Rich Wyld. Theologygrams: Theology Explained in Diagrams. IVP Books, 2017. See here to buy the book.
Theologygrams is a book that has charts, graphs, and illustrations explaining key concepts in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Christian theology. It is based on the author’s popular blog of the same name. The bio of the author states: “Rich Wyld is an Anglican priest and has a PhD from Durham University in theology. The blog came into being during some of the more tedious days of study.”
There were times when I rolled my eyes in reading some of the charts, graphs, and illustrations because the jokes were corny or cheesy. The book also would have done better with less self-deprecation. It just makes me uncomfortable, maybe because I would like to be the sort of person who puts people at ease rather than making them overly defensive or apologetic. (People may read that last line and think, “Then get more of a sense of humor,” or “Stop being so nitpicky!” Fair point. Now I’m being self-deprecating!) But there were times when I chuckled after reading a chart, graph, or illustration and thought, “That’s cute.” The pie chart, “Marks of Mission,” comes to mind: there are small slivers with lofty marks of mission, but over three-fourths of the pie chart is devoted to “Anxiety about talking to other people.” Got that right! Another illustration catering to introverts was about how much time introverts spend at fellowship hour before they’re out the door! One cute pie chart, based on I Corinthians 2:2, dealt with what Paul knew when he came to Corinth. The vast majority of the pie was for “Jesus Christ, crucified,” but a very small sliver was for “Directions to Corinth”! There was another illustration that was both cute and informative, as it illustrated the challenges of finding a middle ground of translation between literal and free, using John 20:17 as an example.
At times, the charts, graphs, and illustrations were pretty obvious. There was a chart about Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, and its point was that the good soil produced good fruit (Matthew 13). Another chart showed that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). Pretty straightforward! At some points, I hoped for a little more exegesis of the biblical text. Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-20) has long troubled me, since the master seems so hard on the unprofitable servant who buried his talent, sending him to hell (or some horrible place). Wyld offers the helpful insight that “My own view is that Jesus is not talking about failure through fear or weakness, but about complacency.” But the unprofitable servant in the parable seems to express fear and weakness! How would Wyld account for that? Plus, the discussion was somewhat spoiled by “But I’m getting too preachy so I’ll shut up.” No, please go on!
There were charts, graphs, and illustrations that taught me something. One was about Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7:24-27 about building one’s house on rock versus building one’s house on sand, and Wyld referred to some scholars who want to flip Jesus’ imagery around because there were areas in which building one’s house on sand was better. Another one was about the Venerable Bede and his attitudes towards certain Christians, based on their spiritual character, their haircuts, and whether they kept the right date for Easter. Some of these Christians got two out of three right, in Bede’s eyes!
While some charts, graphs, and illustrations were obvious, others required more thought. It took me some time to get used to the overlapping circles, but they eventually made more sense. There was one chart that was a “Just War Checklist.” It listed traditional Christian criteria for a just war and graded Star Wars, Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Independence Day according to them. That would require some thought: “Does the battle in this movie or book follow that criterion, or not?” I am a little confused by the “Apocalyptic Chess Puzzle.” John the Revelator is a pawn, and the only place he can move is one block forward. There are knights around, but John is out of their range, anyway, so what difference does his movement make? Is the point that he’s safe because God is in control?
Some charts, graphs, and illustrations were particularly helpful because they clearly and simply explained a theological concept that I have encountered more than once, but I may not know it well enough to explain it at a dinner party. Wyld’s charts on Barthian dialectic, models of ethics (i.e., deontological, utilitarian, etc.), and revelation-based vs. natural law-based ethics come to mind. That last one was both educational and cute, as it showed how complex making ethical decisions can be!
Some of the commentary was spiritually edifying or challenging. At one point, Wyld referred to a friend who said that many theologians can get caught up in talking about who others say Jesus is, but they should not forget the question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-20) On page 132, Wyld offers this edifying comment: “If theology seems like a very detached and academic discipline, Jeremiah might remind us that in a world of great suffering there is an urgent need to seek God for the sake of the world.”
Overall, this was a light yet informative and edifying read.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!