Thursday, July 21, 2005

Is Your Jesus Homogenous?

Update: My AgapePress article here.

I remember taking a casket up some stairs at a black church and noticing that the scene painted on the wall - Jesus getting baptized by John the Baptist - had everyone in the picture looking pretty African. "How historically inaccurate," I thought to myself. Then...I had to wonder if the Jesus on my wall wasn't a bit more "white" and less ethnically Jewish than he probably was. Which is why this article caught my eye:
Depending on the culture, its distinctives, and its artists' leanings, Jesus is portrayed in various ways. Careful examination of the different representations of Jesus can be a catalyst to clarifying thinking about Jesus Christ and His mission in the world.

~~"By embracing many visual representations of Christ, we acknowledge that it is not just one era, one culture or certain socioeconomic classes or educational ranks that have meaningful connections with the divine."~~

Christians around the world differ in literacy, tradition, and station in life. Regardless, all Christians are capable of showing spiritual depth and wisdom. The Bible confirms that ethnic and cultural diversity is normative. Unfortunately, as noted by Sri Lankan theologian D. T. Niles, the imagery of Christ created and celebrated in the West would not be acceptable to the thinking in many nonwestern settings.

Christ was neither white European nor black African nor native North American, and it may be difficult for Christians who are North American or European to realize how Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, and Native North Americans portray Jesus' relationships with others--"His nonattachment to possessions and personal power and His utterly practical type of ministry."
  • Latin American images of Christ range from "dark, earthy, and intensely engaged.... His cross is rough-hewn...." He is portrayed variously as "a peasant...homeless evangelist...and revolutionary warrior. But always, He is a man of the people...."
  • African representations of Christ vary from one locale to another. Africans show Christ as sovereign ruler, calm and controlled in all circumstances. He is shown as black, and as the "source of safety, wellbeing, healing, provision, and knowledge" for all in the kingdom.
  • Native Americans often show Christ as "suffering,,, spiritual distress or spiritual ecstacy."
  • Asians may depict Christ as exemplary, dutiful, benevolent, obedient, and actively contributing to the good of His society. "He is the cosmic totality of all."
  • Eastern Orthodox peoples show Christ as approachable, relational, and as the "mediator of God's Word to man."
It is a false assumption to suggest that a homogenous Christ is known throughout the world.
"Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?" by Joanne Pepper. ChristianWeek, May 11, 2004 (Vol 18, No 4). Pages 6-7.


At 12:27 AM, Blogger midnightscribe said...

I really appreciated this article that was in Agape Press email. It is one of those articles that I refer to as a "toe stumper"! When you stump your toe you stop say ouch & contemplate on things before taking the next step forward. Articles like yours makes one stop & say ouch then shakes up some notions that are not in tune with Him. Some of Elisabeth Elliots writings on similar subjects are "toe stumpers" also. Thank you for stumping my toe; I will be sharing your article with my husband.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger darrell385 said...

Some time ago, Time (or Newsweek, I cannot recall) magazine did an article on what Jesus probably looked like based on a tissue reconstruction from a 2000 year old skull found in a region close to where He lived. I told my wife, "Watch, there will be letters to the editor expressing outrage at such a notion." Sure enough, there were. I have always been grateful to a professor who taught me that not all beliefs are on the same level of importance, a mistake many Christians make.

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Steve Sanders said...

The Bible was not written 100 years ago to wealthy, white people in the United States. It was written to Israelites, Jews in that area of the world. What else would Christ look like but a Jew from the general area of Palestine? He wasn't white, black (as we would envision black here in the south) with an afro, native american, etc.
It seems to me that an issue like this exposes a bigger problem- the fact that the vast majority of Christians never consider the fact that the Bible was written in a different context to a different culture than that in which we reside. The spiritual applications are identical and absolutely no less relative to our lives but the bottom line is that most southerners (and all western cultures?) read scripture as if it was written last week specifically for us.
Christ was a Jew, he looked like a Jew and He spoke about things in the context of the Jewish culture of the day. That is where we should begin our study.
Great article.

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Marsha said...

I shake my head over the fuss over such nitpicky arguments as what color Jesus was. Of course he was a Jew. We all know that and we all know that all pictures Of Jesus are misrepresented no matter what ethnic background it protrays. No one knows what he looked liked other than he was Jewish.What does it matter if he is portrayed as white,black whatever? He is God of us all isn't he?Get to know him spiritually. That is what matters.

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Barbara Kreighbaum said...

Thank you for this article!


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