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Year A  October 18, 2011
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The Face of Jesus, Part I

by Sarah Wilson December 07, 2008

This is an exercise in adiaphora. Images, including images of Jesus, are neither mandatory nor prohibited in the Lutheran way of thinking. But if we are to have them, and more to the point since we do actually have them, we are required to make sure that they promote the gospel and not falsehood. Art is capable of witnessing faithfully to Christ, but it is also capable of having a non-canonical, deceptive relationship to Christ. For Jesus himself is not the active agent in art...

This is an exercise in adiaphora. Images, including images of Jesus, are neither mandatory nor prohibited in the Lutheran way of thinking. But if we are to have them, and more to the point since we do actually have them, we are required to make sure that they promote the gospel and not falsehood. Art is capable of witnessing faithfully to Christ, but it is also capable of having a non-canonical, deceptive relationship to Christ. For Jesus himself is not the active agent in art. Art is not a means of grace, in the sense of word (specifically, the Scriptures) and sacrament (the visible words of baptism and communion). In word and sacrament we truly encounter the crucified and risen Lord who presents himself to us in reality and promise so that we may cling to him in faith. But art is the work of human witnesses, not the Lord himself. The Lord may choose to use our art, but he doesn’t promise to do so. So my purpose in this essay is to explore how visual images of the face of Jesus can be faithful to the norma normans of the gospel, analogous to other human witnesses like preaching or testimony or music.

Nowadays in Lutheran circles we tend to assume that we have a very pro-art kind of theology. This is linked to the pro-body, pro-incarnation, and pro-sacrament aspects of our theology. But such has not always been the popular assumption. In fact, charges have been laid at the door of our favorite reformer for destroying the arts in Germany and northern Europe: yes, Luther has been blamed, not just the obvious iconoclasts like Karlstadt and Zwingli. There have been cases since the Reformation of Protestants converting to Catholicism on aesthetic grounds.1 In days past it was common to refer to something as being “as empty as a Lutheran church.”2

It is true that Luther did not care about art. But that itself is an anachronistic statement. By “art” we mean free self-expression and creativity; in the sixteenth century it meant chiefly a trade by which one earned a living. Luther didn’t have much of an opinion on art as self-expression or as a trade. What he did care about was what visual images were doing to and for the faithful in the church, and it is this particular concern that I am taking up here.3

The issue was forced upon Luther by the riots incited in Wittenberg during his sojourn at the Wartburg after the Diet of Worms. Karlstadt, fancying himself Luther’s spokesman in his absence, published a treatise decrying images of all kinds. The people responded with mob violence and destruction of those images. In light of this and other building tensions, Luther decided in March of 1522 to risk his neck and return to Wittenberg. But he didn’t go to defend the honor of defiled images. He went to encourage a restoration of civil order. In fact, he was perfectly glad to see the images removed; he just wanted it done in an orderly and legal fashion.

Upon his arrival back in town, Luther preached a sermon every day for a week, and in the third of these sermons he addressed the matter of images directly, in these rather less than enthusiastic words: “[W]e are free to have them or not, although it would be much better if we did not have them at all. I am not partial to them.”4 On the other hand, against the charges of idolatry leveled by Karlstadt, Luther maintained that the prohibition on “graven images” in Exodus refers only to images of God, and then only to the worship of such images, not to the images’ mere existence. To support the point Luther says that even the Old Testament saints created images, like Joshua with the twelve stones at Gilgal and Moses with the cherubim on the ark of the covenant.5 Clearly, this is a Luther with no strong feeling for art one way or another. Images are simply a test case for Christian freedom and civil order.

Only a couple years later, though, in 1525, Luther’s attitude towards images had evolved somewhat—perhaps in growing disgust at iconoclastic violence—as seen in his treatise Against the Heavenly Prophets. He states more strongly than ever here that images are a matter of adiaphora. He hastens to offer reassurance to the people who don’t destroy images: they are not thereby failing to obey God’s command.6 Image destruction is neither obligatory nor necessary. In fact, the preferable course of action is to tear images out of the heart first, and only then out of the eyes. Luther’s principle is one of conversion first, action second.7

All of this is basically a stronger version of what Luther had already said in his 1522 sermon. But in Against the Heavenly Prophets we have something new as well: a powerful positive use for images, namely, a pedagogical one. This use Luther stumbled upon as a kind of irony: he learned that even the most fearsome iconoclasts were reading his German Bible, which was richly illustrated with woodcuts of biblical scenes.8 The woodcuts helped even the simplest of souls to learn Bible stories. Here de facto was the same argument made a millennium earlier by Pope Gregory the Great, who defended visual images in church as the “Bible of the illiterate.”

