by Susan Trollinger
One of the great things about academic research is that you never know in advance what you are going to encounter. You enter an archive. You open a book. You start watching a movie. You begin to interview subjects. You dig into survey results. You embark on a scientific experiment. And you do not know in advance what you are going to find. That is what makes research a blast and, when we are at our best, it is what keeps us humble.
So, when Bill and I crossed the threshold of the Creation Museum for the first time in January 2008, we had no idea what we would encounter. But given Answers in Genesis’s explicit claim to be an apologetics ministry, one of the last things we thought we would encounter is a paucity of Jesus. Seriously? The Messiah? The one for whom the whole religion is named was barely there? As we point out in Righting America at the Creation Museum:
[I]t is striking how little “Jesus” is to be found at the Creation Museum. While there are a great many placards throughout the museum with quotes from the Bible, few of these placards contain a quote from Jesus. Visual representations of Jesus in the museum appear to be limited to a white statue that is usually confined to a corner outside the Last Adam Theater (except, it seems, during the Christmas season when it appears in the Main Hall) and images of Jesus as he is being crucified that appear in The Last Adam film (Righting America 48).
In spring of 2017, Answers in Genesis unveiled a new three-room exhibit dedicated to Jesus. Thus, they addressed the striking lack of Jesus. But who is the Jesus that appears in those three rooms?
Early in the exhibit, placards identify groups that have Jesus wrong: Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims—folks who think he was a created being or “simply a prophet.” Or worse—secularists who think Jesus was “gentle and never judgmental.”
By contrast, the Jesus of the Creation Museum is powerful and authoritative. He “raised at least three people from the dead.” He “performed countless miracles during His ministry, just as the prophets foretold. He repeatedly demonstrated His power and authority over sicknesses, disabilities, nature, the supernatural realms, and death itself.”
Moreover, he provided proof of his divinity that rises even to modern empirical standards: “After He rose from the dead, Jesus proved that He was alive again as He appeared to various people over the next 40 days. He walked and talked with them, and He ate and drank with them.”
And what is important about Jesus’ resurrection is that it proves his claims to divinity and God’s approval: “This amazing miracle demonstrates that God fully endorsed the work and claims of Jesus. This is particularly significant in regard to Christ’s claims of divinity. . . . Therefore, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ proves both His divinity and that He had God’s absolute approval.”
God’s approval, absolute approval, divinity, power, claims made and proven, authority, miracles, history anticipated and revealed. The Jesus at the Creation Museum is the A-Team if there ever was one.
Representations are always selective. And to purchase this one, there is much about Jesus that must be bracketed.
- There certainly can’t be sustained attention to the Sermon on the Mount, in which among other things, Jesus calls his followers to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, to love even our enemies, and in which Jesus teaches us to pray for the forgiveness of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (Matthew 5-7).
- Likewise, Jesus’ knowing and willing submission to the Roman authorities following Judas’s betrayal doesn’t fit the superhero Jesus of the Creation Museum (Mark 14: 43-50).
- And the Jesus who generously extends grace again and again to “untouchables” like the Samaritan woman at the well (someone most Jews of Jesus’ day wouldn’t even talk to) who Jesus knew already had five husbands and was living with a sixth man she wasn’t even married to also doesn’t make an appearance at the Creation Museum (John 4: 7-26).
- Then there’s the Jesus who, thanks to God’s great love for us, died for us even when we were sinners (Romans 5: 8). I think even Ken Ham would have to agree that that is not exactly a culture war move. Maybe that’s why such a Jesus doesn’t make an appearance at the Creation Museum.
While “Jesus” is on display at the Creation Museum now in a much more visible way than He was before, we have to ask—which Jesus? Who is this powerful, authoritative, God-approved, superhero Jesus? And what point is being made with this Jesus? And is that point the kind of point to which Jesus would give his assent? What about Jesus is ignored? And what sort of Christian is formed by this Jesus?
I don’t know about you, but I want the Jesus by the well. I want the Jesus who can’t stop sharing his grace with those who all the “respectable” people of his time couldn’t countenance. I have no need for the superhero, muscular Jesus.
If that means I’m secular (which I’m not), so be it.