This has always been a subject of debate. As a child growing up on the mission field, I remember that another missionary in the city where my parents served parted company with them over their use of flannel-graph figures. It was a Bibleteaching method of the time for children that involved colored cut-outs of biblical characters, scenes, and animals displayed on a flannel-covered board. He was particularly opposed to figures representing Christ, believing this was a form of idolatry.
Certainly, no specific description of Christ’s appearance is given in Scripture except the general statement that He had “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2). I’m sure there is good reason for the omission. As one of my students wrote, if we had been given physical descriptions of Jesus, people would have been trying to look like Him, dyeing their hair to get His hair color, cutting their hair to have His hairstyle.
Nevertheless, Christ was human; He had a face and a body; it is natural that as human beings, we want to see a face and to imagine a three-dimensional person. So, we probably get used to the image of Christ most predominantly displayed in our childhood. In my case, that image was Warner Salman’s rendition, perhaps the one mentioned in the question above, which has been reproduced literally millions of times. It is still the way I see Christ instinctively.
While it is significant that we see the incarnated Christ, that we have an image, what is more crucial is to know that our image is simply that, an image. In the interest of not getting locked into one mental picture and to note how others have seen Him, it is an interesting exercise to look at a book of artistic renditions of Christ by a plethora of artists from many different parts of the world, images that often capture something about the life of Christ that seems significant to the artist. The variety is fascinating and often inspiring.
Most crucial, finally, is that we focus on who Christ was by reading the Gospels where we have a tremendous range of specific details about what He said, what He did, what He thought was wrong, and how He loved—enough to give us the mental, emotional, and spiritual landscape of His life. He is the One who lived a perfect life and continues to be a model of the best life ever lived.