Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Whether or not these books can be credited with sparking current trends, it’s clear the spirit of both of them is alive and well in American Christianity. The so-called “New Reformed” movement is living out Noll’s call for greater intellectual engagement and doctrinal sophistication. And legions of younger Christians are taking up Sider’s vision to seek social justice in Jesus’ name. I support both of these relatively recent developments, more or less. But I think they have the same shortcoming in common. As different as they are, they both appeal to the intellect in one way or another. They both seem to assume that if we simply believe the right things (whether it’s the doctrine of atonement or the Christian’s moral responsibility in the world) then we’ll behave the right way.O'Brien has a point, though I think he ignores the entire Pentecostal movement which seems to be wholly about finding a non-intellectual plane and pretty much ignoring the intellect altogether.
I’m not convinced.
I think there’s another, deeper problem in evangelicalism, what I’ll call (for consistency’s sake) the scandal of the evangelical imagination.
I don’t mean that evangelicals produce bad art (although we do), and I’m not issuing a call for more sophisticated creative engagement with culture (though we need one). Imagination is broader than that. The dictionary defines imagination as “the faculty or action of forming new ideas,” or “images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” This has to do with faith at its core. We are accustomed to trusting our senses to tell us what is true. But imagination offers a broader perspective on truth. If imagination is the capacity to visualize, and be confident in a reality, even if it contradicts our experience, then it refuses to let our senses determine the limits of what is possible. Faith requires us to envision and inhabit a world that we cannot perceive with our senses--a world where an invisible God lovingly maintains his creation, where the Son of God can become a human child, can die on a cross to save sinners, and be seated at the right hand of God in glory.
I also think he has taking a misstep by using the word "imagination" in this context. I even agree with his thesis, but it's not about imagination - it's about spirit. I've seen people "imagine" themselves into deep and significant heresy. Worse, I've seen people imagine themselves quite literally to death. (Long story)
But our spirit, that piece of the supernatural in us, when aligned with God's Holy Spirit will not lead us down false paths. Maybe I am piking a nit here, but I think it is an important one.
We need to move past our intellect into God's actual presence, but I am not at all sure imagination is how we get there.