POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Week 2 – Chapter 4 – The Only True God

Chapter 4 in a nut shell is a strong prohibition against idolatry – the worship of that which is Not God. He draws his admonition from the 2nd Commandment and supports from Romans 1. He comes down strong to say that the use of pictures and images in worship, which are designed to represent God or Jesus Christ, is wrong. Packer approvingly quotes the eminent Old Princeton theologian Charles Hodge:
“idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images.”

He reasons the use of images does two very grievous things to our worship:

  • Images dishonor God, for the obscure his glory – nothing on earth can properly represent who God is – quoting Calvin – Packer says that doing such distorts and corrupts the Majesty of God in our minds.
  • Images mislead us, for they convey false ideas about God – images become our focus and we begin to worship that image or view of God instead of God as he reveals himself to be – this will prevent the worship of God in truth.

Next Packer begins to take to task not only created images but mental images as well. He says that humans have no right to vainly speculate who God is or is not. The object of his critique at this point is theology that is purely speculative – not based upon biblical revelation – which is tantamount to mere guesswork (Packer 48). One question that did arise for me towards the end of this section is what appears to be an affront on the doctrine of analogy. I am taking it that he is critiquing a view of analogy that says we just guess who God is from natural theology alone – not the doctrine of analogy that makes our language about God meaningful. In the 1993 edition there is a rejoinder which answers objections he has seen over the years as a result of this chapter. Namely:

  • Christian worship requires the aesthetic and the visual arts – to this Packer says YES! but not in imagining God or Christ.
  • The imagination must be sanctified and expressed – again Packer says YES! but says we should choose language as our tool for the imagination in the contemplation of God. I would add that this would allow us to treat the beauty of God in the abstract rather than the concrete/corporeal. Seeing God in the mind’s eye rather than with the physical eye.
  • Crucifixes, images, pictures of Jesus are helpful in devotion – Packer says as soon as the images are treated as representational rather than symbolic they will corrupt the devotion they inspire – he says, rather to be safe than sorry.

In some sense I agree with his warning – to avoid representing the immortal, invisible, triune God with a earthbound image – such is impossible and yes, blasphemous. But the question arises – what of the Jesus Film which is used by churches and agencies world wide to lead people to the Lord and plant churches? What of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ? What of the film, The Gospel of John whose script is the text of Scripture (albeit the somewhat loose Good News Bible) – These questions are unanswered by this chapter for me. Bottom line - I don't know that I would go as far as Packer does - there are many creative artitst that should unleash their visual gifts for our Lord - I agree not to depict God or the Trinity, but the arts have a powerful strength in helping us feel what we know by the Word...that which is good, right and true.