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Thoughts about Tim Challies’ Blog Post on Crucifixes.


Recently, Tim Challies wrote an article titled “Why You Should Not Wear a Crucifix“.  Here are a few thoughts about some of what was said on it.

1. God’s Glory in Creation

“A true image of God,” wrote Calvin, “is not to be found in all the world; and hence … his glory is defiled, and his truth corrupted by the lie, whenever he is set before our eyes in a visible form …”

How about the incarnation? Are not human beings true images of God either? And the idea that God’s glory is defiled when visibly depicted? I guess Moses face wasn’t radiant with the divine glory then. And neither was Jesus at the transfiguration. And in heaven we’ll only think about God but not see anything. Unless of course… the problem is just matter… hmm… I don’t want to say that gnostic, but…

It seems to me rather that God’s visible glory was actually a means of sanctification. Setting apart whatever it came in contact with. In fact Scripture seems quite clear that God’s spiritual light, which enlightens our mind and hearts, is not just a concept or symbol to describe what God does. But a real power that can be manifest through and in physicality.

That’s the glory cloud of the Old Testament. And the light radiating from Moses. Not some created effect, but the spiritual light of God’s own glory. Remember that immaterial/spiritual =/= abstract. And spiritual things are only invisible, in so far as our spiritual eyes are closed. In fact, the Church Fathers speak of the Transfiguration, not so much as Christ being changed. But the disciples eyes being opened to see the Glory that was there all along.

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. (Matthew 17:1-2)

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:12-18).” 

Remember, human nature has two aspects, though it is one whole. The soul and body then work together and what affects one part of it, affects the other. When the Holy Spirit/God’s grace is present in our souls and we walk according to the Spirit, being filled by Him, we sanctify and hallow our bodies as well as our souls. Just as when the Spirit filled the temple with God’s Glory (his divine energies) the temple itself became sacred. Or when God appeared to Moses by the burning bush, the ground was sacred. So too, our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit are sanctified and participate in the divine energies, as we grow in virtue and Christ likeness. And even when death comes, God will not leave his temple in ruins forever. As the Nicene Creed says “We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” And Christ, being God, would have sanctified his body from the moment of inception. It seems the demons could see this hidden reality, which was always present.

“Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. (Mark 1:23-26).”

2. Making the Nature/Person Distinction

“The pathos of the crucifix obscures the glory of Christ, for it hides the fact of his deity, his victory on the cross, and his present kingdom. It displays his human weakness, but it conceals his divine strength; it depicts the reality of his pain, but keeps out of our sight the reality of his joy and his power. In both these cases, the symbol is unworthy most of all because of what it fails to display. And so are all other visible representations of deity.”

First, I think this has a hint of the Nestorianism which often comes with Reformed arguments against iconography. The ideas is that somehow the person isn’t being depicted, since images would only show his humanity, not divinity. I don’t know about you but when people saw this 1st century Hebrew, their first thoughts weren’t “Look at that divine nature.” And yet, his incarnation was a true representation of his *person* which is not identical to the divine nature. Person and nature are not the same in historical Christian theology. At the incarnation, the one who bore human nature, suffered and died is God the Logos. Taking on humanity did not result in a second person. And since persons don’t equal natures, the full person is still known and represented even in their humanity.

But saying that if we don’t depict the divine nature (how does one do that first of all?) the whole person isn’t being shown? That’s Nestorianism. Plus, you can’t depict all of human nature either. My profile picture doesn’t show my soul, but it’s still a picture of… *me*. And if some kid draws an image of me, I’m not going to say “Nope, I’m not blue, and my head’s out of proportion, so this is not a representation.” Just because it doesn’t look exactly like me. We don’t apply such standards to any other area of life (images in history books of historic characters that the author has never seen).

Even consider those who met Jesus in person. Apart from the transfiguration, he would have looked and appeared human. And yet, he was the accurate representation of the Father’s person. Showing that in order for the person to be shown, one does not require indication of both natures. Or else, how are we in the image of God, considering we don’t have divine natures. Are we idols? Sure, we are not pictorial images. But the point is that accurate representation of a divine person, in humanity, does not require the divine nature. Remember the person/nature distinction. So saying “We are only depicting him in his humanity and thus its an idol” confuses the two categories.

Remember what Jesus said “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9).” If depictions of Christ are invalid because they don’t display the divine essence, then the Cross must not be an accurate depiction of God, since in his divine essence he cannot suffer. But this is simply Nestorianism. The general confusion of nature and person seems to implicitly show up in reformed theology a lot (total depravity etc). Which is why a very well known Reformed preacher has infamously said “We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross.” Nestorianism is like high quality counterfeit money; All over the place, easy to miss and we’ve all probably owned it unknowingly before.

