Patrick Chan recently posted a religious cartoon which was originally posted at the blog of Pastor Josh Harris. Dan Phillips did the same thing at his blog. Frank Turk has also plugged the cartoon.
One blogger has taken strenuous issue with the cartoon. Among other things, he says:
I’m not trying to be a “Pharisee” here, but at what point does a depiction of Christ and an irreverent imputation of jesting language to Him become an unholy violation of a whole host of Biblical commands?
In this post it looks like the 2nd commandment has been broken [image], as well as the 3rd commandment [most expositors extend this prohibition to include even unworthy thoughts about, or unrighteous expressions of the Lord God], and finally irreverent, flippant words contra Eph. 5:4 have been attributed to the all-glorious King of kings and Lord of lords [adding to, taking away from God's Word Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:19].
*Sigh* As of today Dan Phillips, one of the PyroManiacs, has picked up the same cartoon at his blog. Based on the responses in his combox his denizens think it’s really, really funny! In fact Dan and Frank Turk have “Tweeted” the piece at Pyro. The origin of the cartoon is to be found at Josh Harris’ blog under the heading “Jesus Calls Peter“. This clarifies who the graven image “jesus” is supposed to be speaking to, however as noted in the scripture reference above the scene doesn’t comport with the context of the Gospel narrative account. But then again faithfulness to the text probably isn’t to be expected when someone decides to create a blasphemous little cartoon mocking and trivializing the Risen Savior, the Eternal Son and Second Person of the Triune One True and Living God; the Word made flesh.
Evidently the sin remaining even in the fallen flesh of born-again believers never stops desiring an outlet to blaspheme the Triune One True and Living God, therefore their blasphemies are often couched and camoflauged as “humor” to make it more acceptable and palatable.
But the various responses in the comboxes beneath the filth masquerading as humor at Dan Phillips’ and Josh Harris’ blogs are nearly as troubling as the buffoonish caricature itself. Ostensibly self-professing Christian commenters are laughing it up at the expense of the Risen King of Glory!
“Hilarious!”; they say.
“Brilliant!”; they say.
“Genius!”; they say.
They seem like really “open-minded” and “tolerant” folks don’t they? Probably a really swell bunch to hang out with at a church BBQ. Never a dull moment with them, a laugh a minute, plenty of jokes to keep the brothers and sisters entertained and engaged…ROFL, right? “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (Isa. 22:13; 1 Cor. 15:32)
But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is decidedly “narrow-minded” and extremely “intolerant” of sinful human beings who mock Him.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. – Gal. 6:7
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. – Matt. 7:14
How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? – Heb. 10:29
This raises a number of issues.
1. This debate has been going on for centuries. It recycles a classic bone of contention between the Puritans and the Papists.
However, it’s also an intramural debate within Calvinism. For it’s possible to be a Reformed Anglican. Indeed, that’s well represented in church history. And Anglicanism is another classic foil for the Puritans.
In the past, the Puritan tradition was the majority report in Presbyterian circles, but in the last century or so it’s become the minority report. I don’t say that to prejudge the issue one way or the other. Just to set the issue in its historical context.
2. The offending cartoon raises the question of what it means to depict Jesus–or anyone at all.
i) The cartoon itself doesn’t actually identify the speaker as “Jesus.”
Rather, it has two generic cartoon figures, with a sketchy background, and two sentences, one of which alludes to Jesus calling the disciples (in the Gospels).
ii) So what does it mean to depict Jesus? Well, one candidate would be a lifelike visual representation of what he actually looked like (or looks like). That would literally be a depiction of Jesus. If the disciples remembered what he looked like, their mental representations would be depictions of Jesus. Same thing if they had digital cameras back then, and took a snapshot.
Such depictions reproduce his actual appearance. So in that case, there’s a direct correspondence between the copy and the original.
iii) But what about the cartoon? Well, it’s obviously not a depiction of what Jesus really looked like. Rather, this is an imaginary depiction. So what sense is it still about Jesus?
One possible explanation is that Jesus is the intended referent. The cartoonist meant this figure to stand for Jesus. In that respect, this is a depiction of Jesus to the cartoonist. From his viewpoint, the figure stands for Jesus.
iv) Yet that’s not an adequate explanation. For given the degree of theological illiteracy in the general population, you could show this cartoon to 9 out of 10 people, and they would draw a blank.
To be a depiction of Jesus, an imaginary representation is, to that extent, observer-dependent. To be a depiction of Jesus, not only must the artist mean it to depict Jesus, but it must mean that to the observer as well. If the observer can’t recognize what it stands for, then it’s not a depiction of Jesus for him. Whether or not the figure depicts Jesus is contingent on the significance which both the artist and the observer ascribe to the depiction.
The picture itself does not represent Jesus. Rather, the artist and observer must contribute their understanding to this visual code language.
The physical depiction is insufficient. That must be completed by the subjective viewpoint of both the cartoonist and the observer. To their extrinsic attribution.
This is different from a photograph of Jesus (if such existed), which intrinsically or objectively represents his appearance. Its correspondence is not contingent on the intentions of the photographer or the observer.
3. This also raises the question of what the 2nd commandment is designed to forbid, as well as the underlying rationale for the 2nd commandment. One possible explanation is that if God is essentially invisible (intangible, &c.), then any visible representation of God will misrepresent God.
However, that can’t be the correct explanation since God depicts himself in theophanies.
Another possible explanation is that since God is essentially invisible, any accurate visible depiction will be a symbolic analogue of God, in his actions or attributes. And since an accurate analogy depends on an accurate knowledge of what God is really like (or does), God must control any self-representations.
Put another way, if God is invisible, then knowing what God is like will depend on God’s self-disclosure. God can depict himself, but a human artist cannot.
4. However, even if that’s the correct explanation, it isn’t clearly applicable to imaginary depictions of Jesus. After all, Jesus was not invisible or intangible. He had a human appearance (indeed, more than mere appearance). We know what men look like. So we have a natural basis for visual analogy.
5. Since the cartoon is manifestly fictitious, I don’t see how that is “adding” to God’s word. It’s not like a false prophet–which is the point of the inscriptional curse.
6. The cartoon is not mocking Jesus. Rather, the cartoon is mocking superficial piety. In the cartoon, the object of ridicule isn’t Jesus, but a skin-deep disciple. To say the cartoon is mocking Jesus reflects the outlook of the critic, not the cartoonist. The critic is imputing his characterization to the cartoonist, then attacking the cartoonist for something which the critic projected onto the cartoon, despite the intentions of the cartoonist to the contrary.
Perhaps “CD” has a more developed argument than he’s presented thus far. I can only evaluate his objections in light of his arguments.