Visual Theology

Challies and Byers introduce Visual Theology by saying, “we live in a visual culture, increasingly relying on infographics and other visuals to help us understand new and difficult concepts.” Challies and Byers are spot on with this need and the first thing that struck me about their book is how aesthetically pleasing its production was. I try to buy as many books as I can via Kindle today, but was glad in retrospect to be unable to purchase this book in that medium. The book is well designed and even the feel of the pages makes a reader happy.

That said, the title itself is a bit misleading. The book wasn't visual in the way I anticipated nor was it theology in the way I anticipated. Once I re-calibrated my expectations as I read the book I was much happier, but I do wonder if the title will make more readers than just myself surprised by the contents. The visuals are almost mostly word art, with some infographics thrown in. Depending on your tastes, this might be disappointing. It was to me. That isn't to say that some of the art isn't very helpful (Byers infographic on the books of the Bible with information about date of writing and authorship is fantastic, for one), but that at least to me a fair portion didn't inspire or lead me to a deepened understanding as I would have hoped. 

Likewise, Challies's writing (which he fully acknowledges) is not attempting to plunge deep, but rather sweeps through four basic categories of becoming and living as a Christian: (1) Grow Close to Christ, (2) Understand the Work of Christ, (3) Become Like Christ, and (4) Live for Christ. Unsurprisingly given that division (but surprising to me given the title) the book is much more practical and basic than intellectual and historical. 

Far and away my favorite section was found in the first part of "Becoming Like Christ" where Challies as clearly as I've heard anywhere explains how we destroy sin in our lives. It is an excellent practical and succinct contemporization of John Owen's "Of The Mortification of Sin." This section alone makes the book well worth reading and using. 

I hope to use Visual Theology (particularly the section just mentioned) in counseling as well as in some introductory classes. Additionally, I hope the book finds its way into the hands of many as a first introduction to practical theology. Finally, I do hope for more books to be written in this vein. I would love to see, for instance, a book where Makoto Fujimura or Bruce Herman partnered with a theologian to provide a more abstract and contemplative take on the same premise.