April 8, 2020
  • 5:34 pm 6 Weekly Rituals That Have Completely Changed My Life
  • 4:34 pm A Money Manifesting Ritual (with Landria Onkka)
  • 4:34 pm A Simple Druid’s Rite – The Lego Core Order of Ritual (with voiceover)
  • 1:34 pm POWERFUL Hypnotic SLEEP (ASMR) • MONEY & ABUNDANCE Soothing Meditation
  • 1:34 pm Guided meditation for students
Tim Challies: Visual Theology

Peter Jackson ruined the “Lord of the Rings.” I promised online I would begin that way. Those are fighting words, I know, for fans
of the ‘Lord of the Rings,’ but if you bear with me for a few minutes I’ll do my best
to prove that, and to show you why it matters. You know, for years and years we got along
just fine without a Lord of the Rings movie to entertain us, as long as we ignore that
animated series from way back when. And then Jackson made this trilogy of movies,
right? And he took that $300 production budget and
blew it up into three-billion dollars at the box office, and the movies got rave reviews. They won all sorts of big awards. So, why would I say that he ruined the ‘Lord
of the Rings’? Well, I’ll get to that, but first I want to
remind you what we’re doing in this session together this evening. We’re talking about visual theology. And I suppose you’ve probably heard it said
before that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s the way we attest the value,
the power of images. And we, I think, of all generations are the
most visual. We are just drowning in images today, and
drowning in opportunities to see images, and yet we can learn from the history of Christianity,
from our own church history, that images can be used to help, and they can be used to hinder
the work of the gospel, help and hinder our work in this world. And I believe Dr. Ferguson spoke about that
a little bit already. What I want to do this evening, then, is to
talk about how we can use words and pictures together to explain truth and to build up
Christians. That is what I mean by visual theology, displaying
what is true in visual forms. So, visual theology then is not fine art. These are not paintings of people. No, this is functional art, and there’s a
key difference between the two. I’ll explain as we go. Now, here’s what perplexed me after I was
assigned this topic: What do I call people to in a session like this? Because I can’t just talk. I can’t just relay information. There’s got to be something you can do with
this information. I had to think about that a lot, and I think
this is it. We need to be first, theologians. Each one of us needs to accept our calling
from God to be a theologian. We need to know theology. We need to commit our lives to growing in
our understanding of theology. And then once we know what we believe, once
we’re well-grounded in it, then we can accept, or consider this idea of using images, using
visualizations to help teach it. So, we can use our theology to inspire that
kind of functional art that I’ve been speaking about. And I think there’s a great opportunity here
for people, especially I want to pin it on young people to learn how to use certain tools,
and first to learn theology, then to learn how to use certain tools and to display your
theology in those visual formats. So, what I’ll say this evening will fall under
two headings. First, we are all theologians. I’ll discuss that, and then I’ll talk about
how we can use visual theology well, and how we can use it poorly. And I’ll even show how God Himself has used
visual theology to teach us in the past. Now, I’m going to refer to a couple of images
here that are visual theology images that my artist and I have made up. I want you to see those if you’re able. You probably can’t this evening, but you can
download those. If you go to ‘Ligonier.visualtheology.church,’
there’s a couple of nice high-resolution images that you can download there that will show
you the kind of thing I’m speaking about. That’s ‘ligonier.visualtheology.church.’ You’ll see a message there and two images
for you to download that I think will display some of what we’re talking about here. So first this: we are all theologians. This may be very obvious to some people in
this room. It might be very, very novel to others. God calls each one of us to know what is true
about Him. Each one of us is responsible before God to
learn what’s true about God, what’s true about God’s character and actions, what’s true about
the world that He made, what’s true about the people that He made, how it’s all going
to wind up, what’s the future of all that God has made? God made this world. He made everything in it, and there’s no greater
study than that, than God Himself, His character, His actions. But we don’t just need to learn theology. We also need to teach it. And so we are all theologians in the sense
that we need to learn truth, that we need to know truth and that we need to teach truth. Now, I say this may be a novel idea to some
people, and I say that because we’re living at a time of profound theological ignorance. And, I really mean that. I’m a writer by trade. Day by day I try to write something and present
