'Kitsch Jesus': Have we sold the Saviour short with 'Hallmark card' representations?
Popular Christian writer, speaker and broadcaster Sheridan Voysey has written a blog examining the church's portrayal of Jesus, and questioning the way we have come to understand him.
He begins by posting images that depict a character that he labels as "kitsch Jesus", and contends that the internet – and arguably the Church - is "littered" with such representations.
"Kitsch Jesus is a Jesus with straight teeth, perfect skin, who laughs at the devil while flashing his bright blue eyes and flicking his long flowing locks to one side," Voysey writes.
"Kitsch Jesus is a lavender-scented Hallmark-card Jesus, who is all pixies and daisies and skipping through the fields; who cuddles his lambs while blowing kisses to sinners.
"Kitsch Jesus isn't all bad. Not by any means. He reminds us that the real Jesus is present and that he cares. But kitsch Jesus has a problem.
"Kitsch Jesus is a Jesus without scars."
Voysey suggests that by focussing solely on a soft, gentle and sentimental image of Jesus, and forgetting the real, raw pain of the cross, we are selling both him, and ourselves, short.
"Yes, Christians believe in a victorious Christ who was resurrected from the dead – who brings wholeness, power and joy into our lives. But there is no resurrection without crucifixion, no victory without pain. While kitsch Jesus wanders the web without care or fear, the real Jesus sweats drops of blood.
"While kitsch Jesus holds out his soft clean hands, the real Jesus retains the scars from his ordeal, even after his resurrection.
"Kitsch Jesus sidesteps the crucifixion part of Jesus' life, proclaiming a pain-free faith in a Jesus without scars."
Voysey goes on to argue that this "robs" Jesus of his suffering; by glossing over the gritty reality of the crucifixion and the unimaginable pain of receiving the fullness of God's wrath on the cross we lose the heart of Jesus' mission: that God became incarnate and entered into our mess to save us from it in a majestic demonstration of the extent of his love (John 13:1).
"No other religion makes such a claim about its deity. All other gods remain distant from a sinful, broken world. This one doesn't," Voysey notes.
He adds that real suffering experienced by believers can bear an incredible witness to non-Christians, and in pretending that life with God is always smooth we negate the power of faithfulness in times of trial.
He also warns that holding 'kitsch' worship as the ideal will damage churches and encourage a weak and shallow faith based on circumstance, rather than unwavering hope.
"The only testimony worth sharing will be the glowing miracle story, not the mysterious way God transforms us through difficulty.
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"We all need our ideas about God re-calibrated," Voysey suggests. "Kitsch Jesus reminds us that God loves us and cares. The real Jesus strips those words of sentimentality, revealing a love made of nails and a care measured in tears."
The blog has been met with praise from many on social media, though Voyseytweeted it might "lose me some friends".
"This is brilliant. The Problem with Kitsch Jesus," director of Wycliffe Bible Translators UK, Eddie Arthur posted on Twitter on Wednesday.
"Kitsch has been defined as 'the beautiful lie' for a reason. It offers only the shallowest of representation of a truth. The viewer is not invited or provoked to truly grapple with the subject at hand," added Emily Dixon in a comment on Voysey's blog.
Peter David Meline joined the debate by referring to Isaiah 53: 2, which suggests that Jesus "had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him".
"Was Jesus an ugly man before he rose?" he asks, provoking discussion about the way that Jesus is almost always presented as good-looking in Christian art.
So is Voysey underlining a valid flaw in our understanding? Have we 'dumbed down' Jesus; distorted the reality of the cross and really just missed the point a bit?
In essence, yes. We will never have a full picture of God until we stand before him in eternity, and even then I suspect we will struggle to put into words the fullness of his majesty. When Ezekiel shares his vision of the throne room he resorts to describing the "likeness" of the things he sees, but cannot describe them, or God, directly.
"High above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there he down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him...This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." (Ezekiel 1 v 27-28)
John then has a similar experience as revealed in Revelation: "There before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there has the appearance of jasper and ruby." (Rev. 4:3)
As the Creator of all things, God is by very nature indescribable, and the complexities of Jesus are what mark him as Holy. He is fully God and fully human; both sacrificial lamb and the Lion of Judah; servant and King.
By failing to grapple with these paradoxes, we miss out on the fullness of his glory, and are left with a fluffy, fragile representation of the one we call Saviour.
Not to mention that when in times of genuine suffering, often the last thing we want is a niche oneliner small enough to fit onto a heart-shaped chalkboard or a 140-character-or-less 'uplifting' thought. We want a friend, a redeemer, and kitsch Jesus will never live up to the reality of the Jesus who bore our sins, shares our grief, and offers us true freedom in the promise of an eternity spent with him.