My last few posts were written in anticipation of a meeting in The Hague of the Thinklings, a periodic reflective gathering of Christian Associates staff and friends. The topic this time dealt with the imagination in a missional church. Two days of very stimulating discussions alternated with some tasty meals, intervals of liquid refreshment, music, laughs. Heck, we even went to church. These discussions serve will serve as the basis for the next few posts. Though my personal spin will undoubtedly distort the tenor of the discussions, I intend to serve as biased reporter of the conversations.
Should the Christian imagination be given free rein, or should it be held in check? This was the subject of a paper presented by Hud McWilliams on “the redemptive imagination.” Discussion pivoted in part on fallenness. Imagination is part of being made in the image of God, but if the image is corrupted so too is the imagination. Unrestrained imagination is like unrestrained sex: it might be fun but it can get you in trouble. On the other hand, imposing moralistic restrictions stifles the imagination, steering it in safe, predictable, derivative, boring directions.
The sense of the group was that the church has typically exercised its moralistic restraints with excessive zeal. The emerging church offers a corrective, pushing the church in the direction of greater imaginative freedom. Rather than dealing with the imagination in terms of boundaries, the church might consider the imagination as orbiting around a central core. Some travel in a tight orbit; others explore more distant and elliptical paths. The center’s gravitational pull extends far into the distance; you can go a long way out there without drifting completely out of orbit.
Hud observed that we tend to exercise our imaginations in response to some external crisis. “Our brains are most active when they are confronted with something new. What drives this for most of us is some unwanted, unchosen interruption or crisis and not an intentional, chosen, sought-after experience.” Christianity’s emphasis on rest as the endpoint tends to reinforce a reactive imagination geared toward removing sources of unrest. In the rest model of Christianity, imagination is a coping strategy for surviving in a fallen world – implying that the imagination will not be needed in heaven.
In contrast with the rest model is the freedom model of Christianity. Redemption sets the Christian free; that means the redeemed imagination too is set free. And now we’ve orbited back to the freedom-versus-license discussion: an imagination not bounded, not free-floating, but freely orbiting the center of gravity at whatever distance you’re comfortable with.
A side note: as promised, I’ve contacted various presenters at the upcoming Baylor conference on christian imagination. It seems that none of the authors has finished writing yet. If anything of interest comes to my attention I’ll let you know.