Sadly, we live in a time where the church has shouted the question, “Why do we need artists?” A side effect of the church’s present anti-intellectual state has been a massive creative withdrawal. But the question is often raised: what does imagination have to do with the truth? What does imagination have to do with the mission of the Church? What does imagination have to do with apologetics?
Tim Keller, writing an essay in the book “It Was Good”, makes a very provocative and controversial claim:
“we need artists because… we can’t understand truth without art. You see, reason tells me about the truth, but I really cannot grasp what it means; I can’t understand it without art.”
Talk about a bold statement! Is this true? If it is, then it’s impact on apologetics cannot be understated.
Keller goes on to use an example from Jonathan Edwards, the famous Great Awakening pastor and theologian. Citing a passage from his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (which should be required reading for any believer), Keller contrasts two statements from Edwards: one making a point, and the other developing it further and driving it in through imaginative imagery. Edwards writes. ““Your righteousness cannot keep you out of hell.” This is simple statement and easily understood at a basic level. But as you read that sentence, pay attention to how you understand it when you read Edwards flesh it out:
“Your wickedness makes you, as it were, heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock.” (Edwards)
Even if you disagree with Edwards, its hard to deny that the truth of his earlier statement carries a larger weight when it’s expressed in a way that captivates the imagination. Your body heavy as lead; descending into a bottomless gulf; a spider’s web trying to stop a falling rock. These expressions take the truth that Edwards is conveying and give it a weight and impact that just isn’t there without it. There are countless other examples that one could think of that demonstrates Keller’s point: Aslan on the stone table, Frodo in Mount Doom, Spock dying from radiation before Kirk’s eyes (as a Trekkie, I had to throw that one in there – that scene gets me every time!).
As apologists we are defenders of the Christian faith, and there is much truth to both convey and defend. But I can’t help but wonder if we are shortchanging ourselves when we are focusing so much on the clarity and precision of the truth (unquestionably vital as it may be) but we have failed to take care as to how we express it. Perhaps this is part of the reason why getting apologetics into churches is a difficult task, or that average Christians in general find it to be a boring endeavor. We know nothing further could be the truth, but why is it so hard to persuade Christians who think apologetics isn’t worth it? Could the solution be as simple as stirring the imagination of the believer?
Apologists need artists because we will not be able to effectively communicate the truths of the Christian worldview and the Gospel unless the entire mind – including the imagination – is involved in the process. For all the data, arguments, studies, and debates that we have, we have yet to assimilate this work into ways that will captivate the imagination of the average believer. Far from being detached from our mission and task, stimulating the imagination may be one of the apologist’s most crucial target, and one that isn’t even on the radar. We should make it an endeavor to hit that target – our mission and effectiveness in the culture and the world depends on it.