Perhaps the test of faithfulness in a day of moral degradation will be our love for people across chasms of difference. The way of the cross rejects the path of sneers and jeers, whether in the form of elite condescension or populist passion.
One of my biggest tasks as a pastor right now is to challenge my people and keep them from contempt.
That’s what a pastor told me earlier this year, a man serving his church faithfully in the Deep South. He loves Jesus and he loves his congregation, and that’s why he’s on guard these days against something he called the “silent spiritual killer”—a sin that hinders Christian witness and destroys Christian love.
It’s the sin of contempt, of looking at the person across the aisle from you and thinking, The world would be better without you in it. It’s more than disagreement; it’s disgust, rooted in the inability to see the image of God in your opponent. It’s the attitude Jesus warned about in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21–22).
Power of Contempt
Why is contempt a big deal right now? Because it’s lucrative. It works.
In politics, being united by disdain and contempt for the other side is what mobilizes your own. An inspiring vision is one way of rallying a base, yes, but a much faster and easier approach is to unite around a common despising of the other side. And culturally these days, with tribal forces at work, going public with contemptuous words toward the opposition is how you prove your purity and loyalty.
John Newton warned about this attitude hundreds of years ago: “Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.”
Everywhere we turn we find avenues for inflaming that self-righteous spirit. Contempt for MAGA or for the woke, the “forty-nine percent” or the “basket of deplorables”—politicians frequently resort to sneering disdain as a sign of their ideological purity. Cable news channels feed the beast with segments designed to attract eyeballs and lead to outrage.
The Church in an Age of Contempt
The church isn’t immune to these cultural forces. Like it or not, we live in a world where contempt is excused or sometimes expected. Even worse, sometimes church leaders are tempted to justify or further inflame feelings of contempt as a strategy for showing the congregation they’re on the right side. As long as it’s clear who you’re supposed to love and who you’re supposed to hate, everything goes smoothly.
But contempt is the silent killer of Christian charity. It has no place in the heart of a follower of Jesus. It kills the passion of seeing others converted and replaces evangelistic zeal with the quest for zero-sum victories, smackdowns, and “destroying”—such that the zealousness to win over someone becomes the zealousness to win.
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By David Schrock — 11 months ago
Every type and shadow in the OT has it connection to Christ, we need to let the Law and the Prophets be our guide in the book of Revelation. For without them, we are slaves to our own imaginations and the imaginations of other uninspired commentators. That said, if we commit ourselves to reading of Revelation in light of the whole Bible, then we can read it with anticipation that we will find overlapping images from the Old Testament that bring us face-to-face with the exalted Christ.
Any time you read Revelation, it is like stepping out of reality and into a carnival of mirrors. Only those mirrors do not, or should not, reflect our own faces, so much as they reflect the prophets of the Old Testament, whose faces were reflected the glory of God’s Son.
While Revelation is a book that is filled with signs, those signs have a registered trademark—a trademark found in the Old Testament. And anytime we read Revelation we should labor to understand the book in its canonical context. To that end, let me offer three words of how to interpret and apply this chapter.
These three exhortations come from my last sermon on Revelation 12. But they would apply to any passage in this glorious and mystifying book.
First, Revelation is a book signs and symbols.
In Revelation 1:1, John uses the word for signs to describe what God has “indicated” (better: signified) to him. And in Revelation 12, we find two signs mentioned. In verse 1, John sees a great sign in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. Then, in verse 3, another sign in heaven appears, a Red Dragon ready to devour the woman’s son
In these two signs, we see a symbol of the woman and her seed and the serpent and his seed. Accordingly, Revelation 12 can be seen as a chapter that comments on Genesis 3:15 and the history of seed warfare between God’s people and God’s enemies. Therefore, to understand this chapter (and this book), we need to see how the signs relate to the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (as well as a host of other Old Testament prophecies).
Second, the interpretation of these symbols comes from the Old Testament.
If you are like me, you’ve seen enough end-times movies to know that not everyone who reads Revelation does so with the Old Testament in mind. But such immediate appeals to modern weapons and contemporary geo-political actors is a failure to read Revelation in its biblical context.
In the nineteenth century, George Tyrell, a Jesuit priest who was defrocked for his liberal theology, mocked other liberal theologians for making Jesus look like themselves. He said famously, “The Christ that Harnack sees, looking back through nineteen centuries of ‘Catholic darkness,’ is only the reflection of a Liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well.”
