The Biblical Imagination

Finally, let's discuss what is meant by the word "informed." In this series we speak of "engaging with scripture at the level of the informed imagination." This was the approach of my friend and mentor, the late William Lane. It is an approach that shaped everything he did, from the writing of two major commentaries to the way he lived out his daily extraordinary life.

  1. More reflections on Cultivating a Holy Imagination here.
  2. Read the Preface of Michael Card's new book, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, here.
  3. Pop-jazz musician Mark Weber reviews Card's new book.

I opened with a cozy scene of Jesus calling his disciples from Mark 1:17. I began by painting the scene, that is, by imagining it as you and I have probably done many times before. It is an attractive picture but not necessarily a biblical one. You see, it was imagined by an uninformed imagination. Let's retell the same scene from a more biblically informed perspective.

Jesus has recently returned from his ordeal in the wilderness where, as only Mark tells us, he was "with the wild beasts." Perhaps there is still some reflection of this intense period of temptation on his face. Secondly, he has just discovered that his cousin, John, has been thrown into prison by the bloodthirsty Herod. It doesn't require Jesus' prophetic imagination to see that John's life will not last much longer. We will see in Mark an ever-present shadow of the prospect of persecution. That shadow looms large over this opening scene. It is not cozy, it is ominous.

Finally there is the business of Jesus' creative appeal to the tired fisherman that he will make them "fishers of men." Once you spend some time with the Jesus of the Gospels, you will quickly learn that almost everything he said is rooted in the Old Testament. He breathes the Torah. This opening appeal is no different.

It is rooted in the book of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. (I have wondered if the people mistook Jesus for Jeremiah because he was so open with his tears. See Mt. 16:14.) The passage in Jeremiah (16:16) is the prelude to a song about the day of disaster: "but now I will send for many fishermen," declares the Lord, "and they will catch them . . ."

The passage has to do with judgment and destruction. This is the background to the passage in the first chapter of Mark. It is not a cozy scene but one overshadowed with the serious prospect of the mission to which the disciples will soon be called. Jesus' words are neither warm nor inviting. They are ominous and powerful. The task of fishing for men and women is deadly serious business.

Once we have done our homework we return to the passage with an informed imagination. Only then does it come to life. (Even the image of the sand between the disciples' toes was wrong. The shore of Galilee is extremely rocky. Neither would it have been a silent moment, as was said earlier. Galilee is the major flyway between Africa and Europe. The sound of birds is always present!)

I agree with those who would be cautious of using the word "imagination," for with an uninformed imagination Jesus is merely a figment of the imagination. But when the imagination is surrendered along with the heart and mind, it becomes a unifying bridge that opens the scriptures in a new and meaningful way.

Return to the Patheos Book Club for more conversation on cultivating a holy imagination, as well as additional resources on Michael Card's new book Luke: The Gospel of Amazement.

3/1/2011 5:00:00 AM