Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God

Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God

by Tim Challies, Josh Byers


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Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God by Tim Challies, Josh Byers

We live in a visual culture. Today, people increasingly rely upon visuals to help them understand new and difficult concepts. The rise and stunning popularity of the Internet infographic has given us a new way in which to convey data, concepts and ideas.

But the visual portrayal of truth is not a novel idea. Indeed, God himself used visuals to teach truth to his people. The tabernacle of the Old Testament was a visual representation of man’s distance from God and God’s condescension to his people. Each part of the tabernacle was meant to display something of man’s treason against God and God’s kind response. Likewise, the sacraments of the New Testament are visual representations of man’s sin and God’s response. Even the cross was both reality and a visual demonstration.

As teachers and lovers of sound theology, Challies and Byers have a deep desire to convey the concepts and principles of systematic theology in a fresh, beautiful and informative way. In this book, they have made the deepest truths of the Bible accessible in a way that can be seen and understood by a visual generation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310520436
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 04/19/2016
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 1,254,294
Product dimensions: 7.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

A pastor, noted speaker, and author of numerous articles, Tim Challies is a pioneer in the Christian blogosphere. More than thirty thousand people visit each day, making it one of the most widely read and recognized Christian blogs in the world. Tim is the author of several books, including Visual Theology and The Next Story. He and his family reside near Toronto, Ontario.

Josh Byers is a communications pastor, artist, speaker, husband, and father who resides in Iowa. Josh is an idea maker and creative visionary. His work has been featured in a wide variety of outlets from the Gospel Coalition to the Tonight Show. He writes and publishes graphics regularly at

Read an Excerpt

Visual Theology

Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God



Copyright © 2016 Tim Challies and Josh Byers
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-52043-6



We live today at the dawn of a great technological revolution. For several decades, we have been witnessing a worldwide explosion of digital technologies. Have you ever considered how many of these new technologies are meant to help us communicate? Email is a modern form of postal mail; video chat enables us to extend face-to-face meetings to locations around the world; live-streaming provides the conference experience from afar; online relationships help us to maintain real-world friendships when we cannot be in the same place at the same time. We are relational beings, constantly inventing new ways to communicate with one another.

For a relationship to be genuine, it must be personal. It must involve interaction between two people. This is true of our peer relationships, and it is true of our relationship with God. As Christians, we have the privilege of having a genuine relationship with God in which he speaks to us so we can hear and understand him, and in which we speak to him in turn, trusting that he hears, that he understands, and that he responds. In general, we can say that we hear from God through the Bible, and we speak to God through prayer, but the two are more closely connected than that. As we read, we naturally pray, and as we pray, our minds focus on the truths revealed in Scripture. The more we commit to Bible reading and to prayer, the more of our lives we spend communing with God.

These two elements are the most basic disciplines of the Christian life — Christians are to read and pray — you know this. But though these are the basics, you will never master them and never grow beyond them. Throughout your entire life, you need to find greater joy in the Bible and deeper understanding of it; you need to find more joy in prayer and develop greater dedication to it. As a Christian, you need to be healthy here before you can be healthy anywhere else. In this chapter, we will consider how you hear from God and how he hears from you. In short, we will consider how God speaks and listens, and how you speak and listen in response.


Every relationship is built on communication. It is impossible to be friends with a rock, because a rock doesn't have personality — you cannot communicate with it. You cannot have a relationship with the universe, because the universe is not a who but a what; it's a thing, not a person. But God is alive. And God is personal; he is a community of persons. Therefore, you can have a genuine relationship with him. Like every other relationship, this one is based on communication and the related practices of speaking and listening.

God wants to speak to you, and God does speak to you. First, God speaks to you and to everyone else through what he has created. The Bible tells us that "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). All that God has created declares that he exists, that he is the Creator, and that he is glorious. God also speaks through our created consciences, which reminds us there are objective standards of right and wrong, of good and evil. The second chapter of Romans speaks of unbelievers who "show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them" (2:15 – 16).

While God speaks broadly to all humanity through his creation and through our consciences, he also speaks uniquely and personally, and he does this through the Bible. In the Bible, God speaks to us of his purposes and intentions and reveals to us things we cannot learn by looking at the world or listening to our consciences. Where creation and conscience provide general knowledge of God's existence and God's law, the Bible provides clear and specific communication about his nature and his plan.

A healthy Christian loves to hear from God through the Bible. He is constantly taking in God's Word — reading it alone, reading it with friends, reading it with family, reading it as it is woven into good books, hearing it read aloud in worship services, pondering it as he remembers it — consuming it in any way he can.

Let's look to the nature of the Bible and see why we need to dedicate ourselves to it. We will look at what the Bible is and then reflect on what it does.


We know the Bible as a book, a stack of printed pages stitched between two covers. Some today are learning to know the Bible as an app or electronic book, a collection of related information stored in various digital formats. But no matter how we engage the content of the Bible, it is an authoritative collection of works given by God to humanity. In days past, God spoke to and through certain people who wrote down God's own words (Hebrews 1:1). Some of these people wrote histories; some wrote wisdom literature or prophecies or letters. What they have in common — and what distinguishes them from every other bit of writing in the world — is that these words originated in the mind of God.

