Tag Archives: Tim Challies

Four Essential Pictures

I’m currently reading Tim Challies’ book Visual Theology.  This book presents many theological basics not only with text, but also with infographics.  This kind of approach aims to help those who learn best with visual helps.  I’m appreciating the book in many respects and will probably write a review in the near future.

As good books do, this one got me to thinking, particularly about the place of pictures in Reformed theology.  While we don’t believe it’s lawful to make images of God, this doesn’t rule out diagrams or other visual helps.  In fact, embedded in our theology are several essential pictures.  Even apart from an actual picture, these doctrines come across to us via some particular image we’re to hold in our minds.  Let’s look at four important doctrines and the associated pictures.


In Scripture, the covenant of grace is portrayed in terms of a relationship.  When you think “covenant of grace,” you should immediately picture a relationship.  In Ezekiel 16 and Hosea 1 (and elsewhere), God speaks in terms of a marriage relationship with his people.  In the New Testament, this is taken over into the relationship of Christ (the groom) and his church (the bride).  While there may be contractual elements in the covenant of grace, the essence of it is a relationship.


The Bible gives several pictures of regeneration and one of those is a heart transplant.   When you think “regeneration,” you can picture someone receiving a new heart.  The Holy Spirit uses this picture in Ezekiel 11:19, “…I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…”  This one picture does not exhaust everything the Bible says about regeneration, but it is one helpful conceptual peg on which to hang the doctrine in your mind’s eye.


Whenever you think about justification, you need to think “courtroom.”  The courtroom image is essential to this doctrine.  One of the key ways that people often get justification wrong is by saying that it is God making us right with himself.  However, justification is, in its very nature, a judicial matter.  It involves a judge making a declaration, issuing a verdict.  This is why Romans 1-3 describes man’s condition before God as a judge.  For example, Romans 2:2, “We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.”  Starting at the end of Romans 3, the Spirit explains how a negative judgment can be averted through Jesus Christ.  After all that, we get Romans 8:1, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Condemnation is what we would receive from the Judge if we did not have Christ.  In its essence, therefore, justification involves the picture of a courtroom.


Adoption is a beautiful word that pictures family.  Having been purchased by Christ, having been justified by him, we are now included in God’s family as his dearly loved children.  God is no longer our Judge, but our Father and we relate to him as such.  Nowhere is this stated more explicitly than Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'”  We’ve gone from the courtroom (justification) to the family room (adoption), and that’s a wonderful place to be!

To summarize:

Covenant —> Relationship

Regeneration —> Heart transplant

Justification —> Courtroom

Adoption —> Family

Reformed theology has more pictures, but those four are crucial to understand.  When you get those, you grasp several basics of the Christian faith.

Book Review: The Next Story

The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion, Tim Challies, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.  Hardcover, 204 pages, $21.99.

This book is a must-read for those in leadership positions in our church and school communities.  There’s not a lot of careful thought going on about technology and how it relates to a Christian worldview.  Technology is often regarded as what theologians used to called “adiaphora” – things indifferent.  You say “potăto,” I say “potāto,” you use your Kindle, I read a traditional book – what’s the difference?  It may start affecting worship too.  Does it really make a difference if a church uses a projector in the worship service instead of hard copy books?  What’s at stake?  These are the kinds of questions that this book will help us address.

The author is a well-known Canadian author with a widely-read blog at Challies Dot Com.  He brings together an interest in technology, a steady set of writing skills, and a good grasp of a Christian worldview.  He’s also written The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (Crossway, 2007) and this newer book can be considered an extension and application of many of the biblical principles found in that earlier volume.

Let me give you a taste of what you’ll find in The Next Story.  Sometimes pastors will mention the ancient heresy of Gnosticism and its matter-spirit dualism.  The Gnostics taught that physical matter is bad and anything spiritual is good.  Challies illustrates how this thought is being resurrected in the digital era with a contemporary twist.  Cyberspace now “gives us a place to be apart from our bodies” (101) and this is almost universally seen as a good and desirable thing.  Read the book to find out more!

Challies has helpful critiques of Wikipedia and Google in connection with the concept of truth.  He notes that Wikipedia represents a model whereby truth is reached via consensus.  Google, on the other hand, presents us with truth via relevance.  Both present challenges to the Christian view of truth.  This is all found in chapter 8 – the most important chapter in the book.  We all quickly and mindlessly go to Wikipedia for answers, but we have to be aware that it is sometimes inaccurate (e.g. the article on the Canadian Reformed Churches until recently stated that the merger process with the URC has been called off), yet, more critically, it can subtly influence how we regard the very notion of what is true.

Written in an engaging way with many helpful illustrations and anecdotes, The Next Story ought to be on your must-read list.  Most of the chapters also have questions for reflection at the end, a helpful feature for group discussions at book clubs and so on.  I’m just going to make one small critical notation in this review.  I don’t understand why the publisher put this book out without justified margins on the right side of the page.  Challies doesn’t do this on his blog and I’ve never seen a book published by a large house like Zondervan with that feature.  It not only looks unprofessional, it’s also distracting.  If the medium does relate to the message (as Challies rightly argues), then this should be fixed if there’s ever a second edition.