To put it plainly, this is how one scholar dunks on another. In today’s post, I don’t want to dunk on anyone, but I do want us to avoid reading our face or our place into the Bible. And this is what I do see with many who read Revelation a secret decoder ring for the future.
By Olivia Cavallaro — 11 months ago
“I realized that part of why I didn’t understand how to be a godly woman was because I didn’t understand how to be a woman, which was hilarious because I’m a professor of women’s studies at the time. I was a mess, and I committed my life to Christ because I believed He was true and real and I had no idea what He was going to do with a mess like me.”
A former lesbian feminist sheds light on her journey into Christianity and how it impacted her identity and life to become a true Christ-follower.
Rosaria Butterfield is a former professor of women’s studies at Syracuse University and the author of “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.” In a recent appearance in the The Becket Cook Show, Butterfield shared details about her personal journey from being a lesbian feminist to becoming a Christ-follower.
According to the biography on Butterfield’s website, the author and former tenured professor of English and women’s studies converted to Christianity in 1999, in a journey she describes as a “train wreck.” Today, the author is wife to Kent Butterfield, a Reformed Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina, and a homeschool mother. She was raised in a liberal Catholic family and up until her late 20’s, Butterfield was so “allured by feminist philosophy and LGBT advocacy” that she decided to identify as a lesbian.
Butterfield, who has a PhD from Ohio State University, met Ken Smith in 1997 while she was researching the Religious Right. At the time, she was unaware how big of an impact Smith would make on her life.
CBN News reported that Butterfield recounted during her interview with Cook, “I talk about what it was like to meet a pastor, who was my neighbor when I was a lesbian, feminist, activist, professor. I met Ken Smith, the pastor who the Lord used in my conversion. I thought this man is really smart.”
Butterfield added, “[Smith] and his wife Floy welcomed me into their world and they came into my world and they didn’t act as though I was polluting them. Early on in our friendship, Ken said to me ‘there’s a difference between acceptance and approval and if you can live with that difference, I can live with that difference.’”
Butterfield recounted how she began reading the Bible and routinely meeting with Pastor Ken and Floy, which sparked discussions on various issues from a Christian perspective. The former lesbian professor recalled how she met the entire church community and how the pastor’s house “functioned,” allowing her to experience firsthand what a Christian community was like.
By Grover E. Gunn — 10 months ago
Written by Grover E. Gunn |
Thursday, February 10, 2022
My main point in quoting this journal entry is to provide evidence that Charles Hodge did not regard every possible effort to represent Jesus in His humanity as necessarily and inherently immoral. At the same time, as evidenced by the statement in his systematic theology, Hodge recognized the temptation to abuse such representations as objects or channels of worship. I regard this as a proper balance that avoids both swallowing camels and gagging on gnats.
Charles Hodge published his greatest work, his three-volume systematic theology, in the years 1871 to 1873. He died not that long afterward in 1878. In his systematic theology, Hodge had a long section on the second commandment. He ended it with this word of caution:
No one who has ever seen any of the masterpieces of Christian art, whether of the pencil or of the chisel, and felt how hard it is to resist the impulse to “bow down to them and serve them,” can doubt the wisdom of their exclusion from places of public worship. (ST, 3:304-305)
Hodge’s statement here about the power of “the masterpieces of Christian art” may have been rooted in a personal experience that he had about forty-five years before publishing his three-volume systematic theology. During his two years of study in Europe from 1826 to 1828, he visited the gallery of paintings in the German town of Dresden. His son, A.A. Hodge, quoted from his father’s journal in the biography that he published in 1880. According to the journal, Charles Hodge first visited the Dresden gallery on Wednesday morning, August 28, 1827. He expressed disappointment with the paintings that he saw there with one exception:
The Madonna of Raphael is an exception. This was as much above, as the others were below my expectations. The infant here is wonderful; the expression of the eye belongs to no human infant, but we may well imagine such an expression in the case of our Saviour. The Virgin is the ideal of human purity and beauty; what the human frame may be when this corruption has put on incorruption, and this mortal is clothed with immortality. … on every visit I was attracted and held bound by Raphael’s Madonna. (The Life of Charles Hodge by A.A. Hodge, pp. 138-139)
The painting was probably Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, a painting commissioned by a pope for a church in Italy in 1512 and moved to Dresden in 1754.