And yet beyond that, Luther argued, all of us, literate or not, do in fact illustrate the Bible all the time—in our minds. He writes, “[I]t is impossible for me to hear and bear [the passion of our Lord] in mind without forming mental images of it in my heart. For whether I will or not, when I hear of Christ, an image of a man hanging on a cross takes form in my heart… If it is not a sin but good to have the image of Christ in my heart, why should it be a sin to have it in my eyes?”9 This turns out to be the decisive point against those who find images to be altogether evil. We are image makers anyway; the distinction between the internal ones and the external ones finally doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

So now, if images are permissible—and to some extent even good—Luther can draw out the logic a bit further. He continues, “[I]mages for memorial and witness, such as crucifixes and images of saints, are to be tolerated,”10 in other words, definitely not to be removed. Luther assumes that such images do not reside in the heart idolatrously, but serve as reminders of the biblical message. He finishes the discussion with the thought, “[W]ould to God that I could persuade the rich and mighty that they would permit the whole Bible to be painted on their houses, inside and out, so that all can see it. That would be a Christian work.”11 His implied contrast is with those patrons of the arts who thought they were doing the Christian work of earning merits in heaven by paying for the decoration of the church. To Luther, this was an error twice over: first, because the truly good work would be using the money spent on art to feed and clothe the poor; and second, because no good work earns merit before God anyway, since we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Luther is no iconoclast, but he doesn’t exactly provide a ringing endorsement of the visual arts, either. He has no particular interest in aesthetics or art in itself. Luther believes that words are better equipped to convey the truths of the gospel than images; and even where words are concerned, he has a distinct preference for the spoken and heard word over the printed and read word: “Faith comes through hearing.” The church is a “mouth house,” as he all too vividly suggests. Images truly are a matter of indifference to Luther. They are not necessary, but they are not evil, either.

That brings us to Luther’s mature position on church art: it can beneficially exist as a form of gospel pedagogy. In the Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper in 1528, for instance, he wrote: “Images taken from the Scriptures and from good histories… I consider very useful yet indifferent and optional. I have no sympathy with the iconoclasts.”12 And as he put it at the end of Against the Heavenly Prophets, images can usefully serve as “mirror images” and “mental signs,” serving four purposes: “to gaze upon, as a witness, to aid memory, and as a sign.”13 These pedagogical concerns should come as no great surprise: Luther wrote more on education than any other reformer of the sixteenth century.14 Anything and everything that could be recruited for the purpose of delivering the content of the faith to the people was to be collared and pressed into service. Art was one instance of this; so was music; liturgy itself was to serve a pedagogical service. As one commentator puts it, “Worship shades off into pedagogy in Lutheran theology.”15 The Augsburg Confession says as much: ceremonies are to teach.16

As long as art is going to serve a pedagogical purpose in church, Luther is more than happy to dispense it some advice. Stylistically, he favors the simple over the elaborate, and scriptural accuracy over flights of fancy.17 He prefers historical pictures to thematic ones, as a rule, though he does endorse a couple of classic themes for religious painting, like Christ portrayed as the man of sorrows, and the way of the cross. His friend Lucas Cranach came up with a new solid-gold Lutheran theme for painting: law and gospel. Elsewhere, Luther proposes a new way of depicting Mary the mother of God: instead of a glorified queen of heaven, he wants to see her portrayed in her lowliness and poverty, “uniting the glory of the Lord with her own insignificance.”18 Luther enthusiastically endorses depictions of the Last Supper on altar panels, which might seem entirely obvious but was in fact an innovative suggestion on his part. The altar panels of the Middle Ages tended to depict the crucifixion, to mirror the sacrifice taking place again at the altar.19 Luther, obviously rejecting this sacrificial take on the mass, promotes the iconography of the Lord’s supper instead, as a way of making that historical meal present again, emphasizing the presidence of Christ at the supper, and depicting the reception of both the bread and the wine.20

Now the fact is that art as pedagogy, rather than as church decoration for the sake of earning heavenly merit, leaves a much smaller scope for the art trade. Though some distinctive Lutheran artforms flowered in the first fifty years after the Reformation,21 the fact was that the demand for images dropped dramatically, and a lot of artists went out of business—thus the charge laid at Luther’s door for the death of the arts in Germany. You could counterargue, of course, that taking the arts out of the employ of the church actually paved the way for the creativity and self-expression we value in the arts now; but that is a matter for another time.22 Our concern here is with images in the church and the purpose they serve there.

