Jesus in 2D

In the course of a casual conversation a friend mentioned a book he was reading that had him rethinking his picture of Jesus [I haven’t read the book]. I don’t know how much my friend had read but at this particular point the projected image of Jesus was that of “playful”.

Certainly the author had read the Bible enough to know that no such description is applied to Jesus which is why, through a bit of spiritual extrapolation, he discovered “playful” Jesus by observing that Jesus spent most of His time with 12 other guys {exercise your sanctified imagination}. Along this line of thinking I would surmise other “proofs” could be found in Jesus’ love of children, his ability to tell a good story, and his use of sarcasm.

Now I don’t doubt for a moment that Jesus smiled and laughed or that he was anything but a dour personality. However, I must admit a significant level of discomfort when I hear someone promoting a novel description of Jesus:

1. These new pictures of Jesus are akin to what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”. That is, it gives the impression that previous generations of Christians were oblivious to some espoused truth that only now has come to light. Maybe there’s a reason why 1000s of years church teaching never saw fit to describe Jesus as “playful”. [just as an aside, it’s interesting to note how often reviews and blurbs of these novelty books invite the reader to “discover” this new truth which apparently had been hidden in previous generations]

2. New pictures frequently lack an appreciation for the distinction between the humiliated Son and the glorified Son. Consider that during the days of Jesus’ earthly humiliation John laid his head on Jesus’ chest (Jn 13:23) but when he saw the glorified Jesus John fell to the ground in fear (Rev 1:17).

3. New pictures–especially those that emphasize Jesus’ humanity–are colored almost exclusively by the Gospels rather than a broad reading of Scripture. At the very least this risks an imbalance in which Jesus’ humanity overshadows his divinity [I don’t think this is the normative impression one gets from reading the Gospels]. A full reading of the NT just doesn’t seem to lead one to the impression that Jesus is primarily a comfortable friend.

4. New pictures often speak where Scripture is silent. Closely related to #3, this practice usually comes by a narrow or selective reading of the Gospels. As narrative literature, the Gospels are rarely explicit on subjective details like facial expressions, tone of voice, inner motivation, etc. Consequently, readers often feel a certain freedom in applying his/her own spin on the unmentioned details.

Purveyors of these novel depictions of Jesus promise to deepen our love and respect for Him but I suspect that in the long run such pictures will diminish Him. Rather than marvel at His majesty we settle for sentimentality that is more flat than full.

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Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

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