it where people can read it and engage with it. And I receive all sorts of feedback from people,
and I’m genuinely glad to receive that feedback, but it never ceases to amaze me how little
some people know, just how little theology some people understand, how little of God’s
truth people have absorbed. Now, in some cases that’s fine. Right? If you’re a new believer, we all begin with
very little knowledge. We all begin with false doctrine, right? And over time it gets corrected. Over time our understanding is sharpened. There’s no new Christian who can properly
define the Trinity, right, who really has a sharp understanding of that very, very difficult
doctrine. But what I see, and the trouble really comes
when people have professed faith for years, they’ve been believers for years and for decades,
but they’ve still got almost no knowledge of theology. That is very, very common and it’s very, very
tragic. Thinking just the other day about that passage
in Acts, chapter 19. So Paul is traveling on one of his missionary
journeys and he comes to the city of Ephesus for the first time. I’ll read what happens. “It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth,
Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. And there he found some disciples, and he
said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” and they said, “No. We’ve not even heard that there is a Holy
Spirit.” So here were these people that are described
as disciples, but they had no knowledge of the Holy Spirit. So they might’ve been pre-Pentecost believers
who had put their faith in Jesus but just never heard about the coming of the Spirit,
or they might’ve been disciples of John who had been baptized by John but never actually
heard about Jesus. We don’t really know the facts, but we do
know this: they were ignorant. They had not been taught. Nobody had told them about the Holy Spirit. Right? We didn’t even know there is a Holy Spirit. Well, I think today we would find vast numbers
of people who profess faith in Jesus Christ, and we might say to them, “Tell me about your
theology. Tell me what you believe,” and they might
say, “We haven’t even heard that there is theology.” Right? In so many cases I just don’t think they’ve
been told that this is a category. They’ve been told that this is an expectation,
that this is a joyous privilege of the Christian is to learn about God, to learn who God is
and what he’s done. We tell people, Christianity it’s not a religion,
it’s a relationship. Right? People hear that all the time, and, OK, it’s
true. Christianity is a relationship. We don’t need to downplay that. We don’t have to, it is. But what a joyous thing that when we put our
faith in Christ we’re adopted into the family of God. Right? We enter into this true, living relationship
with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that’s good. But the Christian faith is also this substantial
and established and orderly and cohesive body of truth, and so many people have never been
told that. They’ve never been taught theology. Maybe they’ve heard that theology is dangerous,
that doctrine divides or something like that. But so few people have been told, “You are
entering into this thing, now the stream of theology, and it’s your responsibility to
learn it, to believe it, to teach it to others.” What happens then? Somebody comes to them and gives them a book. And maybe the author of that book in the introduction
says, “I fully adhere to Reformed theology. I embrace this kind of theology. This is very doctrinal book.” And yet her whole book is messages that have
been communicated to her by Jesus. She listens, Jesus speaks and she writes it
down. There are vast numbers of people who see no
contradiction here. Vast numbers of people who are not the least
bit concerned by that, by somebody saying, “Here is what Jesus told me that he now wants
to tell you. Listen as I speak the new words of Jesus.” For some people that sets alarm bells ringing. For some people that doesn’t even register. And really the difference is typically some
people have theology. Some people have theological convictions founded
on Scripture, and some people simply do not. So, of course, then they absorb this. Or maybe someone recommends a book about the
Trinity, and in that book the person says something like “Father, Son and Holy Spirit
together died on the cross.” And a lot of people have no substantial knowledge
of the Trinity, and so this doesn’t stand out to them. This doesn’t concern them as poor teaching
or full-out heresy. And again, the difference is that some people
have studied God’s Word and they’ve read the ancient creeds and they’ve really entered
into this stream of Christian theology, they’ve developed a substantial theology of who God
is, but others haven’t. Those two books have sold forty-million copies
between them. You could take all the speakers — there’s
a lot of speakers at this conference — you could take all of them and put them together
and all of their books wouldn’t come close to that total. Yet here’s two books that have outsold all
