In the interview with Mathew Block, we got into the role of the imagination in apologetics, which I discuss at length in my upcoming book with Matthew Ristuccia. Here I discuss how many people’s difficulties with the Christian faith have to do with the way they imagine it.
CL: Because God relates to people in that way—speaking to us through our imaginations—what does that mean for the Church’s mission of bringing the Gospel to others?
A big reason why so many people today have no religious beliefs at all is, I think, a failure of the contemporary imagination. People cannot even conceive of God. They are closed off from spiritual things because their imaginations have been shaped by a narrow, materialist understanding of the universe—that what we see is all there is. That’s very limiting and it’s stultifying to the imagination. People today in our post-modern world are not open to religion, but it isn’t a matter that they think Christianity has been disproven or that they can’t believe it intellectually—the same people who are skeptical of Christianity are also skeptical of reason! They’re just trapped in their imaginations.
Art can help awaken the imagination to transcendence and to mystery—to open people up to the idea that there’s something more than just their little lives. J.R.R. Tolkien was once defending fantasy from the charge that it’s escapist. He answered by saying, ‘If you’re in prison, it’s healthy to want to escape.’ His point was that people today are imprisoned by their narrow materialistic worldviews.
One thing that Christians can do to reach people is to intentionally speak to their imaginations—to give them the intimation that there’s something more than their narrow little lives. To help them realize their need for Christ—to imagine what it means to be lost and what eternal life is.
Many of the obstacles against the Christian faith in people’s minds are really imaginative creations: they think of God as an old man with a beard up in the sky looking down on this suffering world, and they can’t believe that. No one should believe that. God is much bigger than that. We have to explode some of these false impressions that people have and replace them with something more real—to open people up to the real mysteries of existence that point ultimately to God.
Just waking up the imagination of someone isn’t enough, of course; we have to get them back into objective truth. But awakening imagination and opening people’s eyes to bigger spiritual realities is very important as a first step. From there, we lead them into the truth of God’s Word.