The Bible, then, is what we call a canon, a complete and authoritative collection of one person's written works. Each of these individual works we refer to as a book — the book of Genesis, the book of Isaiah, the book of Matthew, and so on. When we put the entire collection together, we call it a book as well — a book of books. Just as the giant Complete Works of William Shakespeare bequeathed to me by my grandparents contains a copy of each one of the plays penned by Shakespeare, the Bible contains a copy of each one of the books written by God.


The most significant division in the Bible is the division between two smaller collections of writing — what we refer to as the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament extends from the creation of the world to a few hundred years before the birth of Jesus. The New Testament extends from immediately prior to the birth of Jesus to approximately seventy years after his death. In general, the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament point forward to the coming of Jesus, while the twenty-seven books of the New Testament tell of his coming and its significance.


The complete collection of God's revelation to humanity is in the form of story — the story of what God is accomplishing in this world. There is a unified theme that runs through the entire work and across all the different genres. The beginning and the end are related to one another by what happens in between. Each part of the Bible needs to be read in relation to the other parts. Gavin Ortlund says it well: "It should be read more like a novel than like the newspaper or a fortune cookie or a collection of Aesop's fables.

The whole thing hangs together, and the concrete parts are most meaningful when viewed in relation to the whole." The Bible is a narrative that describes what God has done and is doing in this world.


The Bible is a story, and the hero of the story is Jesus. In some way, every part of the Bible points forward to him or points back to him. Bryan Chapell writes that every text is predictive of the work of Christ, preparatory of the work of Christ, reflective of the work of Christ, and/or resultant of the work of Christ. As the Bible tells the grand story of what God is doing in the world, it tells us how he is doing it through Jesus. Jesus is on every page of the Bible.


God is not silent. He has not left us alone without guidance in this world. Instead, he has communicated in the way we understand best — by words. Christians refer to the Bible as God's Word because it is full of God's words and because, when assembled, it represents his word, his message, to humanity. God wrote this message in a unique way. He used the words, thoughts, and creative abilities of people so they could pass on his divine message. Historians did research, gathered facts, and recorded their conclusions — doing it all in the power and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Poets observed, created, and wrote under the guidance of the same Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). And all of these were recorded as the Bible.

God continues to speak through the Bible today, opening the spiritual eyes of our hearts to hear and understand his Word as it brings conviction and calls us to respond to God in faith. We refer to this work as illumination — how the Holy Spirit helps us to understand and hear God as he speaks to us in the Bible. The Bible is unique among all the books in the world in that its words are "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12). God is present in and through the Bible in a special way so that he continues to speak to us through it today. This is why we can continue to refer to it as God's Word. His voice reaches out to us today through the Bible.


The Bible does not contain everything God has ever said or everything God will ever say. It does not contain the entire mind of God or a description of every act of God. However, we still believe that no information will ever be added to it. The Bible is complete in the sense that God has determined that his canon is closed. He has chosen to give no further revelation of that sort to us. The Bible contains everything God wishes for it to contain. God has said everything he needs to tell us to accomplish his purposes, especially his purposes in communicating the message of his salvation to us. We are never to add to it or take away from it.


Because the Bible originates with God, it reflects the character of God. For that reason we can believe that the Bible is without error and perfectly reliable. What God says is true. What God says he has done, he has actually done. What God says he will do, he will actually do. God is who he says he is, and we are who he says we are. Because the Bible is reliable and trustworthy, we need to dedicate our lives to reading it, to understanding it, and to obeying it.


The nature of the Bible tells us that we need to read and obey it. If the God who created the universe has spoken, it would be utterly foolish for us to ignore what he says. But if that is not reason enough, there are many other good reasons to commit to reading it and to living as if it is true.

Psalm 19 is a song of praise to God for giving us the Bible, and it's one of my absolute favorite parts of God's Word. At the time David wrote this song, the Bible was still in its infancy — only a small portion of the Old Testament had been given by God. But David still read it, pondered it, and praised God for it. In this psalm, he uses a series of words to describe the Bible, and then he praises God for the great blessings stored up for those who read and obey it. Here is what David writes in verses 7 – 11:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

Let's look briefly at the six blessings God promises to those who read and obey his Word.


First and most foundationally, the Bible speaks about the state of your soul and promises to bring new life to it. David writes, "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul." The Bible brings about internal revival, and this revival is a coming alive, a conversion, of the whole person. God's unblemished Word stirs the dead soul to awaken it to eternal life. Ultimately, God works through his Word to save you from himself — from the wrath he must pour out on those who have rebelled against him.


"The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." In the Bible, God tells you who he is and what he requires of you. This knowledge is sure and right, and as you encounter and believe it, it grows you in wisdom. If you want to be wise, if you want to see the world the way it actually is, if you want to see God as he actually is, if you want to see yourself as you actually are, you need to read God's Word.


God's Word generates joy. David exclaims, "The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart." The Bible gives you precepts — rules for your behavior and guidelines for your life. When you live in these ways, you live a life of joy, freed from your sin and freed to honor and obey God. You find that the greatest freedom does not come by following your own rules and your own way but by following God's.


