Thursday, January 26, 2017

Imaginative Apologetics Part IV - Smith, Vanhoozer, and The Place of Apologetic Imagination

Apologetics, Imagination, and Imaginative Apologetics

            This is the 4th in a series of blog posts covering a review article I wrote for Trinity Journal,[1] a lengthy interaction with Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition, edited by Andrew Davison.[2]
Previously in this series of posts, I surveyed the terrain of historical and contemporary Christian apologetics, and began a consideration of the place of imagination in apologetics. I want to continue that examination with a focus upon the insights of Kevin Vanhoozer and Jamie Smith. In subsequent posts, I will interact with the various articles in Imaginative Apologetics.
Situating Imagination
In the view of Andrew Davison, editor of and contributor to Imaginative Apologetics, too many current apologetic works are marked by a paucity of imagination. Many apologetic works focus so strongly on rational arguments and proofs that they become “cold or arid.” Thus, the goal of Imaginative Apologetics is to make apologetics “a matter of wonder and desire,” a presentation of a Christian truth “that is supremely attractive and engaging.”[3] Davison and his contributors find some similarly-concerned company in the contemporary scene of Christian philosophy and apologetics.

In Existential Reasons for Belief in God, Clifford Williams argues that rational coherence and evidences are not the only (or even the primary) means of positing the significance and truthfulness of Christianity. Instead, Williams argues, one needs to take note of the existential and emotional needs that exist, and seek to appeal to the heart, not just the head.[4]
More prominently and deeply, Calvin College’s James K. A. Smith continues his Cultural Liturgies project with Imagining the Kingdom, an appeal to readers to take note of the importance of both imagination and embodiment.[5] Smith notes that human beings are not merely minds, but are fully-embodied creatures; hence, our Christian formation requires not just intellectual training, but also formation of desire and imagination. Smith defines imagination as “a kind of faculty by which we navigate and make sense of our world, but in ways and on a register that flies below the radar of conscious reflection, and specifically ways that are fundamentally aesthetic [bodily] in nature.”[6] Imagination, for Smith, is not creative license or “making things up”; rather, it is the means by which the body is trained to experience and encounter the external world. Thus, “I am regularly ‘making sense’ of the world on a register that has nothing to do with logic or . . . ‘intellectualism.’”[7]
What is needed in Christian formation and education, then, are renewed “cultural liturgies” that form the whole person, not merely the mind. Hence the weakness of what Smith identifies as “intellectualism”—strains of Christian thought (evident in Classical and Evidentialist Apologetics) that emphasize knowing the right thing, thinking the right thing, and having rightly-ordered minds. Christian educators must instead focus on what Pierre Bourdieu labels habitus—“a communal, collective disposition that gets inscribed in me.”[8] A habitus is developed, at least initially, unconsciously and kinaesthetically (through the body, not the mind). It is a social construct: not something which we determine as an individual, but rather the outcome of rituals (liturgies) into which we are initiated.
Smith’s desire to cultivate “kingdom imagination” does not stem from an anti-intellectualism, or a disdain for a reasonable faith. His concern, rather, is for a holistic approach to Christian education and discipleship. Christian apologetics needs to appeal not just to the head, but also to the heart; not just to human reason, but also to embodied human imagination.
Kevin Vanhoozer similarly appeals for the application of imagination, not only in apologetics, but also in hermeneutics and discipleship. For Vanhoozer, as for Smith, Williams, and Davison, imagination is not “make-believe” or “pretending”; rather, imagination is the unique human faculty which enables him to “keep the big biblical picture (creation-fall-redemption-consummation) in mind as I attempt to live day by day, minute by minute, as a follower of Jesus Christ who desires above all to have one’s thought and life correspond to the gospel.” Discipleship, or sanctification, requires Vanhoozer to “keep the gospel story (together with its presuppositions and implications) in mind, and I have to connect my story to that of Jesus.” And that process, Vanhoozer insists, requires the faculty of imagination.[9]
Given the importance of imagination in apologetics, how, then, do the authors of Imaginative Apologetics set forth their case?  I will turn to that in my next post!  Stay tuned.

[1] Tawa J. Anderson, “Apologetics, Imagination, and Imaginative Apologetics,” in Trinity Journal 34 (2013): 229-51.
[2] Andrew Davison, ed. Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012. 169 pp. $25.00.
[3] Andrew Davison, Imaginative Apologetics, xxvi.
[4] Clifford Williams, Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011). Williams identifies thirteen existential needs that are experienced by all human beings—eight self-directed needs (cosmic security, life after death, heaven, goodness, a larger life, to be loved, meaning, to be forgiven) and five other-directed needs (to love, to experience awe, delighting in goodness, being present, justice/fairness). Williams' work on existential needs is a major strength of the book as a whole. He notes that existential needs are widespread and closely inter-connected; the notion of this 'constellation' of needs is a recurring theme throughout the book. Critics of classical and evidential apologetics will generally be pleased by Williams’ emphasis on nonrational or nonintellectual connections and appeals. Nonetheless, they may find fault with Williams’ insistence that humans’ existential needs can be used to construct a logical argument for the existence of God. Despite the existential and emotional import of the book, Williams could still be called a classical apologist!
[5] James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, Cultural Liturgies, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013).
[6] Smith, Imagining the Kingdom, 19.
[7] Smith, Imagining the Kingdom, 51.
[8] Smith, Imagining the Kingdom, 81.
[9] Kevin Vanhoozer, interview with Justin Taylor, as quoted at Accessed August 28, 2013. I wish to express appreciation to Alec Daugherty for helpful thoughts on Vanhoozer’s understanding of imagination and sanctification.