Postmillennialism is an important element in a holistic theology and a full-orbed Christian worldview. In such a worldview that is seriously committed to Scripture, postmillennialism promotes cultural endeavors to the glory of God. Thus, postmillennialism has real world implications. It does not offer hope only in the spiritual realm or in eternity, but here and now.
In the past several articles I have broached the question of visible images of Christ. I have done this because of the debate that arises over the legitimacy of artistic presentations of Jesus. I am strongly Reformed, and as a Presbyterian am even strongly committed to the Westminster Standards. In those Standards and among many of my Reformed brethren, though, we see a strong rejection of any and all visual representations of Christ.
The Absurdity of Such Argumentation
Unfortunately, a side-effect of such a position is to prohibit all artistic representations of some of the most important historical elements of the Christian faith: those involved in the life of Christ. I have been arguing that we may produce pictures of Christ for educational and artistic use, though not for worship aids.
But when an argument is given in defense of visual images of Christ, an emotional reaction often arises, takes over, and desperately seeks some other reasons to reject artistic renderings of Jesus. Many will drop the exegetical and theological arguments and go straight for the practical difficulty in visual portrayals of Christ: “How can we paint a picture of Christ when we do not know what he looked like?”
But this is really no objection whatsoever, and certainly not a logical one. We may easily subject this argument to a reductio ad absurdum. To ask this question is to undermine all artistic renderings of any person, place, or event that we have not seen with our own eyes. Or for which we have no photographs. Or for which we posses no paintings or statues or stone reliefs created by competent and artistically talented eyewitnesses.
On this logic, we should not allow any art representing ancient events unless we have an actual material record of the person or event which was created by someone who actually saw them. We should not produce pictures of Abraham, King David, or the Apostles. Nor should we have pictures of ancient battles, common people from 100 BC, famous discoveries, or anything else that lacks an objective visual record that has been preserved for us. This argument simply does not make good sense.
The Error of Such Argumentation
It is true, of course, that we do not know exactly what Christ looked like. But we do posses an enormous amount of information regarding his appearance. We know that he was a male, had two arms, two elbows, two hands, two legs, two knees, two feet, two eyes, two ears, a head, a nose, two eyebrows, hair, lips, teeth, tongue, a torso, skeletal frame, skin covering, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.
We also know that all of this was organized in the form of what we daily experience as a man. These bodily elements were not a haphazard heap of anatomical parts such as those left over after a Muslim worship service in the Middle East today. Therefore, we do know that he looked very much different than and could easily be distinguished from: blades of grass, molecules of iron, continents, barbed wire, bookends, rivers, lemmings, ham sandwiches, Glade air-fresheners, dried paint, computer keyboards (and other parts associated with a computer system), tsunamis, Egypt, Oijua boards (including its moveable planchette), the aurora borealis, the alphabet (including Hebrew, Greek, and even English versions), Roman numerals, the nebulous envelopes around long-period comets, atomic explosions, the electromagnetic waves of visible light, mathematical formulas (including those involving negative integers), bankruptcy (whether chapter 7 or chapter 11), Cleveland (or Detroit), and so forth.
That is, we know that he looked like a man. In fact, we know that he looked unremarkable — like an average, ordinary man. The biblical record does not indicate any surprise or confusion at Jesus’ appearance by people interacting with him (except in the case of his temporary transfiguration). People engaged him as if he were another ordinary man like themselves. The Samaritan woman at the well informed others about her meeting with Christ: “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done” (Jn 4:29). They did not even know he was the Son of God made flesh — unless he taught them so and they believed it. And even then, his outward visual appearance remained the same. In fact, the Jews rebuffed him when he did teach that he was God: answered “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (John 10:33).
Thus, in the big picture (no pun intended) we do know what he looked like. Even though we do not know exactly what he looked like. That is, we do know he was “in the likeness of men” and “found in appearance as a man” (Phil 2:7, 8). And this is the point of artistic portrayals of Christ. No artist or televangelist outside of the most extreme mystic and charismatic visionary argues that he is painting a picture of exactly what Jesus looked like.
The Desperation of Such Argumentation
Some have argued that after he was resurrected, even his own disciples and friends did not recognize him. But this is absolutely irrelevant to the argument. After all, his friends and disciples did recognize him before the resurrection. Does that mean we can paint pre-resurrection pictures of Christ? I am sure the objector does not intend that logical conclusion.
Furthermore, this problem of non-recognition seems to result from some sort of divine intervention which was intended to temporarily confuse them after the resurrection — probably in order to test them. For instance, regarding the Emmaus Road disciples (who did not recognize him after the resurrection), we read in Luke 24:31: “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” This implied that their minds were closed to this prospect until God lifted the mental barrier.
In fact, the opponent of pictures of Christ needs to be careful pressing this argument. After all, historic orthodoxy teaches that Christ arose in the same body in which he died. Thus, he would have looked the same. In fact, his resurrected body even contained the wounds of his crucifixion (John 20:27).
And finally, the people who did not initially recognize the resurrected Christ did eventually recognize him. And thus the argument from non-recognition would serve to justify paintings of the subsequently recognized Jesus. The best this argument could do is to declare: “We should not have paintings made of the resurrected Christ in the first five minutes of his appearance to different people, but after that, it is okay.”
Of course, some artistic portrayals of Christ are more faithful to how he most likely would have appeared: as a ruddy-skinned, dark-haired, middle-Easterner. And if the fair-skinned, light-haired Sallmon’s “Head of Christ” offends for this reason, the offense is only an argument against that sort of representation.