If we follow Luther on the matter of images, then, we will end up neither iconoclasts nor iconodules. We will not distrust and despise images, invest them with pernicious power, or tear them from our walls. Nor will we mistake them for means of grace, venerate them, or require them. If we are going to have them, though, we must subject them to some careful consideration; discern the spirits to make sure they really do serve the purpose of gospel pedagogy.

Now the gospel we confess is that Son of God came in the flesh, died in the flesh, and rose in the flesh, for us and for our salvation (I John 4:2, II John 7). At this point I’d like to ratchet up the stakes a little higher, and push the matter a little further than Luther did, with the claim that a concern for the visual arts and gospel pedagogy necessarily entails a concern for christology. Can art do justice to christology? Can it teach us what we need to know, or will it only mislead us? What is the actual effect of an image of Christ in a house of public worship? A brief review of Luther’s christology will help us pursue answers to these questions.

One of Luther’s most consistent drumbeats in christology is the personal unity of the two natures of Christ. Jesus Christ is one single subject, truly human and truly divine. The unity of divine and human natures is as intimate as that between body and soul in us ordinary mortals, or between fire and iron in a red-hot poker. From this emphasis flows Luther’s commitment to the doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum, or the communication of attributes. For Luther, this means that everything you say of the “human nature” of Christ can also be predicated of the “divine nature”: thus, when the human Jesus hungers, so does the divine Logos; though even this way of speaking is a bit misleading, since it seems to imply a double subject. We must check such statements against the unity of Christ’s person, so let us say rather: there is one Lord Jesus Christ, simultaneously true God and true human, and he is hungry.

For Luther, though, the attributes flow not only from the human to the divine. They also flow from the divine to the human. Luther loved to say outrageous things like: the baby lying in the manger is the creator of the universe. Or: the human flesh of Christ is ubiquitous in the Lord’s Supper just as God almighty is ubiquitous.

Not everyone in the Christian tradition has explicated the unity of the natures and the communication of attributes in quite this way. As a rule, theologians have favored one direction of attribute-flowing over the other. The early church—excepting Cyril of Alexandria, to whom Luther had a particular kinship23—tended not to ascribe the human characteristics to the divine nature, for fear of tampering with divine immutability. The Reformed tradition has tended to worry the other way—about the glorification of what is merely human with divine characteristics. But for Luther, anything less than the full and mutual communication of attributes causes soteriology itself to fall apart. For our purposes here, the point is that Luther posits a completely, fully, unmistakably human Jesus, just as he posits that that same Jesus is completely, fully, and unmistakably divine. So, we infer, if art is going to teach us the gospel properly, it must testify to this unified subject, Jesus Christ, true God and true human.

We might be tempted to say—great! Luther’s christology presents us with all kinds of wonderful artistic possibilities. But the twentieth century theologian Karl Barth thought there was tremendous difficulty at precisely this point. Barth was very fond of the authors, poets, dramatists, and musicians produced by the Christian tradition, and he cited them regularly throughout his theological corpus. But when it came to the visual arts, his commentary was virtually nonexistent. When it was there at all, it was usually negative. The one exception was the Isenheim altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald, who is mentioned four times in the Church Dogmatics. More typical of Barth’s attitude is a comment he made towards the end of his life: “Images and symbols have no place at all in a building designed for Protestant worship.”24

It is tempting, perhaps, for Lutherans to write Barth off as a thoughtless heir of Zwinglian iconoclasm. But we must pay close attention here because Barth’s objection to images of Christ was not grounded in fear of idolatry at all, but in christology proper. Consider Barth’s ruminations on “the difficulty of representing Jesus Christ in the plastic arts”:

