“You probably don’t have another book like this in your library” (9).
These are the words that open Patrick Schreiner’s new book, The Visual Word: Illustrated Outlines of the New Testament Books. And I suspect he’s right. The Visual Word stands alone in its uniqueness and, in many ways, its utility. The book is an achievement that gives modern-day Bible readers an aid, as Jen Wilkin writes, “in having not just ears to hear the Word in context, but also eyes to see.”
Schreiner, a professor of New Testament at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of several books including The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross and The Ascension of Christ, teamed up with Anthony Benedetto, an accomplished and award-winning illustrator and designer, to produce this gripping resource.
If you are a Bible reader looking for a jolt to help energize and inform the way you apprehend the New Testament, take a look at this creative and beautiful accompaniment to the Scripture.
“What is this book?”
“For most of you this is not a typical book on the Bible” (10).
Indeed, not only is this not a typical book on the Bible, it is not a typical book at all. While many works of contemporary theology are packaged in a sort of narrative format, tracing a logical route through the entire arc of their argument, The Visual Word is packaged not as narrative but as a collection of illustrated outlines covering each book of the New Testament. Thus, instead of being read straight through (though you can certainly do that), the book is meant to serve as a resource that sits next to one’s open Bible, illuminating the context of the Scriptures, enabling the reader to better comprehend and remember God’s Word.
Schreiner’s own experience as a seminary professor has been that many of his students have responded positively to the method that he and Benedetto employ in this book. When developing and using visual aids, he “could see things clicking in the students’ minds as they followed the author’s train of thought” with the help of his drawings (10).
Fast-forward to today, and The Visual Word stands alone as a resource, a study tool, and a vivid and new way to interact with the final 27 books in the canon of Scripture.
Who is this book for?
Who is The Visual Word for? In a word, everyone.
In the introductory pages, Schreiner instructs his readers on the best ways to utilize this resource, from “church members and attenders” to “pastors” to “Sunday School teachers, lay Bible instructors, parents, and professors” to “students.” There are specific instructions and uses outlined for each group, but the common thread that ties each directive together is this: The Visual Word is for you.
Regardless of where you find yourself, whether a young student or an experienced pastor, there is something within the pages of this book that will be of great benefit. Students, for instance, may find it useful to treat The Visual Word like a textbook (11), while many pastors may discover it’s helpful in their sermon preparation. Whatever the case, it is clear that anyone’s shelf this book occupies will be aesthetically enriched (it is a beautiful book, but more on that later). But more importantly, anyone’s Bible study accompanied by Schreiner’s and Benedetto’s labor in these illustrated outlines will be spiritually enriched.
Employing beauty and beholding beauty
One of the central themes of The Visual Word, though it goes largely unstated, is the idea and importance of beauty — the beauty plastered on each page of the book and the beauty of the Scriptures themselves. In a day of weakened attention spans and biblical illiteracy, “we need resources that help readers better understand Scripture,” yes, “but also that help readers love Scripture,” as Brett McCracken writes. And there is simply nothing more potent to awaken love than beauty.
The icons and images illustrated by Benedetto do a masterful job of employing beauty for the sake of helping readers excavate and behold the beauty embedded in the Bible. As Schreiner writes early on, “Each book of the Bible contains a story. An argument. Like a symphony or a play, the Bible was not put together haphazardly but carefully designed to communicate something” (10). And that something, as Mike Reeves argues in Delighting in the Trinity, is “the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God” (9), and, I might add, the sacred text he has given to make himself known to us.
One of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s most famous lines was his declaration that “beauty will save the world.” As Christians, we can go even further than Dostoevsky by saying that Beauty, himself, created the world, sustains the world, and will one day return to his world and make it right. And it takes an encounter with God’s beauty in Christ for us to come awake to this reality.
To that end, Schreiner and Benedetto have pulled back the curtain of Scripture just a bit further — and done so beautifully — so that their readers can discover the beauty of God’s Word and encounter the beauty of God himself.