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!

 

June 23, 2014

Book Review: God is Near by Clark Bunch

“Reading about incarnate deity shouldn’t be a chore. This part of the story in particular should feel more like taking a child to a parade than loading the dishwasher.” ~Clark Bunch, God is Near, p. 65

What if I asked you to take several pages and give me overview of the Bible? What is it saying? How do the various stories fit together? Does any of this matter to me?

Being part of the Christian blogosphere has allowed me to interact with some of the greatest people on the planet, but there are some writers in particular who I feel are a kindred spirit. One of those is Clark Bunch who blogs at The Master’s Table, and I was honored when he asked me if I would be one of a select group to review his book, God Is Near: His Promise To His People (Outskirts Press).

God is Near - Clark BunchClark has taken on the unenviable task of blending two objectives into a single book, and keeping that book under 100 pages: To show the immanence (nearness) of God in relationship to His people, and provide an overview of the wider arc of the Bible’s big story.

The result is a concise, informal Bible summary that offers great giveaway potential to that person in your circle of friends who has started asking questions about your faith; but also offers a few insights for those of us who have been in church from infancy.

Eight of the ten chapters concentrate on the Old Testament underpinnings of our faith, but show the foreshadowing of the promise to come. With an almost poetic cadence, each chapter affirms the immanence of God, but without sacrificing the transcendence.

Some of the best portions of the book are where Clark breaks from the narrative to offer some personal glimpses as well as his own insights into the texts. I particularly liked the comparison of the Passover to Christ himself, or the relationship between heaven as depicted in Isaiah and as described in Revelation.

From my perspective, God is Near is a great appetizer. It sets up the reader to want to learn more; to ask more questions.

God is Near is available on ebook in a Kindle edition; or your local bookstore can order it in print from Ingram. You can follow Clark Bunch’s blog (link above) or keep up with book buying opportunities on @Godisnearbook on Twitter, or at this page at Outskirts Press.


Read an excerpt from God is Near that appeared at Christianity 201.


 

 For my Canadian readers, buying the print version of God is Near may be a challenge. A similar project both in purpose and page length, by a Canadian author was reviewed here a few weeks ago.  Read about God Enters Stage Left by Tim Day.

 

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