A Theology of Fonts

If you are a reformed evangelical, you will know that it is the Word of God that is powerful:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

(Heb. 4:12)

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

(Eph. 6:17)

And so our job is present the Word (Col 1:25, 2 Tim 2:15) and to preach the word (2 Tim 4:2).  We are not to use secret and shameful ways (2 Cor 4:2) to deceive people nor are we present the word clearly and without using clever technique (1 Cor 1:17).  At the heart of our ministry is that the gospel is the power of God (Rom 1:16).

So far so good, right?

But how we speak is as important as what we speak.  At this point I refer to Sam Chan’s work on Speech-Act theory as applied to preaching.  That is there is a locutionary act (say a word) and an illocutionary act (how we say that word) that gives meaning.  I could say the word “fire” in a number of different ways for a number of different outcomes: to save someone from burning themselves, to have a canon send a projectile into the air, to make an employee a no-longer-employee, etc.  How we speak the word gives it force that is used by the Spirit.

In the same way I can say “Jesus has died for your sin” in a way that conveys that it is just another news item to be taken or left, or I can say it as if it really is good news.  And since it is good news, I want people to know this.

That’s for speaking.  But we live in a visual world.  

We don’t just hear the Word we read the Word too.  And similar principles apply here too. Let’s say you want to write a doctrinal statement for your website.  Obviously, this is important and we want to communicate it’s importance.  You could simply use a Times Roman Font, which is possibly the default. 

On one hand this could communicate that you want the words to have force in themselves.  On the other hand because this is a common font it could communicate that you couldn’t be bothered to choose a font because the doctrinal statement is not that important.  

One church chose to use Comic Sans as their font for their doctrinal statement⁠1.   It was supposed to convey a sense of informality, but what it actually communicated was that they thought their doctrine was a bit of a joke.  

Here is my point.  We want the Word to change people, but how we communicate or frame that Word can draw attention to it or distract from it.  How we say things, how we write things, even to the point of what font we use matters.

Thin of the same way you would apologetics. Giving people reasons to trust the Bible or the historicity of Jesus will not save them, but it may open the door for them wanting to investigate further.

If you are a pastor or minister, you are probably not a graphic designer.  There are two things you can do: enlist the use of a designer in your church.  I will ask “what font would you recommend for X”?  The other thing you could do is grab a book like SLIDE:OLOGY by Nancy Duarte which was written for this purpose.  While the book is not addressed to a Christian audience, Nancy is a Christian who wants to see, among other things, preachers use design well.

I can see some people thinking “great, but this could overwhelm what I am doing”. Correct. If you are going to work with a designer, you need to constantly remind them that their design is there to frame the Word. It is the work of the Spirit and the Word to change people and we cannot lose sight of this.

But what about taking things a little further?  What does the first thing that your people see as they walk in the door look like?  What is their first impression of your church?  Every shop you (and your people) walk into has thought about this.  Bunnings is designed to make things look like they have the cheapest trade things available.  Ikea will sell their food for below cost to make people think their furniture is cheap.  Your church? 

For me, we have some excellent, welcoming people, but a folding table and some pieces of paper tell people “we are a functional church”.   I think we can do better.  Again this will not save people, but it will help them to get to the Word that will save them.  I want the experience to say “you are welcome here and you will have an experience here that will change your life” so when they do open the Bible they want to see what God has to say.

Of course, if you don’t believe me that fonts matter, believe Ryan Gosling:

1 This point aside, you should never use Comic Sans for anything.  Never.

3 comments

      • Your welcome!!! To be honest 99.9% of professional graphic designers have no idea about this case. Only a few typography nerds are aware of it. 😀

        Do you know which organization is the biggest violator of copyrights?

        Like

Leave a Reply to Pete Hughes Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s