What Color is God’s Skin

“What Color is God’s Skin” is the title of a song from the folk era of the 60s, by the group Up With People. Yes, I remember the song well…

The color of God’s skin and Santa’s skin came up this week  on “The Kelly File” with Megyn Kelly.  Ms Kelly says that both Santa and Jesus are white.

Ms Kelly was responding to an article by Aisha Harris in “Slate” in which Ms Harris writes a personal account of her childhood feelings of exclusion brought on by the culturally created white Santa.  Ms Harris suggests a more inclusive Santa – a Penguin.

Ms Kelly and the panel didn’t think much of the idea.  You can see their discussion here.  Personally, I don’t have any trouble grasping a Penguin Claus.  Once you give a guy magical elves and the power to squeeze his roly-poly body down billions of chimneys in one night, anything is possible.

I do have a bit of trouble with Ms Kelly’s assertion that Jesus is white.  After presenting her view that Santa is white, she said, “Jesus was a white man, too.  It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure, that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that…”

Yes, our view of Santa comes courtesy of Coca Cola and Clement Moore, and Santa is white in those depictions.  No argument there.

But Jesus’ race?  Behold the power of pictures. European art throughout the centuries have shown Jesus as a white man.  It stuck.  Pick up one of those “Bible Story” books in a Sunday School classroom and you’ll see a white Jesus on the pages.  The baby Jesus in the manger of our Nativity on the buffet in our dining room is white, blond-haired, blue-eyed and rosy-cheeked.   Millions of people watched The History Channel’s The Bible and they saw a light-skinned Jesus.

Does it matter?  I think so.  It matters historically and theologically.
Christianity is an historical faith.  It is rooted in historically verifiable events.  We value that.  So, let’s value what history teaches us about Jesus’ race.  Jesus was Jewish.   Jesus lived in Palestine.  In 2001 a team of British anthropologists and forensic scientists created a hypothetical model of Jesus’ face based on the skull of a first century Jew.  Guess what.  He’s not white. Some people are uncomfortable with that? Wonder why?

Let’s be true to history.

Theologically, it matters. It’s interesting to me that every culture makes Jesus look like them.  African Jesus.  Asian Jesus.  Touchdown Jesus.  Why?  I think it has something to do with the incarnation – you know, what Christmas is all about.
God becoming one of us.
God connecting to, identifying with – becoming us!  WOW!

These different portrayals of Jesus help us to get our hearts around the theological truth that God knows us, understands us, identifies with us.
He gets us.
Because He became us.  All of us.

So, what color is God’s skin?  I’m happy with the answer given in the rest of the song: It is black, brown, yellow, it is red and it is white.  Everyone’s the same in the good Lord’s sight.

Greasy Grace

I don’t do grease.  I don’t cook with it (My choice these days is olive or coconut oil).  I used to grease my car back when cars weren’t so complicated, but no more. I pay someone else to do that.  I don’t even know if cars get greased anymore. In the 60s I would grease my hair – “a little dab’ll do ya” – now it’s pomade or something like that.

I found out a few days ago, though, that when it comes to Christianity, I am greasy.

A person who attends the church I pastor and who is part of a small group to which I belong told the group that he was accused of going to that “Greasy Grace” church. I wonder if the guy who made the statement has ever been to the church on which he slapped the label.  Has he heard me preach? I don’t know.

“Greasy Grace” church?  I had never heard of the term.   A quick Google search and I realized that the statement was not intended to be a compliment. I didn’t think it was.   People who make such statements usually make similar statements such as, “That preacher is soft on sin”, or “He is just giving them a license to sin” and, “You just don’t understand what it means to live holy.”  Oftentimes, “greasy grace” is combined with the catchy term, “sloppy agape.”  Nice.

I do preach grace.  No doubt about that.  I believe that:

– grace is the “good news”
– Jesus replaced a law-based religion with a grace-based relationship.
– Jesus replaced an obedience driven by fear, guilt and bargaining (If I am good, then God will be good) with a fresh motivation to follow Him out of love and joy.
-everything comes to us by grace.  To believe that we have to work for God’s blessings is to try and buy that which is not for sale.
– instead of following lists of rules Jesus calls people to follow Him.
– sin is overcome by grace.

The accusations against pro-grace people have been around a long time.  Paul was accused of promoting sin and reckless living.  Listen to what he said:  “And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, ‘The more we sin, the better it is!’ Those who say such things deserve to be condemned” (Romans 3:8 NLT)  Tough words.

These guys follow Paul’s lead… What do you think?

From D. Martin Lloyd-Jones:

There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel… I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you really are preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament…

Romans: The New Man, An Exposition of Chapter 6

From Charles Swindoll, commenting on the above comment:

“To all fellow ministers, if you claim to be a messenger of grace, if you think you are really preaching grace, yet no one is taking advantage of it, maybe you haven’t preached it hard enough or strong enough.  I can assure you of this: Grace-killing ministers will never have that charge brought against them.  They make sure of that!”

The Grace Awakening

Grace is big. Too big for me to understand.  I just re-read a book by Steve Brown, Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary.  Check out these quotes:

“You ought to live your life with such freedom and joy that uptight Christians will doubt your salvation.”  Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom

“The only people who get better are people who know that, if they never get better, God will love them anyway.”  Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom

“Religion can make people mean, angry, gloomy, critical, judgmental, and neurotic.  Religion can also become an abuser of Christians.  I have seen so many people hurt by religion that sometimes I think it would be better to be a pagan.  Worst of all, religion can keep you from God…Something about institutional Christianity (as necessary as it is) will kill your freedom if you aren’t careful.  Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom

Sounds greasy.

The statement made to my small group friend may have been intended as a criticism.  I think I’ll look at it as a compliment.