In 2016, a friend of mine shared a Tim Challies article on Facebook. I enjoyed the article, but I thought nothing of it. A few days after reading that article, I happened to come across Tims latest book, Visual Theology. It was a coincidence as I had no desire to read it. But I noticed that this was no ordinary book. Within its pages are colourful drawings and illustrations to help teach theology. In my curiosity, I decided to buy it.
For those like myself that do not know Tim Challies, he is a Pastor, writer, and author. He is a frequent writer on his blog: challies.com. At more than thirty thousand visits a day, his blog has become one of the most widely read and recognizable Christian blogs in the world. He has authored several books with Visual Theology being his most recent work. Challies also reviews books; A LOT of them. His consistent reading has established him as a prominent book reviewer. His reviews on challies.com span as far back as June, 2003. To my pleasant surprise, he shares in his bio section he is a Canadian residing in the outskirts of Toronto. Having said that, this is the first book by a Canadian author I am reviewing.
Visual Theology is co-authored by Josh Byers. Byers' main contribution is designing all the visual illustrations, diagrams, and infographics. I would like to believe with Byers being a communications pastor in Iowa, he was able to write some of his own ideas and thoughts in Visual Theology. But I am uncertain. There is nothing to suggest if any of the writing is his own. So I will assume most, if not all the writing in Visual Theology belongs to Challies while all the designs belong to Byers. Do not let the visual graphics, thin spine, wide margins, and one-hundred sixty page length deceive you. There is a fair amount to read with its smaller font size.
As Challies states, Visual Theology is a book about growing in godliness. How to live the Christian life, and how to train yourself to not only know truth, but to put those beliefs into action. Like an athlete that trains towards health, growth, and maturity, this is also true for the Christian. Visual Theology consists of four sections. First section speaks on the privilege of a relationship with God. The second section speaks on the work of Christ and how God is working in a much larger story we are in. The third section is on becoming like Christ. This involves breaking sinful habits, and creating new habits of righteous behaviour. The final section speaks on what living for Christ looks like in our lives today.
Like his book reviews, Challies has an incredible writing style. I have great admiration for the way he articulates his thoughts; Simple and to the point. He is not afraid to challenge the presuppositions of other authors. His writing has challenged me to think more in a critical way. I also appreciate that Challies quotes most scripture instead of referencing it. He lays out the basic truths about God in a simple way that most readers should not walk away confused. His analogies are also helpful towards understanding what living for Christ looks like.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of knowing your identity who you are in relation to Christ. Your new identity makes all the difference. It changes everything as you live this Christian Life. If you want to grow close to Christ, you need to know who you are and you need to know whose you are: You are in Christ, and you belong to Christ. There's no better person to be, and no better place to be. - page 38
The Bible tells us we are living within a great story, a great drama. In fact, it tells us this whole universe is a stage that exists to tell a story. You are one of the actors. In order to grow and mature in the Christian faith, you need to come to a sharper and deeper understanding of this drama that you are part of something bigger, that something of cosmic, eternal importance is unfolding around you, through you, and in you. As a Christian you are at your healthiest when you understand the fact that you are in a story and when you live with an awareness of your place within it. - page 65
Christian, you are alive. You have been made alive by God and have the ability to act like it. Stop running back to the grave. Stay with Jesus, abide in Jesus, and put your sin to death today and everyday. Apply yourself to the daily battle against sin and expect that God will meet you in that battle. Expect that he will lead you to victory. As much as you hate your sin, you can be certain that God hates it far more. No matter how committed you are to putting that sin to death, you can be certain that God is even more committed. - page 103
In this book, Challies theology is sound, but not at deep as I would have hoped for. In his defense, he makes it clear that Visual Theology is an introduction to Christian doctrine, and is not meant to be thorough. There is a lot of helpful insight about Christ, the Gospel, and the Bible. But I noticed there was little spoken about God as the Father and the Holy Spirit. Challies explains our identity in Christ, but many people are often confused on the identity of God. How is there one God, but in the form of three persons? Challies does provide further reading about the trinity. Also, Byers did in fact design a beautiful poster explaining the Trinity. There are also several other awesome poster designs that you can check out at the website visualtheology.church. This would have been a great opportunity to add this design in the book. Instead, it was left omitted as separate poster item for sale. A few of the designs in the book are also plain without adding much insight for the reader. But I will say most of Byers visuals are creative and clever. They do in fact help explain most teachings such as stewardship, vocation, and putting sin to death. But there was a few missed opportunities to use visuals towards more concepts. Concepts such as the church, baptism, the kingdom of God, and spiritual warfare. Even though Visual Theology was not meant to be thorough, an extra forty pages could have helped explain some of these extra topics. It also would have round the book off at a nice even two-hundred pages.
Visual Theology has found an innovative way to stand out in a sea of theological books. It is an accurate introductory book for anyone curious or confused about certain teachings of Christianity and who God is. I place an important emphasis on the word introductory as it needs to be treated like that. This is not a deep read for the strong intellectual. This is a basic read for the curious visual learner. This is not an overwhelming read by any sense. Having said that, Visual Theology leaves more to be desired from Challies and Byers. Challies is correct when he explains it would take many volumes to scrape the surface on everything God taught us. So let us hope this is the start of more volumes like this to come.
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