of them that are so dangerous and founded on such poor theology. Without substantial theology it is so easy
to lead people astray, to lead them wandering away from the truth. All that to say, we are responsible to learn
and to embrace, and to teach what is true. Theology, doctrine exists and we need to learn
it and to teach it. And the beauty of the Reformed tradition is
that it’s a tradition that knows its theology, and it values learning that theology and teaching
it again. Right? The Reformed tradition is a tradition of catechisms
and confessions and systematic theologies. I would imagine the reason you’re here this
weekend is that you’re a theologian. You know that it’s your responsibility to
embrace sound doctrine, and that’s what we love about Ligonier Ministries. Just before I came here this weekend I was
reading a little quote form R.C. Sproul. This is on the Ligonier ministries website,
and he was talking about why he founded this ministry. And he said this, “From the beginning we’ve
sought to help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to live it and how
to share it. Over the decades our commitment has not changed.” That’s it. That’s why I’m here. I think that’s why you’re here. We need to know what we believe. We need to know why we believe these things. We need to know how to live on the basis of
that and we need to know how to share it with others. That’s theology, and we are all theologians. So you and I as individuals, we need to go
to the Word of God, we need to learn what it teaches. Right? All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable
for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, for theology. God’s Word teaches, reproves, corrects, it
trains in righteousness, that’s theology, to fill our minds and warm our hearts, and
direct our hands. As parents, we need to instruct our children. As churches, we need to be teaching sound
doctrine from the pulpit, and then in one to one relationships, every way we can to
be teaching theology. It’s our calling from God. You know, Dr. Sproul wrote a systematic theology
and he titled it “Everyone’s a Theologian.” That’s absolutely the case. So how then do we learn, and how do we teach
theology? Well, the majority of our efforts are in words. Right? We explain the truth. We preach the truth. We get in classroom settings and we teach
it. I was raised on the catechisms, every Tuesday
night with the pastor teaching us from the Heidelberg Catechism. That was my childhood, just laying that systematic
foundation of theology. That is good. It’s good to teach in that way. But as we’ve entered into a more and more
visual society, as we have amazing new tools at our use, we might be missing this opportunity
to express truth visually as well. There is so much visual teaching going on
outside the church. I think this is an opportunity we as Christians
may be missing. If you go online you can find channel after
channel on YouTube that presents truth in intriguing, visual ways. You can go and find whole sights full of infographics
that present truth in compelling ways, and as Christians we’ve done very, very little
in this realm. We found these amazing ways to present truth
in visual formats, but we as Christians are lagging behind. So I want to put out a call, especially for
young people again, to learn this, to learn how to visualize information, to learn how
to visualize theology. So let’s transition then to that. Imagine that someone gave you this challenge,
OK? I want you to invent or create a place of
worship that will communicate truth about God, but without words. People ought to be able to go into this place
of worship and see what is true about God. That’s the tabernacle, right? God created this very place. As God’s people entered into it, and as they
interacted with it, as they did things, as they saw things, everything had a meaning
beyond itself. Everything there was functional, but everything
had a deeper meaning and the more they used it, the more they studied it, the more they
engaged with it, the more they would learn about God. So think about this. Let’s engage our imaginations a little bit,
so you’ve got to imagine here that you’re an ancient Israelite and you’re going to the
tabernacle. Well, you know exactly where to go to find
it, because it’s always at the center of the camp. Now, you could say that’s a very functional
decision, right? So, it’s easy for as many people as possible
to get to. But there is a meaning behind the location,
and the meaning was, God dwells among His people. God’s place, God’s place of worship is right
there in the middle of His people. As you approach the tabernacle you see that
it’s walled off, right, curtains all the way around forming a wall. So you know, yes God is in the center of His
people, but I can’t just casually approach God. I can’t just go marching into His presence. That way is closed off. So then you walk to the entrance, that one
entrance, and you walk there and you stand still and you look. And you see in the middle is this tent. And you know that you’re not allowed to go
in there, and that tells you that God must stay separate from man, that God has shut