My main point in quoting this journal entry is to provide evidence that Charles Hodge did not regard every possible effort to represent Jesus in His humanity as necessarily and inherently immoral. At the same time, as evidenced by the statement in his systematic theology, Hodge recognized the temptation to abuse such representations as objects or channels of worship. I regard this as a proper balance that avoids both swallowing camels and gagging on gnats. I do, however, have some difficulties with the journal entry that I will discuss below. I want to allow some latitude because it is a statement jotted in a journal as opposed to a carefully worded statement intended for a systematic theology.
We have good reason to believe that Charles Hodge understood the doctrines of the Westminster Standards and accepted them as true. In his youth, his mother drilled him in the Westminster Catechism, and then his family’s pastor, the Old Side Presbyterian stalwart Ashbel Green, catechized him. As a young man, Hodge graduated from Princeton College and Princeton Seminary. Then he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. He then replied positively to the question, “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?” Concerning this vow, he later stated,
It is something more than ordinary falsehood, if our inward convictions do not correspond with a profession made in presence of the church, and as the condition of our receiving authority to preach the gospel. In such a case we lie not only unto man, but unto God; because such professions are of the nature of a vow, that is, a promise or profession made to God. (The Princeton Review, October, 1858, page 670)
Hodge also later stated that this vow meant that a man received every doctrine taught in the church’s doctrinal standards but not necessarily every proposition about those doctrines in the standards. Yet Hodge seemed to imply that he was one of the few who did accept every such proposition:
If the rule that no man should be allowed to exercise the ministry in our church, who did not adopt every proposition contained in the Confession of Faith, should be carried out, we verily believe we should be left almost alone. We are not sure that we personally know a dozen ministers besides ourselves, who could stand the test. (The Princeton Review, October, 1858, page 686)
Back then, there was also an additional vow for those being ordained as a professor. Hodge vowed at his ordination “not to teach anything which directly or indirectly contradicts anything taught in the Confession of Faith, Catechisms, or Form of Government in this church.” (The Princeton Review, October, 1858, pages 681)
On top of that, Princeton Seminary had its own requirements. When Hodge became a professor at Princeton Seminary, he had to affirm that he would not “inculcate, teach or insinuate any thing which shall appear … to contradict or contravene, either directly or impliedly, any thing taught” in the Westminster Standards. [Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton, by Andrew Hoffecker, loc 877]
We also have reason to believe that Charles Hodge accepted statements about the second commandment found in Reformed standards in addition to the Westminster Standards. When Hodge wrote about the second commandment in his systematic theology, he quoted from the Second Helvetic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. He quoted Bullinger’s Second Helvetic Confession in Latin (ST, 3:304); here is that quotation in English as translated in Schaff’s The Creeds of Chistendom:
We do therefore reject not only the idols of the Gentiles, but also the images of Christians. For although Christ took upon him man’s nature, yet he did not therefore take it that he might set forth pattern for carvers and painters. (3:836) …
And seeing that the blessed spirits and saints in heaven, while they lived here, abhorred all worship done unto themselves, and spake against images, who can think it likely that the saints in heaven, and the angels, are delighted with their own images, whereunto men do bow their knees, uncover their heads, and give such other like honor? (3:837) …
Therefore we approve the judgment of Lactantius, an ancient writer, who says, “Undoubtedly there is no religion where there is picture.” (3:837)
And here is Hodge’s quotation from the Heidelberg Catechism:
Is it forbidden to make any images or statues? God cannot and ought not in any way to be depicted, and although it is lawful to make representations of creatures, yet God forbids that they should be worshipped, or He through them. But may not images be tolerated in the churches for the instruction of the uneducated? By no means; for it does not become us to be wiser than God, who has willed that his Church be instructed, not by dumb images, but by the preaching of his word. (ST, 3:304)
Here is Hodge’s basic teaching on images in his systematic theology:
That the second commandment does not forbid pictorial or sculptured representations of ideal or visible objects, is plain because the whole command has reference to religious worship, and because Moses, at the command of God himself, made many such images and representations. … There can therefore be no doubt that the second commandment was intended only to forbid the making or using the likeness of anything in heaven or earth as objects of worship.…
It is equally clear that the second commandment does forbid the use of images in divine worship. In other words, idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images. (ST, 3:290-291)
The thing thus repeatedly and solemnly forbidden as a violation of the covenant between God and the people, was the bowing down to, or using anything visible, whether a natural object as the sun or moon, or a work of art and man’s device, as an object or mode of divine worship. And in this sense the command has been understood by the people to whom it was given, from the time of Moses until now. The worship of the true God by images, in the eyes of the Hebrews, has ever been considered as much an act of idolatry as the worship of false gods. (ST, 3:292)
Hodge further clarified his understanding by contrasting his Reformed understanding with Luther’s understanding.
