Some of the most famous American paintings of Jesus were done by artist Warner Sallman (1892-1968). If you grew up in a Christian environment (Protestant or Catholic), you’ve seen these pictures in your church and maybe had them in your home. Christianity Today did a write up on Sallman a while back. His two best known paintings are: “The Head of Christ“, and “Christ at Heart’s Door“.
Some say that these the pictures have outlived their usefulness – that they are a bit of a “Velvit Elvis” (something unique to the older generation, that younger people don’t find helpful). They have also been criticized for making Jesus look too soft and too European. I appreciate the criticisms, but like the pictures anyway. My favorite is “Christ at Heart’s Door“. It is based on a passage from Revelation 3:20: Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
When I was growing up, Dad had “Christ at Heart’s Door” hung in his study. I remember asking Dad why Jesus was knocking on the door. He explained that the door represented my heart. If I asked Jesus to come in, he would. These sorts of conversations with Dad bring back fond memories.
It’s interesting to note some of the Arminian aspects of the painting, First, Christ is knocking on the door, not kicking it in. Second, there is no handle to the door, the person inside needs to open it.
Lastly, it’s interesting how these pictures have represented a sort of “icon” for American Protestants. While icons are common to some other Christian traditions, American Protestants have generally avoided them.