Review of Clowney's "Ten Commandments"

By Howard Sloan. He notes that Ed was a bit more tolerant on the 2nd commandment than the Reformed confessions. In view of the constant pressure presented to the Reformed confession of the 2nd commandment by evangelicals and others, it’s well to remember what we confess:

The Second Helvetic Confession, Art. 4, says:

IMAGES OF CHRIST. Although Christ assumed human nature, yet he did not on that account assume it in order to provide a model for carvers and painters. He denied that he had come “to abolish the law and the prophets” (Matt. 5:17). But images are forbidden by the law and the prophets” (Deut. 4:15; Isa. 44:9). He denied that his bodily presence would be profitable for the Church, and promised that he would be near us by his Spirit forever (John 16:7). Who, therefore, would believe that a shadow or likeness of his body would contribute any benefit to the pious? (2 Cor. 5:5). Since he abides in us by his Spirit, we are therefore the temple of God (I Cor. 3:16). But “what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (II Cor. 6:16).

The Heidelberg Catechism, says:

96. What does God require in the second Commandment?

That we in no wise make any image of God,1 nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.2

1 Deut 4:15-19. Isa 40:18, 25. Rom 1:22-24. Acts 17:29. 2 1 Sam 15:23. Deut 12:30-32. Matt 15:9. * Deut 4:23, 24.

97. May we not make any image at all?

God may not and cannot be imaged in any way; as for creatures, though they may indeed be imaged, yet God forbids the making or keeping any likeness of them, either to worship them, or to serve God by them.

1Exod 23:24, 25. Exod 34:13,14. Deut 7:5. Deut 12:3. Deut 16:22. 2 Kgs 18:4. John 1:18.

98. But may not pictures be tolerated in churches as books for the people?

No, for we should not be wiser than God, who will not have His people taught by dumb idols,1 but by the lively preaching of His word.2

1Jer 10:8. Hab 2:18,19. 2 2 Pet 1:19. 2 Tim 3:16,17. * Rom 10:17.

WLC 109 says:

Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.

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  1. I’ve argued that those who agree that images of God are forbidden but that images of Christ are fine, commit the heresy of Nestorianism. Since Christ is both God and Man, two distinct natures (not persons) yet inseparable as one person, how can anyone say that we can represent Christ by images while not representing God?

  2. We should be careful when accusing iconophiles of Nestorianism that we do not end up unintentionally advocating Monophysitism.

    It may be safer to argue more from eschatology and revelation. This is the time of by faith, not by sight. Post-ascension, when we try to cling to our physically absent Lord through visual representation, we end up creating a cartoon and parody — a false parousia — and we miss the good news that Jesus isn’t here. Christ will come again.

    And hey, we don’t know what Jesus looked like. If some guy, instead of keeping a photo of his wife in his wallet, has a photo of Megan Fox, reasoning that it represents his wife, we’d say he’s a little out of touch at best and adulterous at worst. Not to mention that it’s rather insulting to the wife.

  3. You really have to read the chapter in its context to get the full effect of the argument that Clowney makes. If I am not mistaken Clowney addresses that point made by Mr. Carr above. Don’t trust my brief quotation. Read the whole discussion in the book.

    Even if you disagree with Clowney on this one aspect of the Commandments, I believe the reader will still be edified and strengthened by the book.

  4. FYI, I am currently reading the Puritan James Durham’s work on the 10 Commandments. He seems to go so far as to exclude ANY visible representation of the Divine, including the use of (biblical) symbols such as a dove or a burning bush.

    He does seem to make a distinction by allowing the “mind’s eye” to use such symbols, but somehow maintains they become wrong when seen with the “carnal eye”.

    I’m just barely into his work, so we’ll see where he goes with this. Does anyone else know if this was typical puritan calvinism? Am I misreading Durham?

  5. In response to Darren, let me give a further quote from Clowney:

    “Yet it is no accident that the Bible does not give us a vivid physical description of Jesus, for we are not encouraged to enter into a new form of idolatry by worshiping physical pictures of the image of God in Jesus Christ, any more than the Old Testament worshipers were encouraged to worship pictures of God.” (p. 29)

    I think Clowney was aware of the concerns Darren voiced
    “We should be careful when accusing iconophiles of Nestorianism that we do not end up unintentionally advocating Monophysitism.”

    Clowney says also:
    “In our desire not to profane Christ by worshiping an image of him, we must also be cautious that we don’t ‘spiritualize’ him into thin air. If we show no pictures of Jesus’ everyday life to our children, how will they know his reality?” (p. 31)

    You may well argue his point, but you can see his concern to not over spiritualize Jesus.

  6. My response to Ed is to repeat Bullinger. God the Son did not become incarnate to make work for carvers.

    The pictures Ed wants to use in Vos’ Story Bible are not of Jesus! They are pictures of someone’s imagination of Jesus.

    How are we going to illustrate Jesus to our children? How about the preaching of the gospel and the holy sacraments? Those are Jesus’ ordained sermon illustrations.

    I know Ed meant well but so did Jesus. Ed was a friend and colleague but he was exactly wrong on this.

    See VanDrunen’s essay on this in the International Journal of Syst Theology and here is a popular summary of his argument.

  7. My greatest concern is not that we agree with Clowney on this point, but that we do not dismiss this book because of one argument in one chapter of the book. There is much fine material to be found in this book. I only want the reader to be aware that he gives this position.

    I thought I should give further quotes to make more clear what he was saying and what he was not. I want people read the argument. Even Clowney says in the book that does not wish to make too much of this principle on p. 32.

    I still think that you will find the rest of the book edifying.

  8. Trying to explain to today’s evangelicals the reasons for not picturing Jesus is like trying to explain to a two-year old the reason for not eating food off the floor. It just does not compute.

  9. Jesus became man, NOT to show us how much “like us” he could be, but to reveal God to us. In associating with him over the course of weeks, months, and days, the companions of Jesus during his earthly ministry came to see him as something MORE than a man, which was the divine intention. They learned how much NOT like us he was. That’s why one of Christ’s designations was “Immanuel.”

    So, when we create images of Jesus’ humanity, all we are doing is emphasizing the inverse of the divine incarnational intent. Is this wise? To ask the question is to answer it. And, of course, if we were to attempt to show his divinity–i.e. to replicate the incarnational reality–through the image, then we immediately become blatant idolaters.

    We are left with one recourse: Holy Scripture, the Word written, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his sacraments.

  10. Clowney’s more important point – and a point that I recently made while preaching on this commandment – is that The Church is to be the Image of Christ. Quoting Clowney

    “Yet Jesus fulfills the second commandment in a more breathtaking way. By the power of his Spirit he unites us to himself, so that we are remade in his image … The coming of Jesus transposes the second commandment into specific adoration for the one who is the image of the Father. The same miracle of grace also draws us to praise God for the imaging of Christ in the lives of those brothers and sisters in whom the Spirit works.” (p. 32-33)

    If you want an image, don’t make one … BE ONE!

    Ephes. 4:20-24 (ESV)
    But that is not the way you learned Christ!— [21] assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, [22] to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, [23] and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, [24] and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

    Col. 3:9-10 (ESV)
    Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices [10] and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

    Again, I urge each one of you to be good scholars. Read the discussion in its context. I appreciate everyone’s discussion. Most of which does speak to the point. But again this is only one part of what is otherwise a wonderful (and uncontroversial) chapter. Dr. Clowney is no longer alive to defend his position. His book is his only voice on the subject.

    I felt it was significant enough to mention it in the review knowing that many do not agree with his position, however I did not feel that it should deter people from reading the book as a whole. I really want that to be the main point here.

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