“That is the same mistake being played out in the following piece “The heart of the objection to pictures and images is that they inevitably conceal most, if not all, of the truth about the personal nature and character of the divine Being whom the represent.”

If by personal nature and character of the divine being is meant to equate the divine essence with the divine person, then that is a Nestorian Christology. If however they are not identitcal, then without “depicting” the divine essence, one can still depict the full person by imaging their humanity. Since their personhood is not contingent upon the divine essence. It is exactly for this reason that the personal nature and character of the divine *person* is not lost when the Logos came in human form or is depicted in human form. It is precisely because the divine essence has no visible form that it is not depicted. Or that God was not to be depicted in the Old Testament. Or why the Orthodox officially do not allow images of the Father. “You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. (Deuteronomy 10:14-17).”

Calvin is correct if he is talking of the Father by saying “Therefore, to devise any image of God is itself impious; because by this corruption his majesty is adulterated, and he is figured to be other than he is.” But incorrect if this were to apply to the Son or divine glory (which the orthodox distinguish from the essence) because the person, not being reducible to nature, isn’t lost in their humanity. And since the natural telos/design of creation is to be a display and bearer of God’s glory, there can in principle be nothing wrong with visible displays of God’s glory.

I’ve even had Reformed folk tell me that one should not even have an image in their mind whilst praying or reading scripture. I’m sorry, but if I read that Jesus is flipping tables, guess what’s in my head? Not to mention that even in the Old Testament, God uses various imagery to describe himself and his actions. Clearly these are not depicting his divine essence, however if people were to think of these images whilst praying or reading Torah, they are not idolaters. God is hardly going “I’m going to use all these pictures but DON’T think about them.” In fact, if one really want’s to play that game, if when you’re praying to the resurrected Christ, and in your head you’re trying to picture nothing… how is that not a “misrepresentation”? We serve a Saviour who became incarnate. Shall we then turn around and emphasize his deity, to the denial of his humanity? As we are accused of doing the inverse? All Christological problems come from an inbalance on or the other. Heading either up towards gnosticism, or down towards creatureliness. As opposed to the incarnation; Glorified humanity, in one divine person. The synergy of “Spiritual Body” as St. Paul puts it (1 Cor 15:44). The nature person distinction is so important to Christianity. For it is at the heart of Triadology and Christology. Any mistake here, and the ripples will be felt for miles down the road.

3. Displaying Christ As Defeated

There also seems to be an issue with depicting Christ on Cross because it makes him look weak. Or as someone said to me “I wear a cross, but refused to get one with an image of Christ on it, because he is no longer on the cross, he’s not dead he’s alive. So in my eyes he should not be depicted as a dead defeated man hanging on a cross because it was the greatest victory in history.” I think that line of thinking is rather confused. If not missing the point of the Cross all together.

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. (Galatians 3:1)” The main way Christ tells us to depict him and the central aspect of Christian worship is: the Eucharist. Which Paul says “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26) .” Christ’s words on about the bread and wine are also the only direct quote that Paul uses of the Lord. And Christ was in no way defeated on the Cross, but the Cross was a victory. That is the greatness of it. How something that would normally be a cause for shame and death, was actually the instrument of our salvation. So too it’s a constant reminder of what victory in this life looks like: a cross. Dying to self. And in the Church, we constantly depict him as resurrected too. But why not both? It’s not either or. No Cross, no Resurrection. That’s why don’t just celebrate Easter. But call Good Friday “good.” As I told my friend, saying that having Christ on the Cross is leaving him there, is like saying having a picture of you in secondary school is leaving you there and not saying you went on to attend university.

Another sentiment often given as seen in the article, is that an empty cross is better. It implies that Christ is resurrected. After all, we don’t serve a dead Saviour right? Or in the words of my friend “the empty cross both reminds me if the price he paid but also that he is still alive and no longer on the cross, for me, the empty cross depicts a fuller story.”

