Why I'm Ok with a "Black" Jesus

If you were to close your eyes and imagine what Jesus looked like, my guess is that like most people, you would envision a white looking guy with a beard, a long skinny nose, and long flowing hair. Historically, that's how Jesus has looked in just about every painting, statue, and movie that we've ever seen.

Chances are, however, that you've never imagined Jesus Christ as a black man.

And there is good reason for that, of course. Historically speaking, Jesus Christ is a descendant of Abraham, and is of Jewish ancestory. Though we obviously have no photograph of Jesus, it is very likely that Jesus Christ looks a bit more like Jerry Seinfeld or Mel Brooks than he does Samuel L. Jackson or Will Smith.

But what if, for a moment, you imagined Jesus Christ as a black man? Or, what if somebody made a painting, sculpture, or movie in which Jesus Christ was depicted as black?

Would you be ok with that?

My guess is that the chances are, you would not. And you would cite the historical and Biblical reasons as to why such is the case. And for all those reasons, I would say you are right.

Except... however, you would also be wrong to say such on Biblical grounds.

Consider the following:
10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him-- 11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. ~ (Colossians 3:10-11; NASB)
In the above passage, the apostle Paul encourages us to see ourselves no longer according to the ways of thinking that govern the old creation. Instead, we need to see ourselves as part of a "new creation," in which we are given a "new self." And in our newly created self, we are no longer to find our identity in our racial, ethnic, or social makeup. For in the new creation that God is making, Jesus Christ transcends all these old distinctions, and obliterates them.

Indeed, the apostle Paul doesn't just teach that Christ transcends all of these things. Instead, Paul actually sees Jesus as becoming all these things. "Christ IS all, and IN all." (vs. 11) Thus, in the resurrection, Jesus Christ's identity is no longer merely that of a Jewish man. Rather, His identity is also bound up with the Greek man as well as the Jew, and all other manner of race of men.

Thus, theologically speaking, it would be correct to say that Jesus Christ is of Jewish ancestry. But, it would also be correct to say that Jesus Christ is also a white European, with blond hair, and blue eyes. And, it would also be correct to say that Jesus Christ is also a black man from Africa. And as such, I am perfectly ok with Jesus being depicted in artwork as any of the above. Jesus Christ is all, and is in all.

And in this Christmas season, if your nativity scene just happens to have Jesus as a white baby, a Chinese baby, or a black baby... then all is well. And this Sunday in worship, if you close your eyes and imagine Jesus looking like somebody born somewhere besides the land of Judea, then so be it.

Now, some of you might wonder why I've even bothered to write something like this short essay?

Well, with all the polarizing racial tension and divide our country has experienced in recent months, I thought something like this could be an important thing to share in somehow doing my part to promote healing regarding race relations in our country. For deep down inside, there is something of this old creation that beats in all of our hearts, that causes men to identify with their particular tribe or race. Contrary to the popular teaching of some, racism is not merely a taught behavior. It is something that is very much part of our fallen humanity, and is something we are born with.

The truth of the matter is, the racial tensions we experience grow out of our inability to identify with a race other than the one we naturally identify with. Ten out of ten times, we identify with the group we perceive to be most like us. Black and white people have tensions with one another, not merely because of histories in our nation that center around injustices, but because there is something of this old fallen man that we receive as the sons and daughters of Adam, that causes us to have our identity bound up in things that ultimately separate us and divide us from one another.

However, the new creation that God is making through Jesus Christ asks us to no longer identify ourselves with our white and black racial identities and heritages. In the new creation, we've made a break with our past, even as Jesus Christ has with His. Now, Jesus Christ not only identifies with all races of mankind, but having become all races Himself, He also asks us to participate with Him in this new identity as part of His new creation.

If you think of yourself as a black man, or a white man, you need to stop doing that. Instead, you need to start thinking of yourself as the one new man that is found in Christ Jesus. And as such, you can transcend the racial divide that is part of the old order, and you are freed to identify yourself with all men, of every race, tribe, nation, and tongue. Theologically speaking, our hope for racial reconciliation is to be found in the loving arms of the "black" Jesus... and the Jewish one, the white one, and the Chinese Jesus.

After all, Jesus Christ is ALL, and in ALL.


Artificially Intelligent Preachers

Recently, the famous theoretical physicist and cultural icon, Stephen Hawking told the BBC that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could pose a real potential threat to the existence of mankind.

Such a thought has been explored in numerous science fiction works and movies over the years, and generally speaking, the idea of creating AI is looked at in apocalyptic type imagery. But lest you think the idea of AI is merely sci-fi fantasy, you might be startled to learn that it is something that computer scientists and engineers have been seriously exploring for decades in real life. And truth be told, they are on to something.

For example, in 1997 IBM developed a super computer named "Deep Blue" that was taught how to play chess. Deep Blue developed enough skill that it was able to defeat Grand Master and reigning world champion Garry Gasparov in a series of tournament chess matches. Kasparov was champion for 15 years, and is generally considered the greatest chess player to ever live. Deep Blue's victory over Kasparov was no small accomplishment.

More recently, companies like Google have been heavily involved in AI research and development. A lot of the controversial "data mining" they are engaged in is used towards creating brains for super computers, and, is in part, one of the many reasons Google is able to accurately "guess" on-the-fly what you are likely searching for when you start typing your search query into Google.com.

While sci-fi fantasy largely looks at the emergence of AI as something potentially negative, to date, the contributions behind the research and development of AI has been extremely positive. Largely, AI research and development has been a force for good. Keeping this in mind then, perhaps our sci-fi fantasy future casting needs to look at AI as less of a threat, and more as a positive contribution. So, instead of Skynet/Terminator/Matrix type images, we need to start thinking about AI in terms of Star Wars droids like C3PO and R2D2.

If AI yields us friendly benevolent computers capable of good, I would like to propose a simple question: In the future, how might the church leverage AI for the purpose of the gospel?

Could we create artificially intelligent theologians, preachers, and even praise and worship leaders?

Can you imagine a robot engaged in complicated Biblical exegesis, who is able to engage in original thought, and in one nano-second is able to yield fresh theological insight from research it conducts in original languages, studying all available Biblical manuscripts, and making use of all scholarly material available on every subject matter? Such a machine could possibly produce new "authoritative" translations of the Bible, available in all languages across the globe, and give us answers to theological problems that have long plagued scholars.

Can you imagine a robot evangelist, who could simul-cast his messages over the internet into churches around the world, teaching us the gospel of Jesus Christ, and doing so in constantly fresh and culturally relevant ways? Not only that, the robot evangelist would be able to develop the most efficient and strategic forms of outreach, and to think of new and clever ways to reach the lost.

Can you imagine a robot praise and worship leader (or band!), who has a knowledge of every hymn and song every written, and is able to compose new songs unto the Lord, and to lead a congregation into the deepest worship experience possible?

Artificial intelligence might not only change the world, but it might also change the way we do church.

...Or, it may just produce an army of Terminators who want to kill everybody in the world, just like scientists like Stephen Hawking warned us about.