Archived Voice Articles

Dordt Press reases Jubilee books for the coffee table and for the study

Witness pictures thirty heroes of faith

The idea for Witness had been in Norman Matheis’s head for years before he actually put his brush to the easel. When he did begin to paint, it was because he was inspired by “heroes of faith” like those named in Hebrews 11. He believed that putting a face to these heroes might inspire others—believers and unbelievers—to serve the Lord and Maker of the universe.

Matheis began the paintings for this book in 2002, with no definite plans for what to do with them. “I was simply enjoying myself and thought I’d see what happened,” he says. As he does for all of his paintings, Matheis spent a great deal of time trying to understand each subject before he began painting.

“I read each story a few times—actually a few hundred times,” he says, “looking for clues to what the person would look like.” Some of the faces came to him right away. Some came from sketches he had made earlier. Some were redrawn a couple of times. Some he thinks he might do a bit differently if he were starting over. His goal was to create characters that viewers could connect with and so feel a kinship with their lives of faith and struggle.

Drawing from his extensive knowledge of art history and his unflagging review of art magazines, Matheis painted characters who inhabit the time in which they lived, but who will also engage modern reader-viewers.

Matheis knew from the start that he wanted text to accompany his paintings. He approached Syd Hielema after hearing him preach several times. Matheis wanted someone who shared his understanding of Scripture to write pieces that would capture the character of the people he painted. Together Matheis and Hielema selected ten Old Testament, ten New Testament, and ten more contemporary “witnesses.”

Hielema's use of the first-person voice to tell each story helps accomplish Matheis’s goal of making these biblical characters real. But it was not a conscious decision at first.

“Out of the first ten I wrote, nine were in the third person and only one in the first person,” says Hielema. But they soon agreed that using the first person made it easier to identify with the person in the painting.

“Doing so raises real questions of appropriateness, though,” Hielema says, feeling the burden of putting words in the characters’ mouths. To deal with this problem he tried to use other parts of Scripture to corroborate what was happening in his short descriptive vignettes.

“There is a striking difference between modern literature and Scripture in that literature puts you inside a character. The Bible rarely does that,” Hielema says. But because people have become accustomed to that approach, Hielema and Matheis decided to be faithful to the text and yet adapt to today’s expectations in order to reach readers.

Like Matheis, Hielema hopes the book will be a devotional resource for many, used by children as well as adults.





Norman Matheis has been an artist all of his life. He began teaching art at Kendall School of Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and later joined the faculty of Calvin College. In 1977 he moved to Dordt College to help set up the art program. Retired from teaching since 1989, Matheis continues to create art.

Syd Hielema is an associate professor of theology and youth ministry at Dordt College. Before coming to Dordt in 1996, he served as a high school teacher and youth pastor in Southern Ontario. He also serves on the Children and Youth Advisory Council of the Christian Reformed Church.

You can purchase both Witness and Celebrating the Vision through the Dordt College bookstore. Witness sells for $22; Celebrating the Vision sells for $30. The books will also be sold at each Jubilee event to be held around the country this year. The books will be sold there for $19 and $25 or $40 for the two of them, and can be purchased by credit card. Prices include sales tax. If you wish to order either book through the bookstore you can email or call 712-722-6420 or write: Dordt College Bookstore, 498 4th Ave NE, Sioux Center, IA 51250

Celebrating the Vision: The Reformed Perspective of Dordt College

This Jubilee volume of collected essays celebrates Dordt College’s first fifty years of service in the kingdom of God. Dordt College exists to help students grow in wisdom and insight so that they can live a flourishing life in God’s world. Our goal is to teach them to think critically and to judge wisely as they learn how God’s creation works, how things fit together, and what their calling is.

Dordt College is committed to understanding creation through the liberating light of Scripture. We want to be an institution of Reformed, Christian learning for the benefit of both students and the broader community. We try to do this by providing serviceable insight that prepares students for knowledgeable, competent, and caring service in all aspects of contemporary life. This volume provides a window on the Reformed perspective that permeates Dordt’s curriculum and campus.

Many areas of life and their related academic disciplines are represented in this volume. The first two chapters are actually policy statements by the college that define its educational task and the curricular framework within which we seek to work. The other chapters were written by present and retired faculty members from a broad variety of disciplines. They attempt to illustrate in an accessible manner the implications of Dordt’s Reformed perspective for some of the programs and disciplines that make up its curriculum. About half of the chapters were written specifically for this volume; the others, as indicated, were published first elsewhere.