Thinking Out Loud

June 30, 2018

Knowledge Churches Assume You Have

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:04 am

There’s a place not far from our home where we pick strawberries every year. Our two sons even worked on this farm one summer. Occasionally it’s closed and you have to drive about 3 miles to their other location. That’s what happened on Thursday.

We pulled into the driveway but didn’t see any cars and as it wasn’t my turn to drive, I noticed out the corner of my eye a very small sign directing people to go north another mile and turn left. I remembered this location from the one time we had been there and we found it without difficulty, but this was, after all, our third attempt to get some fresh berries. Further, as we’d already done the majority of our picking for freezing, it meant the single basket we would pick was getting rather expensive vis-a-vis the price of gas.

When we got out of the car and politely told of our journey, the owner was rather indignant. “Everybody knows where we are;” she said. She did confess when we were leaving that a slightly larger sign had blown away — no mention of it being replaced — and had no response when I suggested the possibility that people new to the area might want to pick berries, too.  My wife pointed out that our second stop was in fact the address which appears online. There’s no mention of this one, which she described as “our main location” and the one which is “open every day.”

Sigh!

Do churches do the same thing? I think we do in two different categories.

First, like the fruit and vegetable farm, we assume everybody knows our location, our service times, etc. We can assume that on arrival people know where to park and where to take their kids for the children’s program.

Second, we can assume that people know basic theology. We can get absorbed in ‘shop talk’ or ‘inside baseball’ or even fall into the trap of using “Christianese” which we get but in an increasingly secularized society, few visitors would understand.

Our services can appear visitor-friendly with our neutral auditoriums, comfortable seats, contemporary music and relevant preaching; but when it comes to the actual content were communicating, we can fail to convey our message because for us, the doctrines and narratives we’ve grown up with all our lives have been ubiquitous to the point of being part of our DNA.

Furthermore, if we fail in visitor-friendliness, we are probably also failing to properly educate any children who are sitting in on the adult service.

The cure is to ‘spark it to life’ somehow with both passion and using the gifts Jesus employed such as analogy or parable. This can only happen when we acknowledge –generally, not individually — the spiritual newbies and seekers who may be among us. These teaching methods can actually be helpful to seasoned spiritual veterans, because it may give them some fresh vocabulary with which to engage with their own friends.

If you have any questions, everybody knows how to find me.

Oh, wait… that was the whole point, wasn’t it?

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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!

 

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