[H]ere and there emerges unavoidably, and indeed purposively and exclusively, the particular and delicate question of the corporeality of Jesus. The prior demand of a picture of Christ is that its subject should be seen. And He must be seen as the artist thinks he sees Him according to the dictates of his own religious or irreligious, profound or superficial imagination, and as he then causes others to see Him… It must also be added that every picture in pencil, paint or stone is an attempt to catch the reality portrayed, which is as such in movement, at a definite moment in that movement, to fix it, to arrest or “freeze” its movement, to take it out of movement… But what their work will always lack, is the decisive thing—the vertical movement in which Jesus Christ is actual, the history in which the Son of God becomes the Son of Man and takes human essence and is man in this act… The attempt to represent Him… can only be a catastrophe… It is already clear that from the point of view of christology there can be no question of using the picture of Christ as a means of instruction.25

In other words, on the same grounds that Luther defends images—for the purposes of instruction—Barth rejects them.

How did Barth arrive at this point christologically? For one thing, he was trying to replace what he perceived to be a falsely static metaphysical doctrine of Christ with a dynamic one, one in which the divine and human natures were always united in the living act of God, not in an airy-fairy platonic being unaffected by the action in which it engages. So from this perspective, Barth is quite right about images: there is no movement in them, through space or time. A painting is an arrested moment. You only see what the artist wants you to see, from a certain angle, at a certain time.

More importantly, Barth worried that in images you could never perceive more than the human element of Christ (otherwise, presumably, movies about Christ would solve the problem of pictures, but I suspect Barth would have been no more sympathetic to film than to painting). How could an artist even begin to show you, in lines and colors, that this same person is also true God? Barth thinks—as, recall, Luther himself did!—that this task is better managed by words. If this seems like an arbitrary preference, we can easily make it more immediate to our own day and age. Which is better for you, watching TV or reading a book? You know (whatever your actual habits are) that the book is better than the TV. The book requires your active involvement, your imagination, your intelligence; TV lets you lapse into passivity and makes no demands. Gregory the Great may have lauded pictures as the Bible of the illiterate, but the fact is that in our country, at least, there are relatively few illiterate people, and many images (especially in the form of advertising) are actively destructive to character. Adding an image of Christ to this consumer mix might in fact reduce Christ to just another contender in the marketplace.

To reiterate Barth and Luther’s point of convergence: images are limited, incomplete, and can’t explain themselves to you or correct your misunderstandings. Words, by contrast, have no such limit. They can be exchanged back and forth until genuine understanding has been accomplished. A word is worth a thousand pictures, they might say.

Bearing Barth’s genuine concerns in mind now, we can propose a rebuttal. The fact is that Jesus, however dynamic the state of his hypostatic union, is fundamentally and unalterably a physical human being, even in his resurrected state, as the gospels testify. Barth’s criticism of the visual arts for not depicting Christ’s dynamism is rather like criticizing a painting of a banquet for not being edible, or a sculpture of a cheetah for not running, or a photograph for not being a film. It’s a confusion of categories: a picture makes no pretense of being dynamic, else it would not be a picture at all! Rather, the picture testifies christologically to the fact that Jesus, as God incarnate, was physical, visible, and touchable, and as such “capturable” in the moment of a picture just like any other truly human being. Not to mention the fact that the contemporaries of Jesus, who saw him and touched him and spoke with him, did not see a constant dynamic union of the natures either, but an ordinary guy like themselves.

The fact that we make this rebuttal against Barth is rather ironic, since Barth knew perfectly well that Jesus was truly human. It’s a recurring theme of his work; in fact, that’s exactly what he liked about Grünewald’s Jesus, who in his Godforsakenness looks like nothing more than a dying human being! But with Luther as our guide we must still push Barth on this point: how can Barth really testify to the true humanity of Christ—and in fact the true humanity which is at the same time true divinity—and yet say that the face of this true God, true human should never be looked upon, never depicted, maybe even never imagined? We must say instead that it is a faithful christological confession to portray the person of Jesus in paint or ink or stone or clay (or film). It is a confession of his true humanity—which, even when (or especially when!) it doesn’t look like anything other than humanity, it is still also truly divine.

Barth emphasized transcendence across the doctrinal loci because he didn’t want God to be used, abused, and propagandized in service of human projects. Given the time and place he lived, we would hardly want to dispute his honorable intentions. And yet—is not the incarnation, among other things, a willingess to be used wrongfully? Isn’t the incarnation voluntary divine vulnerability and humiliation? This is what Philippians 2 tells us—that the Son did not grasp at the privileges of divinity but emptied himself to take on our human flesh, taking the form of a servant.

