Emblems of the Infinite King attempts to do two difficult things; blend images with Christian theology and use the second person to unfold a narrative. I’m probably not the person to judge the quality of the former (maybe the artistry is great, maybe it’s not–that’s way out of my ballpark), and I’m not sure the latter lands all that well.
And I’ll further admit my bias up front. The device used to explore theology in this book (both in the imagery and in the narrative) is that of keys unlocking doors. Specifically:
The Throne Room Key: The Doctrine of God
The Dust Key: The Doctrine of Humanity
The Serpent Key: The Doctrine of Sin
The Tomb Key: The Doctrine of Christ
The Spirit Key: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
The Gavel Key: The Doctrine of Salvation
The Temple Key: The Doctrine of the Church
The Throne Key: The Doctrine of the Last Things
My bias is that long before reading this book I read the Locke and Key series by Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son), and frankly that’s going to be a tough work to top either in imagery or narrative.
Likewise, I’m always going to be a bit biased against the clunky language required to use the second person. I was raised on Choose Your Own Adventure books. While I loved them as a kid, even then I knew I wasn’t reading Shakespeare. But those books weren’t even really trying to do anything other than sell mass quantities. Mixing the awkward “you look slowly around yourself” language with elevated concepts and themes found in Christianity and, well, it’s a challenge for me, to say the least.
Okay, enough with the disclaimers: On to the review!
This is a fairly straightforward introductory systematic theology, written as a loose narrative and with pictures. For example, as the introduction to the doctrine of Christ:
“Everything goes dark when you turn the key. But it’s a different kind of dark, the kind of dark you felt in the void before the world was made. This is the dark you feel right before morning dawns The kind that seems to be waiting for sunlight to conquer it.
And after a while, the soft light of day finally breaks in, allowing you to see the surroundings you’ve only been able to smell and touch thus far.” (“The Tomb Key”)
This the a lead up to the revelation that ‘you’ are standing in Christ’s empty tomb on Resurrection Sunday, which is a jumping off point for an exploration of the person and work of Christ. The theology is clear, articulate, and, most importantly, accurate. The same can be said of every other chapter in this book.
Which leaves me really not knowing what to think or how to judge Emblems of the Infinite King. The theology is good. The art is beyond my capacity to judge. And the narrative style isn’t my speed, but maybe second person is in with the kids these days?
The bigger question is whether this is the kind of book is prophetic or eccentric. That is, is it a a forerunner for a shift in Christian media style? Or is it just a passing oddity? Frankly, this could go either way. And I know, I know, it came out a year ago (sorry Crossway, my to-read stack is tall), so technically this book could already be established as either. There might be a torrent of second person and/or graphic Christian books already on the way. (I mean, not graphic, but, you know, illustrated.) In which case this book was ahead of its time. Or there might not be, in which case this book is a stand-alone work that is of interest because of its content, but not necessarily because of its place in a developing trend.
Fortunately, the content is solid and, aside from the art that I can’t/won’t judge, worthwhile for those interested in a unique systematic theology. So far as that goes, I am happy to recommend it.