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!
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.