[This post is a work in progress as part of the CAA Catechism.]
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Summary in 400 words or less:
Imaginative apologetics is basically what it sounds like: using or piquing one’s imagination to teach or do apologetics. By far the most famous example is C.S. Lewis’ works of fiction of which the Narnia Chronicles are particularly famous examples. Of course there are many other examples in all forms of art, and having a strong imagination can help with propositional apologetics. In propositional apologetics, one reads arguments, but imaginative apologetics is about experiencing truths through the lives of the characters, narrative, and imagination.
Imaginative apologetics is not merely about teaching theology with stories and art. In fact often times that kind of teaching would fall flat. Instead, one ought to think about imaginative apologetics as living out various Christian truths in art. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles seem more explicit, not necessarily intentionally, but Tolkien was deliberately implicit in his fiction writings. That is, he intentionally folds the Christian truths up in such a manner that they’re not obvious. One experiences, through Tolkien’s characters various situations which lead to various Christian truths.
There are some good Christian authors still writing fiction today, but this is one area in which Christians could grow more. Any Christian with the talent of good fictional writing skills would do well to serve Christ by using some form of literary apologetics. This form of apologetics is great at opening doors to the most closed-off skeptics. In fact C.S. Lewis scholar Michael Ward said, “It is no good arguing for ‘God’ or ‘Christ’ or for ‘the atonement’ or even for ‘truth’ until the apologist has shown, at least at some basic level, that these terms have real meaning.” And, imaginative apologetics can do so in a way that is better felt than learned.
In fact this type of apologetics does work. C. S. Lewis said in his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, that reading George MacDonald’s fantasy novel Phantastes started him on a journey that led to Christ: “That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer.” As Christians let us seek to take every thought captive, and use all our tools, nonfiction and fiction, propositional apologetics and imaginative, prose and poetic, let all our words and deeds glorify God and help others to do so also.
Scripture for YouVersion:
2 Corinthians 10:3-5: For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but [b]divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
A lecture by Michael Ward: “Is Faith Without Imagination Dead?” (audio only, approx 1 hr) http://www.holytrinityanglicanchurch.org/sermons/is-faith-without-imagination-dead
A lecture by Malcolm Guite: “Telling the Truth Through Imaginative Fiction” (approx 1 hr) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOxbeQLFX2k
Three questions (one fill-in-the-blank, one multiple choice, and one discussion question):
1. Who is the most famous author known for using imaginative apologetics?
_______________ (C.S. Lewis, Tolkien would also be an acceptable answer)
2. Which of these genres best fits when working with imaginative apologetics?
- historical fiction
- all of the above will work fine
(e. all of the above will work fine)
3. Besides the two greats mentioned above, Lewis and Tolkien, who is a modern-day example of an author that uses imaginative apologetics, and should more Christians seek to use this type of apologetics?
References for further reading:
Anything by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien
The Father Brown series, by G.K. Chesterton
Dante’s Divine Comedy
Dorothy Sayers’ The Man Born to be King
The poetry of George Herbert, John Donne, and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of CS Lewis
Malcolm Guite’s Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination
Leland Ryken (editor): The Christian Imagination
Collaborators: Samuel Ronicker, Adrian Urias, Holly Ordway, David Marshall
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