Imagination Redeemed is meant to fill a gap in Christian literature. Typically, when we divide up human mental faculties, “…we usually think of the intellect (reason), emotions (feelings), and possibly the will (desires, choices)” (14). The authors would argue that we ought to add a fourth mental faculty to the list: imagination. John Piper’s book Think deals with the Christian and his reasoning mind, addressing the first mental faculty. Matthew Eliott’s book Feel is about the Christian and emotions, addressing the second mental faculty. The authors, following in that same vein, titled their book Imagination because it is meant to be about the Christian and the imagination, addressing the fourth mental faculty. However, as the authors later point out, “…that title was taken,” by John Lennon and his song under the same title (59). Although the authors do not mention it in the book, we might point out here that Martin Luther had previously addressed the third mental faculty of the will with his fine treatise On the Bondage of the Will. We might say that with the publication of Imagination Redeemed we have every human mental faculty covered from a Christian perspective.
Imagination is broadly defined by the authors. “Imagination is simply the power of the mind to form a mental image…” (13). Too often we narrow the definition of imagination to creativity, which often limits it to artistic form. While imagination does sometimes lead to this kind of creative activity, imagination is a very humble mental faculty that the least artistic people on earth can have and use. “Many treatments of the topic glamorize and mystify imagination… but the ability itself is a God-given power of the human mind so common, so ordinary, that we take it for granted” (14). The narrower definition of imagination has led many to overlook imagination and even shy away from it. After all, some argue, didn’t God say that “…every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 KJV)?
Each chapter in the book presents an aspect of the imagination and is followed with a biblical illustration from the book of Ezekiel. Why Ezekiel? Ezekiel has a set of visions from God’s imagination to ours that helps us to see imagination’s power to teach, admonish, correct, and encourage. In chapter 2 the authors deal with imagination and God. After admitting that the imagination is responsible for the creation of idols, the book digs into a listing of theologians’ views on the imagination. St. Augustine compared his listing of three human faculties (memory/imagination, understanding, and the will) to the Holy Trinity. He believed that since God is three in one that those made in his image would also be three in one. Martin Luther joins those who endorse the use of the imagination in the life of the Christian as he discusses the use of mental image and physical image in worship. “Of this I am certain, that God desires to have his works heard and read, especially the passion of our Lord. But it is impossible for me to hear and bear it in mind without forming mental images of it in my heart. For whether I will it or not, when I hear of Christ, an image of a man hanging on a cross takes form in my heart, just as the reflection of my face naturally appears in the water when I look into it… if it is not a sin but good to have the image of Christ in my heart, why should it be a sin to have it in my eyes?” (39) The authors go on to point out that Ezekiel, carried along by the Holy Spirit, would agree with such a thought as he paints for his readers an incredible picture of God in his first vision.
Chapter 3 addresses the imagination and evil. It is almost too easy to list all of the ways that the imagination can cause evil in our lives. We can imagine pornographic images, idols, towers of Babel, and so many other evils that ought to be simply unimaginable. The imagination must clearly be held in check. In fact, the authors point out that the evil images must be replaced with good ones. There is a real encouragement throughout the book to replace the evil imagination with meditations on images and truth from the Word of God. There is also the encouragement not to put images into our imagination that will carry us down the wrong road. The final two chapters deal with the imagination and the future and the imagination and the community of grace. The imagination has the power to picture for people a future in Christ and the community of grace has the power to feed the imagination with grace and truth.
I found one part of the book extremely thought provoking. In chapter 2, the authors discuss the imagination and its connection with biblical meditation. Although they do not wish to replace other approaches to biblical meditation, they did suggestion a method used both by the Jesuits and also the Puritans. There are three parts,
- Composition of place. Reading a passage from scripture and vividly picturing it in your mind, paying close attention to the Bible’s descriptions and figures of speech.
- Analysis. Thinking about that passage and reflecting upon what it means.
- Colloquy. Applying the passage to your own life, leading to personal conviction, resolution, and prayer.
It is my observation that we, Lutherans, are eager to skip right to analysis in our devotional life. Perhaps, it is our joy in answering the question ‘What does this mean?’ or Luther’s four questions spoken to Peter the Barber which take us straight to analysis and then to Scriptural colloquy. Nevertheless, might we try the first step? Would it enrich the Lutheran’s biblical meditation to first picture the scene using all of the five senses? At the very least, this book made me want to give it the old college try.
While the reader will notice a strange unexplained millennialism in the book and also a complete lack of focus on the sacramental life, this book will have an impact on any pastor’s spiritual life and ministry. Often in homiletics class, we discussed touching emotions, addressing reason with the outline of a sermon, and animating the will with the gospel, but we did not discuss lifting up the imagination of the congregation that I can remember. Although this book is not meant to cater only to preacher, there is a pointed encouragement to preachers as the book closes. “Likewise for us preachers: make sure that your preaching is not limited to propositional content alone… Work on metaphors. Compare the point you are making to something you see or taste or hear” (139). Both because of its impact on our own devotional lives and our lives as preachers, I heartily recommend this book for Lutheran pastors.
Gene Edward Veith Jr. serves as provost and professor of literature at Patrick Henry College. He is the author of numerous books, including Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature and State of the Arts: From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe.
Matthew P. Ristuccia serve as senior pastor of Stone Hill Church in Princeton, New Jersey. He is a nationally published columnist and author.