November 30, 2020

Review: Picturing the Gospel, by Neil Livingstone.

picpic.jpgWhen I first received Neil Livingstone’s book Picturing the Gospel, I flipped through it and said “This won’t be good.” I put it on the bottom of my book pile and didn’t read it for several weeks.

This week, I’ve read the book. Several chapters twice. Not just a good book….it’s an outstanding book. So outstanding that I am going to ask everyone on my campus ministry staff this summer to read the book and participate in a discussion. I may even make it the summer study for my house church.

Livingstone takes the reader on a tour of major Biblical themes expressed as propositional concepts, important words and, of most interest, powerful images. His goal is to equip Christians to use the imagery of the Bible in communication, matching particular aspects of the Biblical presentation of the Gospel with the existential realities in the lives and cultures of those who hear the Gospel.

While the opening chapter dwells on the use of imagery in communication, the actual chapters of the book go on a surprisingly detailed tour of Biblical themes. Rarely have I seen a writer say as much about the Bible’s many pictures of salvation in as little space. Livingston’s understanding of the Gospel is impressive, yet elegantly and simply expressed. Even though I know these themes and images well, I was pulled into every chapter.

This is a book written in the best tradition of IVP’s books equipping thoughtful Bible students for evangelism. Despite the uselessly distracting Brian Mclaren endorsement, there is nothing in this book any conservative evangelical will protest. In fact, Livingstone’s communication oriented study is almost entirely free from any reference to postmodernism or the emerging church. This is a straightforward book suited to any evangelistic, missional Christian, but certainly well-aimed at anyone in campus ministry.

What are the themes and images covered? Livingston keeps his list manageable: Images of New Life (Life, Adoption, Kingdom,) Images of Mercy and Restoration (Justification, Forgiveness and Atonement,) Images of Deliverance (Salvation, Redemption, Freedom.) Every section is not equally strong, but most of these studies are rich surveys.

I’m particularly impressed with how Livingstone is able to tie these images and themes together throughout the Bible rather than simply list verses. At the same time he is exploring the imagery, he is mining the Biblical resources and making application to real persons.

I wish every preacher in my ministry setting would read, digest and think like this book. Livingstone’s use of the Bible is miles beyond the kind of shallow motivational manipulation that masquerades as preaching today.

Joel Osteen should have to eat this book for breakfast every day for a month.

I also want to commend Livingstone for his thorough discussion of two very controversial areas: justification and atonement. He is completely on target with both, and as he does throughout the book, shows that these images are not all there is to the Gospel, but they are perfectly suited to crucial aspects of communicating the Gospel.

Above all, Livingstone never loses sight of another set of images: people who need the Gospel in different ways. People who need forgiveness, love, reasons to live, freedom from shame and more. We all know these people, but we aren’t going to help them by our theological pie fights over these words. We must be able to build deep, rich communication with Biblical truth and Biblical imagery at the center of our messages and methods.

You can learn more about this book and get more of Neil’s resources at Picturing the Gospel.


  1. “Joel Osteen should have to eat this book for breakfast every day for a month..”

    GREAT line. You sold me.