Mathew Block concludes his interview by asking me about what Christians can do to cultivate the imaginative life, as I have been describing it.
CL: What can people in the church do practically to foster this imaginative way of life and this imaginative way of interacting with the world?
I’ve just written a book with Matthew Ristuccia, a pastor in Princeton, New Jersey, that talks about this sort of thing [book forthcoming from Crossway]. One thing we can do to foster a truly Christian imagination is to reflect on how we read Scripture. The visual arts, film, and music are all important mediums, but it’s really reading that shapes our imagination more than anything else. When we read, we visualize and picture the things we’re reading about; we’re doing the work of imagination in our minds.
God has given us a book that’s filled with description, stories, symbols, images, true history, and parables. We often read Scripture fairly quickly, just to get ideas from it—to extract doctrine from it. But another way of reading Scripture is to read it in a way that really lets it sink in. Part of that is reading it not only with the intellect and will, but also with the imagination. In our forthcoming book, Rev. Ristuccia and I talk about different ways of meditating on the Word of God. It involves the intellect and thinking about what we’re reading, of course, but it also involves picturing what we’re reading. And it also affects the will, so that it ends in prayer and a refocusing of the heart. I think intentionally reading Scriptures so that it feeds the imagination is a good counter to what we normally feed our imaginations with from the pop-culture around us.
Finally, Christians can also be careful about what they take into their imaginations. I think the Christian faith liberates us; we have great freedom in the Gospel. So I’m not saying ‘Only listen to Christian music’ or ‘Only watch Christian movies.’ It’s possible to listen to non-Christian music and watch non-Christian movies through the eyes of faith and through a Christian sensibility and a Christian imagination. When we do so, we can find valuable things. A violent film might make us more compassionate—might make us less violent. But another film might encourage us to revel in the violence—to enjoy it and fantasize about what it would be like to take revenge and kill someone. That’s harmful. As Christians, we need to be better stewards and more discerning about what we take into our imaginations.
A passage from Philippians puts it well: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is honest, whatever is of good report… Think on such things’ (Philippians 4:8). That’s a great guide that gives us principles of discernment. It’s liberating, not narrow either: the key part of the text is ‘whatever.’ Whatever is excellent. There are excellent works by non-Christians that have a good report; they have a great reputation. And typically, the great works are also honest: they will not portray reality in a distorted way, as if sin were something good (you won’t find many great works teaching ‘It’s good to reject your family’). That’s not what you find. The great works are honest. They’re lovely. And St. Paul tells us to ‘think on such things.’ Thinking on such ‘excellent and praiseworthy’ things, imagining such things, is very helpful for the Christian life.