But it the incarnation is even more than that. It is not only a willingness to be humbled and vulnerable; it is a willingness to become sin, for the sake of our salvation, as Paul writes in II Corinthians 5: He who knew no sin was made to be sin. Barth would not ultimately object to the notion that Christ took our sin upon himself in order to extinguish it on the cross. But the more terrifying prospect is that we ourselves, we sinners, continually put our sin on Christ, not in the act of repentance but in the act of self-justification. We take advantage of Christ’s willing vulnerability, we make him our sin—and he lets us do so.
In his book Unbaptized God, Robert Jenson makes a point relevant to our discussion on the basic difference between Roman Catholics and (non-Lutheran) Protestants on the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Catholics are so convinced of Christ’s presence, and of the righteousness of the church in effecting his presence, that they do not seriously consider the possibility of abuse done upon that presence; while Protestants are so terrified of the possibility of abuse done upon Christ’s presence that they solve the problem by claiming Christ is not present at all. What neither side takes seriously is that the incarnate Christ is not only a person but also a thing, a body, an availability to others for its own good or harm; a body which can be, and in fact was, crucified.26

Barth lands squarely in the Protestant camp, good Reformed theologian that he was, and thus wishes to protect Jesus from abuse, including artistic abuse. He wants to block us at all costs from making Christ into our sin. At the other extreme is the suggestion that art is good and godly in its own right because it is “incarnational” and “sacramental”; that it is incapable of doing real harm and making Christ into our sin.27 If we follow Jenson here—who was trying to making a christologically Lutheran argument, by the way—we cannot accept either extreme. We will have to confess the presence of Christ but also our temptation to abuse it, to make it into our sin. Therefore along with all our other church practices, we must always correct our images of Christ—semper reformanda—according to the Scriptures, creeds, and Confessions. That is the difference, in the end, between Barth and Luther. Barth distrusts the imagination and wants to prohibit it. Luther acknowledges the imagination and wants to evangelize it.28


1. Sergius Michalski, The Reformation and the Visual Arts (New York: Routledge, 1993), 1. See also Carl C. Christensen, Art and the Reformation in Germany (Athens, OH and Detroit: Ohio State University and Wayne State University, 1979), 164.

2. Michalski, 186.

3. Luther wasn’t the first one to worry about this. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (of whom Luther was quite fond) expressed similar concerns in his Apologia against lush visual imagery in the monastery, since monks do not require “carnal assistance” in their faith the way ordinary folks do; and even the foolish are likely to “admire the beautiful more than they venerate the sacred,” with the result that the church is “radiant in its walls and destitute in its poor.” Bernard of Clairvaux, “Apologia,” §28–29, in Conrad Rudolph, The “Things of Greater Importance”: Bernard of Clairvaux’s Apologia and the Medieval Attitude Toward Art (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1990), 10–11.

4. Luther’s Works, American Edition, 55 vols., eds. J. Pelikan and H. Lehmann (St. Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia and Fortress, 1955ff.), 51:81 [hereafter cited as LW]. This series is called the “Invocavit” sermons, after the name of the Sunday in Lent on which he began to preach. It is interesting to note that Karlstadt confessed himself to be extremely susceptible to the power of images, likely one of the reasons he was so adamant about removing them; Christensen, 25.

5. LW 51:82.

6. LW 40:91.

7. LW 40:84–85.

8. LW 40:99.

9. LW 40:99–100.

10. LW 40:91.

11. LW 40:99. My italics.

12. Christensen, 53.

13. “[Z]um Ansehen, zum Zeugnis, zum Gedaechtnis, zum Zeichen,” cited in Michalski, 27.

14.Christensen, 60.

15. Christensen, 59.

16. The Book of Concord, ed. Theodore J. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959), 56.

17. Michalski, 39, 193.

18. Ibid., 36.

19. Christensen, 148.

20. Ibid., 148, 150.

21. For instance, there was a sudden burst of Old Testaments themes, which before then had been few in number and mostly served as typological proofs for gospel stories. Favorites from the gospels included Christ with the adulteress in John 8 and Jesus blessing the little children—the latter, of course, a response to the Anabaptists’ refusal to baptize infants. The most important artforms to Lutherans overall were “altarpieces, epitaphs [i.e., memorial monuments], Bible illustrations, single-leaf woodcuts, pulpit decorations, stained glass, book bindings, and even wedding chest carvings.” By the 1530s there was a school of Bible illustration flourishing in Wittenberg. See Christensen, 160–61, 124–25, and 110.

