Posts Tagged ‘Diagrams’

I recently completed the book, “Visual Theology”, by Tim Challies and Josh Byers. I can recommend the book as a good overview of practical theology and encouragement in godly thinking and living. The book has colorful, well explained diagrams, infographics as the author calls them in keeping with the latest buzzword. A friend at church gave me the book because she knew that I like to teach using diagrams. I pursue diagram making to organize, simplify, help memory, and give insight into complex or voluminous concepts. I think my diagrams and tables have insight and are useful, realizing they may not communicate to all minds. A few examples include “Effort and Empowerment“, “Spiritual Growth“, “God’s Word and Community“.

A number of the diagrams in “Visual Theology” are instructive, convicting, and sufficiently deep to draw you into figuring them out. The one I found most useful and convicting was the one on pages 96-97 that is a flowchart about “How to put sin to death” by biblical thought and action. It rightly does not let one get off the hook with excuses. It does this by directing you to see that either you aren’t a Christian, you aren’t believing what God says about His power to overcome sin, or you don’t believe in the seriousness of sin. The flowchart then cycles back around to how to confront these problems.

Also, the summary diagram on pages 104-105 that shows the spiritual disciplines enabling movement from “putting sin to death” to “putting on the new” is beneficial. The color scheme of red to green speaks death to life. I only wished the diagram had started low with “putting…to death” and come up to “putting on…new”, instead of the other way around.

Perhaps the best infographic is the very simple one on page 108, “True Life Change”. It features two arrows cycling around amongst four major spiritual changes continuously going on in the believer’s life: “spiritual awakening”, “true repentance”, “new behavior”, and “receiving forgiveness”.

I am disappointed with the scope and depth of many of the other infographics in the book for three reasons. First of all, as my son-in-law commented after a cursory glance through the book, “It has too many words and not enough diagrams.” After reading the book, I saw the words were indeed good explanations of the points, but they did make the diagrams seem less useful. Perhaps the diagrams should have spoken for themselves and then minimal explanation given for the purpose of preventing misunderstanding.

Secondly, I feel as though several opportunities to deepen the diagrams’ messages by multiple levels interaction between the parts rendered many of the diagrams monochromatic or merely one-dimensional. For example, in the last section on vocation, the authors have a diagram called “The Work Of A Christ Follower” (page 122) that diagrams the three areas of vocation, “being”, “calling”, and “passions”. These are connected by lines to various vocations of the Christian like artist, father, husband, neighbor, athlete, etc. These vocations are placed randomly on a circle around a center circle labeled “You have many vocations”. Why not rather make the center circle say something like “What God has given you to do.” Then each concentric circle could be a priority list of vocations. In my case I would diagram what God has given me to day in this order from the center outward: Christian, husband, father, grandfather, church member, citizen, neighbor, carpenter, rock climber, writer, etc. Then connect the three areas of vocation to these. The only real difference I have made to the diagram is priority ordering the vocations rather than randomly listing them. To me that gives the diagram more depth.

Thirdly, I reflect that many of the infographics were merely pretty bulleted lists. They did not in themselves communicate or extend the concepts they presented. An example of this is the diagram in chapter 5 titled “Doctrine Leads To” on pages 82-83. These words form the center of the circular diagram with the words “Love”, “Humility”, ” Obedience”, ” Unity”, and “Healthy Growth” surrounding the title. On the adjacent page the words are bulleted with explanation. On the pages before and after this diagram explanation is given for how each of these words proceeds from doctrine. The explanation suggests a much more in depth diagram that shows progression.

Following is my attempt at making a diagram that represents the author’s own explanation of the benefits of doctrine in the life of the believer and the church. Notice that “Knowledge”, “Assent”, “Affection”, and “Trust” are not in the above list of items on his diagram. But these words do appear in his explanation and I think are the key to the sequence of changes that begin to take place in the believer that result in actions. Notice also that I do not say that this process is one-dimensional, always following this single pathway. “Doctrine” results in an acceleration of “Growth” in many areas at once. I also began to see that doctrine changed the will which changes the emotions which results in right actions. The penciled in “trust?” and “humility” are suggestions of friends as to possible changes to the diagram. And that is the benefit of more extensive diagrams of ideas: thought, discussion, musing, critical thinking, deepening.

The husband of the lady who gave me the book reflected that the book was “ground-breaking” in the area of communicating theology using graphics, and it would lead others to do more and better efforts at diagramming theology because the idea had been initiated and because we have become such a visual, quick information acquisition society. He urged me to write a follow-up book, which I said I would call “Theology Diagrammed”. The main problems with that are lack of time and a lack of completeness and coherence to the diagrams I have made. But perhaps with time, encouragement, and help, it might happen.

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