Well, an empty cross could also be taken to mean that someone didn’t die yet, or escaped it. Or as someone else I know put it, “An empty cross hardly means resurrection. Every cross that was ever used to kill someone was empty eventually.” If we’re going to talk about what it means “to us” subjectively, then no objective argument for or against can be made. But if the argument is that somehow depicting him on the cross is a problem because he didn’t stay there and it makes him look defeated, well:

a) He didn’t stay a baby either, I’m not going to take down Christmas decorations. It’s not either or, but both and.

b) It wasn’t a defeat.

c) Every time you partake of the supper, the primary way he told us to remember him, the emphasis as Paul said is on his death. Or as another friend of mine beautifully put it “An empty cross is just an instrument of torture, it is a sacrifice left incomplete, a dowry left unpaid, love left unexpressed, and a bride left unredeemed. Whilst Christ crucified is our sacrifice offered in expiation, our dowry paid, his bride redeemed, and our savior’s love for us expressed.

What’s ironic is that all this is in light of constant proclamations by Reformed preachers that we need to focus on the Cross. Last I checked, someone was on it. Really, it’s a Cross with no Christ. Seems some want to venerate the Cross more than the Orthodox!

All this to say that at the very same time, I understand. I understand the implicit aversion that some may have when seeing a crucifix. Even myself, with no theological objections to it, I’m still existentially getting used to seeing statues of the Crucifixion (I can handle flat pictured better). But for more than a year now, my views on these issues have changed. I can see why from a Reformed lens, many things in the Orthodox or Catholic world seem odd or just plain wrong. That’s why I think it’s key to look at the underlying assumptions we are bringing to the table. That way, we won’t be talking past each other as we discuss these things.


4 comments on “Thoughts about Tim Challies’ Blog Post on Crucifixes.

  1. Benjamin Scott
    September 3, 2015

    These types of questions are real, and I am struggling with them as well, as I approach Orthodoxy myself from outside. But this bothers me that it’s even a struggle. That these are the types of things I’m burdened with. Hearing Kallistos Ware called, “Your Grace” and thinking about how offensive this is to the ears of others, if not myself. I can get past anything but others cannot and I wonder about Paul in 1 Cor. 9, “I became all things to all men.” Orthodoxy’s traditions are beautiful, but they are also genuinely offensive in ways which are not necessary to carry on. I would never ask Orthodoxy to surrender its Maryology or prayers to saints, since those things are core. But is this other stuff really core to what it means to be Orthodox? Is it more important than evangelism?

    I am personally not emotionally comfortable with the crucifix because Jesus is no longer on the cross. I don’t want to keep Him on the cross, but to take the cross from Him and carry it onward myself. The question of the crucifix seems more like distractions than anything else to me. I don’t need to wear a cross at all if I am living it. I am not advocating that these questions have no place at all, but I am uncomfortable more with giving them too much place, than I am with whatever answer may result, one way or another.

    What impression does this video make, for instance?

    Nietzsche accused Christianity of being a religion of luxury in which we can exist in an inactive state and feel God is pleased with us anyway. Maybe this isn’t an apt description of Orthodoxy, but it can be if we make the wrong questions important. I don’t get my religion from Nietsche, but I don’t want to fall under that accusation just the same. As I understand the meaning of the cross, it’s something we must take up ourselves and become that crucifix ourselves, now that Jesus has finished with it, Col. 1:24, Matt. 16:24, etc….

    Am I missing something? I will take this cross into the heart of Orthodoxy or into the heart of hell, but I must be more faithful to God through it than to anything else. Only then can I find His Body. It’s a struggle, as you have said. Let’s keep going. It’s not just here in writing that the cross exists but more in living and dying. Does Orthodoxy deny this? I know it doesn’t. So it’s very confusing and I am more put off by seeing others on the inside deeply confused. I can sort it out but they often can’t. And that bothers me. Is the message not clear enough? The emphasis? Or is this what they are truly hearing?


    • Yoshua Scribes
      September 3, 2015

      No one said it’s more important than Evangelism. However these issues are not isolated, but all arise from ones theology. Why deal with this? Because it’s running on incorrect theological assumptions. It’s not a distraction, due to the Christological errors. And not to mention this article was against images in general. It just took crucifixes as an example. As to “leaving Jesus there” I’ve answered that. It is also rather ironic in light of the Lord’s Supper. Basically the argument against it will either be a principled one or simply an existential “I’m not comfortable with this”. Which will only be corrected by sound theology, prayer and partaking of the life of the Church. Also, saying “why does this matter, just focus on Evangelism” in my opinion shows a mindset foreign to Orthodoxy. People are not being “saved” to a set of propositions in order to escape this world. But being brought into a Kingdom and way of life that transforms it. And touches every part of it.

