I really don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just say that what passes for Christianity in the art that most Christians surround themselves with has all the perception and Biblical depth of Thomas Kincaid meets Precious Moments.
If the use of art were the measurement, Christianity is about a God who gives us the occasional upbeat slogan. Sort of a Mountain Dew….spirituality speaking.
I moved to a larger classroom this year, and I had to do something with it, so I decorated with new posters. I dropped some semi-serious coin on this, because I knew what I wanted.
A lot of Jesus on the cross.
My favorite is this altar painting by Cranach. (It’s fully explained at Paul McCain’s web site.) You really need to get this print.
I’ve got several images of Jesus on the cross or in his passion. No Mel Gibson. Classic art, icons, some impressionism.
I intend to make the point that this is what God is like. Not some trite admonition to smile and have a nice day, but the suffering of Jesus at the hands of religious and political thugs in a world that is broken, bleeding and full of constant contradiction and despair.
Jesus and him crucified. Christus Victor. The lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
As of today, I have a record number of international students from all over the world taking my class. Some of them come from war and poverty; others from prosperity and materialism. All of them will be looking at what I present of the Gospel very carefully. That’s one reason I’ve surrounded myself and my students with the cross.
As we spend a year in the Bible, I intend for the constant reminded to be that God suffered for us. God came down, took on our worst and most despicable acts, and loved us to death, hell and beyond.
A Jesus shaped faith values Jesus and his kingdom in all his different manifestations and accomplishments for us, but it remembers that the REASON the kingdom of God can come into one life or into all of history is because of the cross. It is the cross that American Christians can sing about but shy away from taking up. It is the cross that Jesus tells these students they must take up if they follow him.
At this point, evangelicals are obscuring the cross with a happy-clappy Christianity of moralism, political rhetoric and cultural conformity.
I wouldn’t accuse Christians of talking about the cross too little. (With some exceptions.) But I will say that the centrality and importance of the cross is waning across large portions of evangelicalism.
I want my students to sense that real Christianity is down and dirty. Earth and bloody. Real, not cleaned up or remade for applause. That it is for them, and it is worth living and dying for.
This is a message that proclaims Good News of great joy, and purchases that great joy with the price of incredible suffering. I’m not inviting my students to promise to be nice religious Christians. I’m inviting them to give their lives away to the God who put Jesus on the cross, placarded for the world to see.
Is all this a stumbling block? Offensive? Poor consideration of how to treat a seeker?
Of course. And it’s all worthless if all I have is posters. Jesus isn’t placarded on a painting. He’s crucified for the sins of the world in the Gospel I’ll proclaim and teach through scripture.
The pictures are useless if they don’t retell the story the Bible tells us. That’s the beauty of a great painting like Cranach’s portrayal of the crucified lamb: it preaches what scripture preaches, and amplifies what scripture underlines.
My prayer for this year is that the Jesus my students hear about draws them into the journey of faith and the road of being a follower. On the cross, Jesus had few friends, but on the cross Jesus was drawing all persons to himself. May that process continue as students from the United States, Thailand, Japan, S. Korea, Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia, Ethiopia, India and Russia hear the story of Jesus this year in my class.