As the worship of images is expressly forbidden in the Scriptures, Protestants, as well Lutheran as Reformed, condemned their being made the objects of any religious homage. As, however, their use for the purposes of instruction or ornament is not thus expressly forbidden, Luther contended that such use was allowable and even desirable. He, therefore, favoured their being retained in the Churches. The Reformed, however, on account of the great abuse which had attended their introduction, insisted that they should be excluded from all places of worship.
Luther was tolerant of the use of images in the churches. On this subject he says: “If the worship of images be avoided, we may use them as we do the words of Scripture, which bring things before the mind and cause us to remember them.” … In another place he says that when one reads of the passion of Christ, whether he will or not an image of a man suspended on a cross is formed in his mind just as certainly as his face is reflected when he looks into the water. There is no sin in having such an image in the mind why then should it be sinful to have it before the eyes?
The Reformed went further than this. They condemned not only the worship of images, but also their introduction into places of worship, because they were unnecessary, and because they were so liable to abuse. (ST, 3:303-304)
Hodge is clear that the Reformed, together with the Lutherans, condemn the worship of images, and that the Reformed, contrary to the Lutherans, disagree with the introduction of images into a place of public worship.
Some reading Hodge’s section on the second commandment might assume that Hodge would consider any representation of Jesus in His humanity as inherently idolatrous. I think that would be a hasty generalization. I have not found any statement in this section to justify that conclusion, and his journal note contradicts it. I acknowledge the possibility that my conclusion may also be a hasty generalization. Hodge wrote reams of material, and I have looked at only a small fraction of it.
I have found Raphael’s Sistine Madonna on the Internet, and I agree that this is a beautiful painting as a work of art. I have seen only the digital image, and I would expect the actual painting to be even more impressive. Yet I also have some problems with Hodge’s journal entry.
I find helpful some efforts to give visual expression to scenes and events graphically described in gospel narratives. I don’t have much use for a visual representation of Mary and Jesus not in an event or scene based on a gospel narrative.
Also, Hodge stated that the representation of Mary was so beautiful that he thought it more like what he imagined a glorified body would be like. In addition, Hodge said that the visual representation of the eyes of the young Jesus were too wonderful to be human eyes. This means that these visual representations were not credible representations. When Jesus was a baby, neither He nor His mother had a glorified body. Eastern Orthodox icons portray Jesus with a glorified look based on the description of the transfiguration. Some of the representations of Jesus in western Roman Catholic art give Jesus’ human nature a semi-divine look similar to the ancient Greeks’ depictions of their gods.
The Roman Catholic art of the Counter-Reformation desires to convince us that Christ is truly God’s Son. In this it is right. But it wishes to base this conviction on a representation of Christ in which the resplendence of his divine nature is seen and felt directly. In this it is wrong and misses its goal. The true mystery of the Son of God become man and abased is absent from those representations. The superman or demi-god depicted there has nothing in common with the Christ in the form of a servant. (W.A. Visser ‘T Hooft, Rembrandt and the Gospel, page 31)
I said that I wanted to give Hodge some latitude in my interpretation of his journal entry. His statement about eyes could be interpreted in terms of a monophysite mixing of the divine and human natures in the incarnation. I can’t believe that Hodge could have meant that. I am sure that he was totally committed to the truth that “two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion” (WCF 8.2). Taking into account the statement about glorification and the representation of Mary, I take the reference to the eyes beyond human eyes as a reference to glorified human eyes freed from common infirmities at the time of resurrection (WLC 52). This still is not a credible representation of the Christ Child, but this interpretation does not involve a mixing of the two natures.
In his journal entry, Hodge spoke of multiple visits to this museum during which he was attracted to and held bound by this particular painting. This sounds like he may have been close to entering into temptation. Again, this experience may be the basis for the cautionary note about “masterpieces of Christian art” in his systematic theology. If something even as innocuous as a bridge illustration in a gospel tract begins to tempt us as a visual object of devotion, we need to acknowledge the temptation and avoid it.
Dr. Grover Gunn is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of MacDonald PCA in Collins, MS. This article is used with permission.
Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 109 and Representations of Deity
Peter Martyr and the Second Commandment
Zwingli and Bullinger on Pictures of Jesus
The Geneva Bible and Visual Representations of Deity
Archibald Alexander and Mental Images of Jesus