      Gabriel called Mary “full of grace”, in scripture we are called “Saints/Holy” and “Co-Heirs” with Christ. These are not low titles. We are just used to them. Read my first post on Worship and Veneration. If it’s “needlessly offensive” it’s only so due to over 500 years of novel teaching which has brought about the theology which would make it appear so. Why should the Orthodox change just because others have it wrong? The Church isn’t here to change, but to change you. Otherwise, where do we stop? The kind of chameleonism [hmm a made up word] has no place here. That is not to say the church isn’t incarnational, but it still has its form of doctrine.

      Are you missing something? I think you’re erecting dichotomies that need not exist. As if what you’re saying is somehow antithetical to crucifixes. I just don’t see it.

      There will always be people who are confused and misuse a good thing. There will always be nominals or people who don’t really car either way. One thing is to be careful on evaluating the spiritual life of people you don’t really know. What may appear off to us, may not be the case if we understood the situation. Their spiritual fathers [well there’s another can of worms ya. But just consider what scripture says about fathers and mothers in the faith, then add in baptismal regeneration and see what you get…] are in a better position to judge than we are.

      I would say focus on getting your own self right, and being a light to those who are struggling. If there is no principled or theological reason against something you see in the orthodox church, then know that any uncomfortableness is normal (this is new to you and you have spent years thinking otherwise) and will take time. And from personal experience, much of it won’t really go until one attends and partakes of Liturgy regularly. At least, that is a very important step.

  2. Benjamin Scott
    September 5, 2015

    Hey thanks for taking the time to dialog. I hear your points and they are helpful. I am embroiled in a survivalist world in which I have learned to sort out one thing from another based in experience, serious study, and judgment based on what I know.

    When I first really started to emerge from evangelicalism, I started with “what they emphasize isn’t what the Scriptures emphasize!” I would agree with all evangelical doctrine, but say that the Scriptures put the emphasis in a very different place than evangelicals do. The evangelical gospel, was as far as I could tell, not what the Bible really put the focus on. And I was detecting the philosophical nominalism which undergirds Protestant theology as being a drain valve that takes the life out of the gospel. Then I eventually came to see that, “what they believe isn’t what the Scriptures actually teach.” I saw that the poor emphasis was based in poor theology itself, not just poor emphasis with good theology.

    I appreciate your dialog about the crucifix and you make great theological points. No complaints there. And I understand that these questions are relevant. But then I am also struggling with the suspicion that Orthodoxy is so focused on these types of questions, (whatever I mean by that), that it can become a distraction to other more important issues, (whatever I mean by that).

    My concern is when someone, such as in the video, can be very genuinely and deeply concerned with issues of “this sort”, but ironically, from every other indication, is not interested in issues which for me are hugely important. I happened upon the channel from reading comments written by him on other channels in which he was very informed as to Orthodox history, etc… Yet Grand Theft Auto, Jason Horror movies, etc…? What sort of emphasis or theology is supporting this type of thinking? If he was not genuinely concerned about Orthodox issues, then I would just say he’s nominal Orthodox. But what I see here is someone radical and informed, but who’s instincts for what is important in following Christ, are radically different from my own. For good measure let me give you another example

    I can’t judge Orthodoxy by a few people who’s values are different from what I understand. I just question things on two levels. Is there a false emphasis going on here somewhere? Or is this a false theology in the person or the church itself? How can I judge any of that?? Sola Scriptura? Yeah it’s a difficult dilemma. When can we say an Orthodox person is not Orthodox in emphasis? In theology?

    I remember reading “Types of Religious Lives” by Maria Skobtosova and immensely enjoying it. I’m going to read it again after finishing with this post. I hope it will give me more to reflect upon in these regards. She’s an insider with an opinion and I am in need of a refresher on it.

    Here it is:

    I argue with you for the sake of growth, and I appreciate your time. Always with respect and prayer brother.


  3. Benjamin Scott
    September 5, 2015

    Types of Religious Lives is EXCELLENT! I just finished it and I love it. It’s been some years since I have read it and I remembered it was good, but not this good. She drives at the heart of the matter and expresses herself much better than I could. I have expressed myself crudely and poorly compared to this. At the end she ties a sacramental understanding the eucharist in with her exposition of the cross and incarnation, which is further a great encouragement to me. Btw, I am going to be attending liturgy on the 13th and greatly looking forward to it. If one is not shielded against being discouraged by the types of religious lives which fall short of the truest expression of the eucharist, but which still celebrate it for religious reasons, then one may confuse what is wrong for what is right and loose the whole thing.


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This entry was posted on September 1, 2015 by in Theology and tagged , , , , , .
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