The Power of Pictures in Christian Thought
The Use and Abuse of Images in the Bible and Theology
Part One considers key philosophical and aesthetic evaluations of literary images and symbols. The power of pictures is widely appreciated, as in the adage 'a picture is worth a thousand words'. Sometimes Christian discourse can be smothered by endless prose, which demands much inferential reasoning. There is, however, a contrary argument. An isolated visual representation can be misleading if it is improperly interpreted. For example, some mystical visions are interpreted as direct instructions from the Holy Spirit, as happened with the Radical Reformers, who advocated the Peasants’ Revolt. Hence theories of symbol, metaphor, and visual representation must be examined
Part Two discusses visual representation in the Old Testament, the teaching of Jesus, pictures and analogies in Paul, and the Book of Revelation. This shows the range of authentic visual representations. In contrast to biblical material, we find throughout Christian history abundant examples of misleading imagery which is often passed off as Christian. A notorious example is found in the visual representation and metaphors used by Gnostic writers. Almost as bad are some visual representations used by the medieval mystics, Radical Reformers, and extreme charismatics – all of which lack valid criteria of interpretation, relying instead on subjective conviction. Similarly, sermons and prayers today can be enriched with pictorial images, but some can be misleading and unhelpful for the life of the Church.