A perceptive review of our book on the Imagination

A perceptive review of our book on the Imagination January 9, 2015

The always-interesting Greg Forster has written a very perceptive review of the new book I wrote with Matt Ristuccia:   Imagination Redeemed.  The best reviews not only tell about a book but contribute to the topics it raises, and this one certainly does this, thoughtfully extending the discussion of the role of the imagination in the life of the Christian.  (And, for the record, I even agree with his one criticism of our book, which zeroes in on something we did not intend to say.)

From Greg Forster, Imagination Redeemed | TGC | The Gospel Coalition:

Scripture constantly prompts us to use our imaginations, and this is not accidental. As the wonderful new book Imagination Redeemed: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind shows, imagination is central to the whole project of Scripture—and therefore to living as Christians. But the role of imagination has been neglected and, in many cases, misunderstood. Gene Veith (professor of literature at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia) and Matthew Ristuccia (pastor of Stone Hill Church in Princeton, New Jersey) show with beautiful simplicity why imagination matters so much, and how God uses our imaginations to draw us ever closer to himself and to one another.

Today, if we hear Christian discussions of imagination at all, they are usually talking about specialized professionals like artists, writers, and entertainers. Imagination Redeemed is about something much more fundamental:

We ordinary folks are exhorted to “be creative!” and to “use your imagination!” But, failing to measure up to the great poets and inventors, we might reasonably conclude, “I don’t really have much imagination.” But you do! If I say, “think of a tree,” and you can do that, you have imagination. (14)

Once we realize we are all constantly using our imaginations, all day every day, we see that our imaginations absolutely must be taken captive to Christ. This is not some special activity for the master class; this is essential to everyone’s daily walk with God.

Imagination Redeemed is written with an innovative structure that blends theoretical insight with practical guidance. Readers will be richly blessed by this unique approach. Each chapter consists of three parts: first Veith unfolds a vision of the role of imagination in Christian life; then Ristuccia demonstrates these lessons in action by exegeting one of Ezekiel’s visions; then, in a “colloquy,” the two authors provide specific advice the reader can put to use in his or her own life.

How Imagination Glorifies God

Imagination was given to us so we could love God. He is invisible, but his qualities are made known to us by that which is visible (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20). Through the imagination we retain these visible things in our memories and recall them to our minds. Likewise, we come to know God by seeing his image in Christ (Col. 1:15). So we cannot love God in a sustained or rightly ordered way without constantly using our imaginations rightly.

Imagination was given to us so we could love each other. Imagination Redeemed showed me something I had never realized: practically every aspect of neighbor love involves imagination. We cannot do to others what we would have them do to us without first imagining what we would have them do to us. Or if we wish to obey God’s command to respect the “image of God” in all human beings, we must have a well-developed and disciplined power of grasping images. What is that but imagination? Paul commands us to bear one another’s burdens and consider the interests of others; how do we know what others’ burdens and interests are, except by using imagination to place ourselves in their shoes?

Imagination was given to us so we could live through a Christian worldview. It is a fatal mistake to think that a worldview can be reduced to a set of explicit cognitive propositions, or that worldviews are constructed mainly through formal, cerebral reasoning. Even the current Christian vogue for “narrative” isn’t enough; there is more to a worldview than a story. Worldviews “are mental models, creatively assembled to make sense of life. . . . Worldviews are generally communicated and transmitted by works of the imagination” (92).

Imagination was given to us so we could practice hope. We walk by faith, not by sight; we value what is unseen more than what is seen. How can we firmly and consistently look beyond the world we see, if not through active and well-trained imagination?

When Imagination Malfunctions

Alas, the fall has comprehensively distorted our imaginations. All sin is at some level an attempt to live in an imaginary world rather than the real one (where God is in charge). Wrong use of imagination, then, is as essential to sin as right use is essential to godliness (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 13:10; Rom. 1:21). Hence the importance of idolatry—worshiping images—in Scripture’s understanding of sin. I especially appreciated the connection Veith draws between the role of imagination in sin and Reformation theology—our sin problem is not just particular sinful acts, it is “the twisted proclivity of our inner lives” (62).

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