Himself off from man, that you’re a sinful person. You cannot walk into God’s place, into the
holy place, or into the Holy of Holies. So you can come close to God, but not all
the way. Still, there’s going to be something keeping
you from the presence of God. So far you’ve just gone as far as the tabernacle. You’ve walked to it, and by simple observation
you’ve seen God is among His people, God is separate from His people, God cannot be approached
casually, God will not tolerate sinners in His presence. All of this just being taught through the
form itself. And it goes on and on. Even the fact that this is a temporary, not
a permanent structure tells you something. Right? We have not yet come home. We haven’t come to God’s place through the
Promised Land. You look into the courtyard and you see animals
being slaughtered and you know sin requires blood. God’s wrath must be appeased. And maybe you wonder, “How could it ever be
appeased permanently, because I’ve got to come this year and next year, and the year
after. Year after year to appease God’s wrath with
a sacrifice. Could there ever be a permanent sacrifice?” And you see a washbasin where the priests
are washing, and you know that they’re symbolically washing themselves of sin, but you also know
it is God’s joy to cleanse His people. And if you could go into the Holy Place you
would see there an incense altar with smoke rising up to represent God hears the prayers
of His people and they cry out to Him, He hears. And a giant curtain blocking the way to the
Holy of Holies with this fierce guardian, this cherubim on it. And you know there, too, I cannot walk into
the presence of God. So as we think of visual theology this is
exactly the kind of thing we’re talking about. There weren’t labels on everything explaining
it. There was no priest there preaching a sermon
about these things. God’s people were to see it and to ponder
it and to know, to learn from His visual theology, this tabernacle. And so this is the difference then between
fine art, things that are beautiful to communicate beauty, beauty is good. But these were also supposed to communicate
function. There’s truth. And the longer you ponder it, the more then
you learn about who God is and what God has done. I think the best visual theology is that. We look at it and we ponder it. And the more we look at it the more we come
to understand of it. So with the designer, we — he and I went
back and forth. And we said, “Let’s lay out the books of the
Bible like the periodic table of elements. What if we were to make a little card like
the periodic table for each book of the Bible, and what if we were then to use that to divide
it book by book and testament by testament and genre by genre?” And it’s this chart you can look at. I gave you the link where you can download
it later. You can look at this chart, and the longer
you look at it the more parts of the Bible you’ll see, the more you’ll come to understand
of the Bible. First you’ll just see a bunch of cards, but
then you’ll see a division between two, and a division between genres. And you’ll start to see names of authors and
dates they were written and you’ll come to learn more and more about the Bible. So again I’m putting out the call here, especially
for young people. See, learn, understand who God is and then
see if you can take advantage of some of these tools and, and your God-given design-skill
and artistry. But I want to consider this: if we’re going
to guard ourselves against doing visual theology poorly there’s something important we need
to consider. And we can see it in the tabernacle. What did God not put in the tabernacle? Have you ever thought about that before? What was conspicuously absent from the tabernacle? You might think that within the Holy of Holies
would be an image of God. And why not? Right? Wouldn’t that make sense as you get closer
and closer, you’d go into the Holy of Holies, there is a statue of God. Right? No. Of course not. In the entire tabernacle, with all the beauty
and all the different works of art in there, there’s not a single representation of God. The invisible God never takes on visible form. Right? And right around the same time he gave the
instructions for the tabernacle, He said this, “You shall not make for yourself a carved
image or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or that is in the earth
beneath or that’s in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” That’s as clear as clear can be. God’s place of worship was going to be full
of vivid images, but none of them would be of God Himself. What was in the Holy of Holies? Just a box, right, an ark. And then on the top of the ark were two cherubim
reaching out their wings. And right there in the blank space, that’s
where God dwells. Right? The God who dwells between the cherubim. God would be present. He would be there among his people, but never
in form. Now, why would God never appear in form? Why would God never take shape? Well, that’s where we go back to the Lord
