Thinking Out Loud

April 21, 2016

Visual Theology: Part of a New Generation of Reading Materials for Non-Readers

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end…
Ecclesiastes 12:12a KJV

If Solomon were alive today he might well be more accurate to say that of the writing of Facebook posts, blog articles and Tweets there is no end. Literacy is waning, attention spans are decreased and the time and money available for purchasing reading materials is being diverted to tech-based pastimes.

Rather than abandon ship, a number of people are producing materials aimed at keeping us interested in what’s on the printed page. As you’re reading more recently produced resources you’re likely to see a greater use of colors, varied fonts, sub-headers and sub-sub-headers and call-outs, those little boxes of reiterated text at the side of the page intended to draw attention to particular sentences (sometimes referred to as pull-quotes).

In the world of Christian publishing we find for example, Rose Publications providing what I call “fast facts for a bullet-point world” — they’re welcome to use that phrase — in a series of about a hundred laminated pamphlets, not dissimilar to the laminated charts you used in college science courses when there wasn’t time to read the textbook. Church history, The Temple, The Feasts, The Prophets, teachings on Baptism, translation comparison, the Fruit of the Spirit, the Armor of God and the Names of God are just a few of the many titles that condense information for those who just want the Cliffs Notes on a given topic.

Another way information is communicated online is through info-graphics, and we’ve seen this break into mainstream Christian publishing through products such as The Quickview Bible which we reviewed here a few years back. If I had a nickel for everyone I know who in the past twelve months who has used the phrase, “I’m a visual learner…”

Visual Theology coverInto this arena steps Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God by Tim Challies and Josh Byers (Zondervan, 2016). Because you’re reading this on your computer or phone, the Challies brand should be familiar to you. Despite originating in Canada, challies.com ranks in the top ten on many U.S. lists of the top Christian blogs, spurred on greatly by the predilection of his neo-Reformed, New Calvinist tribe to be among the most active online. Publishers pay real money to run “sponsored posts” on his blog; his Amazon referrer income is probably the envy of thousands of other bloggers; and as we found out one time, a simple mention on his à la carte daily link list can send daily reader stats skyrocketing. It’s no surprise that as a result of his blog, subtitled “Informing the Reforming,” he is now able to write full-time.

Never one to be content with past accomplishments, Tim Challies continues to re-invent the blog with a now daily quotation graphic, and a few years back introduced a number of info-graphics by Iowa communications pastor Josh Byers. While these form the distinctive element of Visual Theology and were certainly the backbone of the book’s elevator pitch, it’s the ones done as flowcharts that I think are most engaging, especially the two-pager (pp 96-7) on How To Put Sin to Death.

In terms of overall organization, the book is divided into four sections:

  • Grow Close to Christ
  • Understand the Work of Christ
  • Become Like Christ
  • Live for Christ.

with two or three chapters for each. The actual text sections — and despite the liberal use of color there’s more text here than I may be describing — are written in fairly plain language including some helpful illustrations from the author’s experiences. This is a book that non-readers — a group especially encompassing teens, twenty-somethings and males of all ages — would find very accessible.

Visual Theology

Additionally, Visual Theology is a great resource for either the person wondering, ‘What does it mean to be a Christian?’ or the person whose current status is more of, ‘I’ve just made a commitment to become a Christian, so what do I need to know or do next?’ In terms of elementary things the Christ-follower needs to know, the book is no doubt indebted to Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (who also writes the foreword) and other books of that genre, but without the dryness or clinical treatment that sometimes accompanies Christian academic or reference works.

Remarkably, the book is mostly denominationally neutral. Though the footnoted sources betray Challies’ roots and preferences (Tim Keller, Dane Ortland, R. C. Sproul,  C. J. Mahaney, John Owen, etc.) I was impressed by the doctrinal evenhandedness the book presents. True, my Anglican friends would cringe at the suggestion that ordinances means the same as sacraments, but I actually appreciated the inclusion of both terms.

In the author’s hometown, there is a congregation that advertises themselves as, “a church for people who aren’t into church.” Well, this is a book for people who aren’t into books. A gospel primer for adults, if you will.

Considering the graphic design and printing process that went into creating this book, the 156 page paperback is a steal at $17.99 US; and for the nerd in the family, the books of the Bible listed in the style of The Periodic Table of Elements is worth the price of admission.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for much-appreciated copy of Visual Theology which, if I loan it out to friends, I will probably not get back!

 

Advertisements

March 19, 2012

Campus Alpha Now in 7-Week Format

Two weeks ago I was given a copy of an updated edition of the campus version of the Alpha Course, the popular evangelism and discipleship course which originated with Holy Trinity Church in Brompton, a district west of the London city centre.

Most people associate the course with Nicky Gumbel, although he didn’t start the course, but greatly popularized it after arriving on staff at the church in 1990. Since then, Alpha has been spun off in a variety of revisions, translated into a variety of languages, and customized to suit a variety of denominations. There is a prison version of Alpha, and it’s one of the few Christian resources for which study guides are available in Braille.

In the youth edition of Alpha, talks are always given live, no DVDs are used. But in the student/young adult/campus version the talks I saw feature a younger presenter, Jamie Haith.

Haith presents the course standing next to a video monitor in a manner not unfamiliar to fans of Andy Stanley. There are also some animated sections which are rather brilliantly synced with the live commentary.

But like its parent curriculum, Campus Alpha is again a lecture format. A university or college student who is open to investigating the Christian faith — the stated purpose of Alpha after all — is going to listen attentively to these lectures as do the students in the live audience.

Is that the best way to communicate with postmoderns? I’ve already expressed in this blog a bias toward an alternative, the mini-movie format H20 course, referring to it as “Alpha meets NOOMA.” While that course’s distribution has been passed like a hot potato from Standard Publishing to Thomas Nelson, it’s best days may be yet ahead, as the new Not a Fan DVD curriculum has greatly enhanced the profile of host Kyle Idleman. It’s so hard for so many of us to break away from the sermon paradigm; to move beyond propositional preaching.

But with Alpha, many times it’s the already-converted who take the course — sometimes several times — to deepen their understanding of basic core doctrines. So many times Campus Alpha is delivering to an audience already on side.

While some will argue that college and career ministry is neither middle school nor high school ministry, I keep thinking that in dealing with the broader spectrum of “youth,” some of the references (i.e.:to owning, or wanting to own a wristwatch), or quoting classical theologians maxims in Latin are just not the best strategies in connecting; again, especially with a postmodern environment. The audience listens politely, but doesn’t necessarily react to the attempts at humor.

Still, if Haith is simply following Nicky Gumbel’s script, he does it perfectly. His apparent passion for the subject matter makes him more than just what the Brits would call a ‘presenter.’

This is material that we all need to review from time to time. In the U.S., acceptance of the Alpha Course has been geographically spotty. If you haven’t heard of it, suggest to your church leadership they consider hosting either an adult version of Alpha or, if you live in a ‘college town,’ the revised 7-week Campus Alpha.

This is absolutely solid material, but don’t expect a lecture format to connect with every university or college student.


NOTE:  The 7-week course is in fact now being used in non-campus settings because of its length being shorter than the 10-week version hosted by Nicky Gumbel; however when referring to the length of both, it’s important to mention the retreat weekend courses comprise additional lectures, in this case three more, bringing the total to ten.

Also, in the revised format I was given to review, I’m told that more revisions took place with the support materials than in what is seen on-screen.

Finally, the entire package is being distributed pre-loaded on a flash drive, not with physical DVD discs.

Blog at WordPress.com.