Theology and Imagination
The human brain is by far the most amazing, complex, and mysterious aspect of the physical world. Our brains continually interpret our world, and the way we interpret it is mostly determined by the way aspects of our world trigger our imagination. Our imagination encodes messages and creates feelings, and thus motivates behavior. And most of this goes on in our brains without any conscious awareness of it.
When our imaginations see truth in a way that corresponds to the way things actually are, and when they evoke appropriate feelings to motivate us to behave in effective ways, the imagination is a great ally. In other words, when our imagination corresponds with truth, we are able to experience the things of God as real and are transformed by this experience. However, what God intends for good, the enemy indents for evil. In a fallen world, we go through experiences that shape our imaginations and cause us to interpret the world in ways that don’t align with the truth.
One of the most pervasive problems in contemporary Western Christianity is that we mistakenly assume that theological information automatically translates into transformation. We tend to have a naïve conviction that if only we read another book or join a Bible study or take a class that we will be changed.
Western Christians have forgotten how to use the imagination with regard to spiritual matters. Most of us only know God with our intellect, not our imagination. For many, faith is little more than intellectual assent to certain propositions and a commitment to live in a certain way. We tend to equate the imagination with fantasy and make believe, and therefore we have come to mistrust it, especially in spiritual matters. So our imaginations, the way we see and interpret ourselves and the world, continues to reflect more the pattern of this world rather than conformity to Jesus Christ.
If our faith is going to be powerful and transformative, it is going to have to be imaginative and experiential. St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, wrote, “It is not knowing a lot but grasping things intimately and savoring them that fills and satisfies the soul.” Memories shape us profoundly because we grasp them and savor them not as information but “intimately.” This is the manner in which we need to embrace our faith, and our theology, if it is to satisfy our souls and transform our lives.
It’s a wonderful thing to confess theologically the claim that God is love (1 John 4:16), but this information will not significantly impact us until we can intimately grasp and savor the truth that God loves us individually. So too it’s a wonderful thing to confess the theology that Jesus died for the world (2 Cor 5:14-15), but this information will not significantly impact the way we experience ourselves and the world until it becomes vivid, experiential, and personalized. I need to be able to savor in a concrete way the truth that Jesus died for me, that he loves me to this unfathomable degree, and that I am completely forgiven. This moves theological truths from mere information to my imagination.
—Adapted from Seeing Is Believing, pages 71-80
Photo Credit: Yoosun Won via Unsplash
The Scandalous Love series is often considered one of Greg’s and Woodland Hill’s most foundational series. In fact, it was so important that it subsequently led to the Can’t Stop the Love series. Defining the true character of God is at the heart of what ReKnew is all about, so we wanted to host…
This is a sermon clip from Greg’s preaching a couple of weeks ago. He testifies about answered prayer and also details the important role of the imagination in prayer. This sermon is based on Greg’s book called Seeing is Believing. If you’re interested, you should definitely pick that up. You can find the whole sermon…
It is so easy to do our daily stuff of life as though God does not exist. This is not a statement about our beliefs about God’s existence. It’s a statement about our moment-by-moment living. This is even true for those of us who spend most of our time in daily work that is directly…
Given that we have just launched ReKnew, I thought it would be helpful to spend a good portion of our initial blogs unpacking the theological vision of ReKnew. Our goal is to post content to the site at least three or four times a week, with two of these posts (on average) being fresh content from me addressing particular theological topics. The other posts will be things such as videos, quotes of the day, featured articles from elsewhere on the web questions from readers, and so on.
Before I begin unpacking ReKnew’s theological vision in subsequent posts, however, today I want to offer four preliminary words about the theological convictions I’ll be espousing.
Peter via Compfight As a follow-up to Rachel Held Evans’ thoughts yesterday on the Scandal of the Evangelical Heart, we thought we would post this reflection by Peter Enns about the Deeper Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. He claims that in the current environment when professors and pastors are constrained by the consequences of asking…