of the Rings. And I’ll use that to hopefully show you. I love that book. I first read the series when I was young. I had a lonely year when my family had moved
and I needed someone to keep me company, and Tolkien was my friend. And so I read that book and devoured that
book, and I’ve read it again and again ever since then. And if you’ve read that book or another one
like it you know what happens. You begin to form pictures of the character
in your mind. Each one of those characters takes shape in
your mind, not necessarily visual shape, but you just begin to collect information, and
you begin to know that person. Right? You begin to see the things he does or hear
the things he does. You see His actions. You see His character and you form a picture. And the more you read the book, the deeper
that characterization gets, the more accurate it gets. That’s what I did with Lord of the Rings. And then the movies came along. And boom, right there on a giant screen there
was Aragorn in the shape of Viggo Mortensen. And there was Elijah Woods in playing Frodo. Right? And now today when I read the books that’s
who I see. Right? Those vivid pictures have scrubbed the other
ones from my mind, but I kind of like my old one. I think he might’ve been more accurate actually
because when Peter Jackson made the movies he had to change the form. He had to take it from the word and transform
it into something else. He had to show us this is who that person
is, but he had to make some editorial decisions. There’s some movie decisions. He had to change their personalities and change
their words, and so now I don’t even know who am I imagining in my mind. Is it the one from the book or is it one from
the movies? Why did God not want to be visibly represented? Because any image of God will lie. It will represent a part of the truth, but
it will misrepresent other parts of the truth. There’s no image of God that can only ever
tell what is true. And that’s because God transcends images. God is so different. He’s so other that any image might capture
a very small part of who or what He is, and display it. But it will lie about the rest. And so in a movie where you have a character
playing God, or think about a movie that’s out today where Father, Son and Holy Spirit
are all portrayed by different human characters, you could watch that movie and say, “Here
are three characters that nicely portrays Father, Son and Spirit, are three persons.” And that’s what we believe: Father, Son, Spirit
are three persons, but we also believe that God is one being. Well, how on earth can we portray three persons
and one being? How can we do that? And so that movie, that representation is
maybe giving a little bit of the truth, but it’s also lying about something very, very
important. Even as it might be leading you towards one
thing, it’s leading you away from another. Not to mention it’s denying God’s infinity
and God’s invisibility, and God’s transcendence, and God’s omnipresence. All we’ve done is made God smaller. We’ve diminished God. We’ve made Him more like us and less like
what He really is. So as we’re talking visual theology, how do
we guard against doing it poorly? We realize the limitation of images. Images are so useful. Think about the Lord’s Supper and Baptism,
these amazing images God has given us, these visualizations that tell us something that’s
true, but they don’t portray God, not in that sense. So in all our visual theology we have to realize
the limitations. We cannot portray God, because God means to
be known through words not through pictures, not through images, not through statues. So we do visual theology well when we realize
our limitations, when we visualize what is true about God, true about His world, true
about the things He made, true about the things he’s declared to be true, but we do it poorly
when our images start to lie, when we attempt to use them to portray what can only truly
be known in our hearts and in our minds. I’ll wrap up. This is a visual age. We are a visual generation and we’ve got more
visual tools at our disposal than ever before. We’ve got ways of getting information out
around the world in a moment. One of the beautiful things about images is
that they can transcend language. They can be used by Christians around the
world. There’s a great opportunity before us. So let’s first be theologians who value the
truth and who know the truth and hold fast to the truth. Now, let’s use these tools. Let’s make sure our young people are learning
to use these tools. Let’s make sure they’re embracing these tools
and let’s challenge them then. Let’s give them the challenge to create and
to use functional art to teach truth about our God, about His works and about His ways. And one more time, if you want that URL I
told you before, it’s ‘ligonier.visualtheology.church.’ I hope there you can see a couple of examples. They’re free for you to take, where you can
see at least our humble attempts at trying to portray some of what I’m talking about
here. Thank you.

Otis Rodgers



  1. Brian Stone Posted on June 10, 2018 at 5:11 am

    An interesting and informative message. Thanks Tim.