for the space requirements exceeded the seminary facilities. (The conference has since moved to a comparable PCA church, which is a bit further away).

At the school, one of the images (in the auditorium, where the baptistry once existed) I know was removed by the previous owners as part of the arrangement to sell to GPTS. As I think about it, there may have been a window in one stairwell that could be covered with a blind, and so was left alone for the meantime.

Chris, you may be right about that being raised as a question, and dealt with at that time. If so, it was providential. Why is money always tight at good Christian institutions? As soon as it isn't (I hate to say it) in come the termites!

What is more deplorable is the otherwise confessional 2nd PCA (where Rick Phillips came to pastor) which for years has had a HUGE stained-glass image in the auditorium, behind the pulpit--hard even to avoid looking at it. :( And another one prominently placed in one of the hallways. Gotta get rid of those things sometime...
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
The conference that year (and the next) was held in a nearby baptist church, for the space requirements exceeded the seminary facilities. (The conference has since moved to a comparable PCA church, which is a bit further away).

At the school, one of the images (in the auditorium, where the baptistry once existed) I know was removed by the previous owners as part of the arrangement to sell to GPTS. As I think about it, there may have been a window in one stairwell that could be covered with a blind, and so was left alone for the meantime.

Chris, you may be right about that being raised as a question, and dealt with at that time. If so, it was providential. Why is money always tight at good Christian institutions? As soon as it isn't (I hate to say it) in come the termites!

What is more deplorable is the otherwise confessional 2nd PCA (where Rick Phillips came to pastor) which for years has had a HUGE stained-glass image in the auditorium, behind the pulpit--hard even to avoid looking at it. :( And another one prominently placed in one of the hallways. Gotta get rid of those things sometime...
Yes; it was the one in the stairwell as I recall now. Too bad about 2nd; you want to meet me around the corner one moonless night, hopefully with the church lights on, with a pile of good throwing rocks?:lol:
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Nope, won't work. Because they are so close to the downtown, and low-rent districts, all those colored-glass, thin paned windows for the BIG ROOM have a whole external plexiglass shield. Man this is 2007, not 1907!
 

danmpem

Puritan Board Junior
Hmm, does the Nativity reinactment or depiction with a baby Jesus violate the 2nd Commandment?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Could we change the nativity scenes and put a fish symbol in the manger instead?

I am serious.... Symbols are representations of reality that are abstract. What level of abstraction is needed before a portrait becomes a symbol and a fish becomes idolatry? Is Van Gogh or Picasso "real" enough?



Also, why do many many PCAchurches and bookstore carry children's Bibles with Jesus? Is the PCA divided on this and have any PCA pastors come out and defended pictures of Jesus?

Finally, I think Ben Hur had the shadow of Jesus. Is the shadow okay.

And some Reformed books merely have an outline of Jesus so that they would not have to draw him....but an outline is still a representation of our Saviour, is it not?
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
Could we change the nativity scenes and put a fish symbol in the manger instead?

I am serious.... Symbols are representations of reality that are abstract. What level of abstraction is needed before a portrait becomes a symbol and a fish becomes idolatry? Is Van Gogh or Picasso "real" enough?



Also, why do many many PCAchurches and bookstore carry children's Bibles with Jesus? Is the PCA divided on this and have any PCA pastors come out and defended pictures of Jesus?

Finally, I think Ben Hur had the shadow of Jesus. Is the shadow okay.

And some Reformed books merely have an outline of Jesus so that they would not have to draw him....but an outline is still a representation of our Saviour, is it not?

The PCA is basically a big tent denomination that tolerates a diversity of views on many subjects, including this one.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
But can the PCA use pics of Jesus without violating the WCF? And does the PCA have a wing that supports art of Jesus? And have they written a position paper or anything to defend this diversityof views?
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
But can the PCA use pics of Jesus without violating the WCF? And does the PCA have a wing that supports art of Jesus? And have they written a position paper or anything to defend this diversityof views?
The PCA does not hold to strict subscription; so it is up to each Presbytery to allow exceptions, and this is a common one to take nowadays.
The PCA has not had any formal study papers pro or contra. The PCA merged with the old RPCES back in the early 1980s, and if that had not happened the RPCES was on a course to edit their version of LC109 to allow for such pictures. They have such a study paper which became part of the historical documents of the PCA but it has no constitutional status. This is online at the PCA Historical Center. Thankfully the editor made all the right qualifications in posting it.
 

SRoper

Puritan Board Graduate
Could we change the nativity scenes and put a fish symbol in the manger instead?

I am serious.... Symbols are representations of reality that are abstract. What level of abstraction is needed before a portrait becomes a symbol and a fish becomes idolatry? Is Van Gogh or Picasso "real" enough?

Finally, I think Ben Hur had the shadow of Jesus. Is the shadow okay.

And some Reformed books merely have an outline of Jesus so that they would not have to draw him....but an outline is still a representation of our Saviour, is it not?

Pergamum, your questions are a lot like the questions of one who discovers that Scripture forbids something like fornication. "Well how far can a man go with his girlfriend before it is fornication? Is it OK if he does this or that? That's not technically sex, is it?" If you are convinced that Scripture forbids making images of God, are you really going to be asking the kinds of questions that amount to "how far is too far"?
 
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