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Book Review

What is the value of the Word illustrated?

A look of "The Visual Word" by Patrick Schreiner

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September 8, 2021

“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. 

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies, and chairman of the ethics … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24