By Elizabeth Prata
We have to admit something. I mean, if you’re of an age like me, we have to admit that for almost two generations, how we approach print has changed dramatically. Fast-paced video games, TV’s political sound bytes, short tweets, the argument culture replacing debate, and images-images-images has shortened the attention spans of just about everyone. The pull of scrolling, tweeting, and looking rather than reading is now the order of the day.
I fight it myself. I noticed that before the internet, I used to settle in and read for long periods, hours. Now if I have a book in my hand, I’m struggling to not look at the internet after 10 minutes. I’m actively retraining myself to read longer and actively resisting shortening my attention span.
People absorb print in a different way now. This includes the Bible. The Bible is a BOOK, it demands attention, contemplation, meditation, and study of its written text. But we have a generation of adults who have grown up on Mario Kart, Marvel movies, and Snapchat. We are a visual culture, not a print culture.
Recently, Tony Reinke wrote two books on the subject, Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age, and 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. I recommend both.
I am concerned about this issue, but not to an excessively high level. After all, text has changed before. The world went from scrolls to individual sheets of papyrus, to bound books, to the printing press, to ebooks on computer screens. It’s the way of things that books change form.
Part of the change for us these days include an emphasis on the visual. I love beauty. I love the marriage of arty, beauty, and the faith. RC Sproul was known for his focus on “what is good, what is true, what is beautiful.” Here he is on What Happened to Beauty?
I’ve been fascinated, myself, with the marriage of beauty as it relates to visual theology and creativity. I purchased two books on it. One is by Chris Powers at Full of Eyes. Below he explains why he began a ministry focused on beauty and the visual, seen on his website and also his book Visual Exegisis:
The need that drives me to the work of Full of Eyes is that there are many who have not yet seen Jesus as soul-compellingly beautiful, many to whom He is boring and best and hateful at worst (there are also many who have seen some glimpse of Him and long to see more, I would put myself in this camp). My desire – by the grace of God and the work of His Spirit – is to see this change.
How Full of Eyes Addresses that Need:
Full of Eyes seeks to visually proclaim the glory of God in Christ as taught in scripture.
Animations and pictures are the primary way we do this. The visual media are an uniquely effective tool the Lord has given us for communication, especially in the 21st century’s image-laden culture.
The book Visual Theology by Tim Challies and Josh Byers explains their reasons for emphasizing the visual, similar to Powers’:
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.
In 2011 Tim Challies presented Chris Koelle’s graphic novel of the Book of Revelation that was also made into an App.
No, depicting Christian truths in beautiful and visual form is not new. Indeed, an early printed visual theology was John Bunyan’s Order & Causes of Salvation and Damnation, a large scale poster depicting the two routes of the saved and the damned, with scripture, printed in 1678.
It can be argued that the Tabernacle itself was a visual representation of the theology God wanted to introduce to His people. The Tabernacle was functional, beautiful, and represented certain eternal truths as revealed by God in those symbols.
Now there is a new Bible coming out, and its focus on the beauty of the Bible itself and the visuals presented alongside the word. It’s from Alabaster Co. and I have some thoughts and questions on this trend of not only presenting visual truths in a form apart from the Bible, but the fact that Alabaster Co. seeks to change the Bible itself from a text-driven experience to a visual one. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s essay.