"The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes." In the Bible, God gives you commandments — things you must do and things you must not do if you wish to honor and obey him. These commandments are not meant to be burdensome. Quite the opposite, these commandments enable you to see the world with clarity and to both please and honor God. We are often confused, divided in our desires. But when we place our faith in God and commit to him by submitting to his Word and obeying it, we grow in our ability to discern right from wrong, good from evil.


David is not finished yet: "The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever." God's Word is utterly pure, free from any trace of error or imperfection, and as you read it, you come to fear him. This is not the trembling fear of men before an evil and arbitrary dictator. It is the respectful and reverential fear of those who bow before an almighty God. God's pure Word cleans you, forever changing your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors so you can live joyfully before him.


David has one more: "The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether." God's rules, his judgments, are true and absolutely unflawed. By reading the Bible, you can understand how and why God judges, and you can now live according to his standard; you can conform your life to his desires. To be godly is to be God-like in your character. The Bible enables you to live according to God's standards and to reflect his character.

No wonder, then, that David breaks out into a little benediction of praise:

More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
— Psalm 19:10 – 11

If you will allow me the indulgence of alliteration, we see David praising God that the Bible is:

Precious. Of all the earth's treasures, none — not even gold — is more valuable than the Bible.

Pleasurable. David knew nothing that tasted sweeter than honey, but he still lauded the Bible as being far better.

Protective. The Bible offers us the most important kind of protection — protection from the just wrath of God.

Profitable. There are the greatest rewards associated with keeping and obeying God's Word.

Ultimately, David loved the Bible because it was where he encountered God. He related to God through the Word of God because that is where he heard God's voice. You can do the same. As God speaks through the Bible, he makes you alive; he makes you wise; he gives you joy; he gives you clarity; he gives you purity; he makes you godly. Read it! Commit today, and every day, to reading and obeying the Bible. Love it and delight in it, just as David did.


There is another side of your relationship with God that we need to consider. Hearing from God is not enough. Relationships cannot thrive on one-way communication. It is difficult to conceive of a true friend who only speaks but never listens, who does all the talking without ever inviting you to speak as well.


Excerpted from Visual Theology by TIM CHALLIES, Josh Byers. Copyright © 2016 Tim Challies and Josh Byers. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Why Visual Theology?

1. The Word of God – The Bible’s Authority and Inerrancy
2. The Word of God – The Bible’s Clarity, Necessity and Sufficiency
3. The Character of God – Incommunicable and Communicable Attributes
4. The Character of God – Trinity
5. The Character of God – Creation
6. The Character of God – Providence
7. The Character of God – Prayer
8. The Character of God – Angels, Satan and Demons
9. The Doctrine of Man – Man’s Creation and Purpose
10. The Doctrine of Man – Man as Male and Female
11. The Doctrine of Man – Sin
12. The Doctrine of Christ – The Person of Christ
13. The Doctrine of Christ – The Atonement
14. The Doctrine of Christ – Resurrection and Ascension
15. The Application of Redemption – The Ordo Salutis
16. The Doctrine of the Church – The Nature of the Church
17. The Doctrine of the Church – The Ordinances (Sacraments)
18. The Doctrine of the Church – Being the Church
19. The Doctrine of the Future – The Return of Christ
20. The Doctrine of the Future – Heaven and Hell

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Tim Challies (the writer) and Josh Byers (the designer) have teamed up to produce a truly unique introduction to theology and guide to living the Christian life. This is show-and-tell at its finest. Most theology books merely convey what we are to believe, but this one uses creative and beautiful design to capture and portray these crucial truths. I know of nothing else quite like it, and I trust that God will use it to help his people see and celebrate reality in a new way. -- Justin Taylor, managing editor of The ESV Study Bible and coauthor of The Final Days of Jesus

You’ve probably seen (or used) a gospel presentation drawn on a whiteboard or a napkin. It’s remarkable how God gives us spiritual insight when we behold truths about him with our eyes. With engaging graphics and descriptions of the Christian faith, Tim Challies and Josh Byers have done something genuinely unique in Visual Theology. See for yourself! -- Gloria Furman, author of Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full and The Pastor's Wife

My mind is blown. Tim Challies and Josh Byers marry rock-ribbed Reformational theology with breathtaking presentations. The effect is something like following John Knox into the Matrix. In this diaphanous world, we encounter no fiction, but very reality itself --- God-reality --- and we are transformed. -- Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

A delightful read. It combines wise knowledge of sound theology with a readable, inviting style. -- Wayne Grudem, professor and author of the bestselling Systematic Theology

A resource that will be of immense help to believers in our visual age. -- Nancy Leigh DeMoss, author and Revive Our Hearts radio host

This is simple yet profound, clever without being flashy. Helpful and practical. Speaking as a person who avoids diagrams and graphs at all costs, I found the infographics in this book to be illuminating. This cheeky little number is a class act. -- Mez McConnell, pastor of Niddrie Community Church, Edinburgh, and director of 20schemes

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