22. To sketch the argument in brief: when the church isn’t patronizing your art, you don’t have to stick to church subjects anymore. For instance, an artist in Nuremberg named Hans Greiffenberger who was sympathetic to both Luther and Zwingli remarked that painters and woodcarvers had come to this conclusion: “[S]ince the saints no longer matter, then we shall paint harlots and scoundrels, if this will bring money,” Michalski, 191. The book and pamphlet trade was roaring too—and not just in copies of the Ninety-Five Theses—so many artists devoted their talents to that field; Christensen, 170. The brilliant landscapes and still-lifes of the Netherlands are more famously known to be a response to the prohibition on ecclesiastical imagery in Calvinist lands. Speaking of whom, Calvin was closer to Luther on the matter of church art than he was to Zwingli. In the Institutes he wrote, “I am not gripped by the superstition of thinking absolutely no images permissible. But because Scripture and painting are gifts of God, I seek a pure and legitimate use of each… only those things are to be sculptured or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing: let not God’s majesty, which is far above the perception of the eyes, be debased through unseemly representations.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.xi., ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 112. So in some respects the separation of church and art paved the way for art to come into its own, as we know it today (see especially Michalski, 194)—a field open to people in all classes and walks of life, dealing with every imaginable subject and in some cases, like abstract art, with no subject at all, with every kind of material, for every kind of purpose, from social commentary to advertising to personal expression. You could say that Luther’s indifference to the church arts might just have been the best thing that could have happened to the arts all around.

23. The scholarly consensus is virtually undisputed: Luther, like Cyril, always placed greatest emphasis on the unity of the natures and total communication of attributes. David Yeago, “The Bread of Life: Patristic Christology and Evangelical Soteriology in Martin Luther’s Sermons on John 6,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 39/3 (2004): 266–67. Ian D. Kingston Siggins, Martin Luther’s Doctrine of Christ (New Haven: Yale, 1970), 227. Gerhard Müller, “Luthers Christusverständnis,” in Jesus Christus: Das Christusverständnis im Wandel der Zeiten (Marburg: N. G. Elwert Verlag, 1963), 45. Johann Anselm Steiger, “The communicatio idiomatum as the Axle and Motor of Luther’s Theology,” Lutheran Quarterly 14 (2000): 125. Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology: Its Historical and Systematic Development, trans. Roy A. Harrisville (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 228–29. Stefan Streiff, ”Novis Linguis Loqui,” Martin Luthers Disputation über Joh 1, 14, “Verbum caro factum est,” aus dem Jahr 1539, Forschungen zur systematischen und ökumenischen Theologie, vol. 70 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993), 71.

24. Karl Barth, “The Architectural Problem of Protestant Places of Worship,” in Architecture in Worship: The Christian Place of Worship, ed. Andre Bieler, trans. Odette and Donald Elliott (Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1965), 93.

25. Karl Barth, The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Church Dogmatics IV/2, eds. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, trans. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1958), 102–103.

26. Robert Jenson, Unbaptized God: The Basic Flaw in Ecumenical Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1992), 32–33. See also the chapter on christology in the final section.

27. The words “incarnational” and “sacramental” are regularly abused in theological speech today. There is no such thing as generic “incarnation.” There is only the taking on of flesh by the one who had no flesh; it is a singularity. Likewise sacraments are not about the things themselves, but about things to which a word of promise has been attached by Jesus. For Whatever reason, these terms in popular usage are making up for a perceived lack in the doctrine of creation. But a thing doesn’t have to be “incarnational” or “sacramental” to be good. It is enough that God created it!

28. Along with rejecting the bad use of the terms “incarnational” and “sacramental” we should reject the bad use of the term “baptize.” One cannot “baptize” the imagination, but one can evangelize it. Only people can get baptized.

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Fall 2015

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In this issue:

The Sheep and the Goats

Death Comes to
the Sanctuary in
Birmingham and

Whose Flannery?

Time Travel and Culture
Crossing to Reignite
the Church

Penance and Prayer Day

An Introduction to
Evangelicalism for
Evangelical Lutherans

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