Monday, February 6, 2017

Imaginative Apologetics VI - Christian Apologetics and the Human Imagination

Apologetics, Imagination, and Imaginative Apologetics

In earlier posts, I set the framework for the core material in Imaginative Apologetics, seeking to provide the lay of the land in contemporary apologetics and the faculty of imagination.  Now we are engaging the individual articles in Andrew Davison’s edited volume, Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition.[1]  Last post, I gave in-depth consideration of the two articles considering the relationship between faith and reason.  In this post, on to the second of four major sections of the work.  As a reminder, you can find my full treatment in Trinity Journal.[2]

Christian Apologetics and the Human Imagination

Section two of Imaginative Apologetics (“Christian Apologetics and the Human Imagination”) comprises three strong articles noting the importance of imagination and literature in Christian apologetics.
In chapter three,[3] Alison Milbank (University of Nottingham) argues that contemporary attitudes and imaginative works “leave us impoverished” with either a “cold rationalism” or a Kantian separation of “phenomena and noumena.”[4] Contemporary apologetics, in Milbank’s view, must “awaken . . . homesickness for the absolute” and demonstrate that Christianity is a “vision that includes everything, restoring the lost beauty of the world.”[5] The high calling of apologetics is to awaken the spirit of the individual, to “offer a whole way of regarding our experience and beginning to reintegrate our experience.”[6]
Donna Lazenby then argues that Christian apologists should pay attention to the metaphysical assertions imaginatively set forth in contemporary “New Atheist” novels.[7] She draws on the essential insight (shared and stated strongly by James Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom) that literature provides a more immediate and effective route to the human heart than does propositional argumentation. In particular, the stories that resonate with contemporary culture illuminate the “desires” and “yearnings” of our day.[8] Lazenby focuses on authors Ian McEwan and Martin Amis, as well as the Twilight Saga (or phenomenon).[9] She notes that novels like Ian McEwan’s Atonement are entirely inconsistent internally—insisting on the one hand that value judgments are illegitimate on evolutionary grounds, but on the other hand making such judgments when it suits his purpose.[10] Despite the inconsistencies of such novels, however, atheistic works are resonating with contemporary culture—perhaps none more so than the Twilight series. The question must be asked, then, “what is it offering these people?”[11] That is, why do people find Twilight so winsome? The Christian apologist must identify the human longings or yearnings that contemporary literature is sparking, and respond in two ways. First, one must identify how the appealing atheistic literature is “actually reconfiguring human desires, aspirations and passions on their own religious and spiritual terms.”[12] Second, “[t]he apologist must find ways to expose this deceit, addressing peoples’ confusion about what the Christian faith is really about, while making it demonstrably clear that the Church has a response for the yearnings these literatures document.”[13]
In chapter five, Michael Ward (Oxford University) presents an excellent and compelling exposition of C. S. Lewis’s use of imagination, reason, and will.[14] Ward argues that imagination is (in Lewis’s terms) “the organ of meaning,”[15] that which supplies the raw materials of meaning and conception with which reason can then work. Ward notes that Lewis, like many contemporaries, struggled not just to believe Christianity, but more importantly to understand “what the doctrine meant.”[16] Thus, a reasoned defense of Christianity requires first of all imagination to provide the meaning of what is being reasoned for. Hence, although “apologetics is a ‘reasoned defence,’ its basis is necessarily imaginative, for reason cannot work without imagination.”[17] However, imagination itself cannot get the apologetic job done: “Without the controlling and clarifying effects of reason, imaginative efforts at apprehending God are always apt to lose themselves and turn unreliable or even rotten.”[18] Reason, then, plays a regulative role in imaginative apologetics. Even “imaginative reason” is, however, insufficient.[19] In the end, both imagination and reason are insufficient without a transformation of individual will, which requires “divine supervention.”[20]
Ward closes his article with a reminder of the essential function of apologetics, understood as imaginative reasoning apologetics. He notes that “although reasoned defences do not of themselves create conviction, the absence of them makes belief much harder to engender or sustain.”[21] That is, rational apologetics may not be sufficient, but it is necessary. He approvingly cites Lewis: “If the intellectual climate is such that, when a man comes to the crisis at which he must either accept or reject Christ, his reason and imagination are not on the wrong side, then his conflict will be fought out under favourable conditions.”[22] The will, and the conversion that only God can ultimately bring about, is “The Best,” but imagination and reason (The Good and the Better; or is it The Better and The Good?) are necessary components.
The three articles comprising the second meaty section of Imaginative Apologetics provide a tremendous balance.  On the one hand, they emphasize the necessity of a reasoned Christianity—providing rational foundations for and explanations of the faith—in a post-Christian society.  On the other hand, they remind us that reason alone is entirely insufficient: apologetics needs to engage the emotions and imagination, to connect the truth-claims of Christianity to the hearts and souls of non-Christians around us.
In the next blog, onward bound through Imaginative Apologetics.

[1] Andrew Davison, ed. Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012. 169 pp. $25.00.
[2] Tawa J. Anderson, “Apologetics, Imagination, and Imaginative Apologetics,” in Trinity Journal 34 (2013): 229-51.
[3] Alison Milbank, “Apologetics and the Imagination: Making Strange,” in Imaginative Apologetics, 31-45.
[4] Alison Milbank, “Apologetics and the Imagination: Making Strange,” 31, 33, 44.
[5] Alison Milbank, “Apologetics and the Imagination: Making Strange,” 44.
[6] Alison Milbank, “Apologetics and the Imagination: Making Strange,” 33.
[7] Donna J. Lazenby, “Apologetics, Literature, and Worldview,” in Imaginative Apologetics, 46-58.
[8] Lazenby, “Apologetics, Literature, and Worldview,” 46, 58.
[9] On McEwan, see Lazenby, 49-53; on Amis, see 53-56; on Twilight, see 56-58.
[10] Lazenby, “Apologetics, Literature, and Worldview,” 53.
[11] Lazenby, “Apologetics, Literature, and Worldview,” 56.
[12] Lazenby, “Apologetics, Literature, and Worldview,” 58.
[13] Lazenby, “Apologetics, Literature, and Worldview,” 58.
[14] Michael Ward, “The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C. S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Apologetics,” in Imaginative Apologetics, 59-78.
[15] Ward, “The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best,” 61.
[16] Ward, “The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best,” 64. Emphasis original.
[17] Ward, “The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best,” 68.
[18] Ward, “The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best,” 73.
[19] Ward, “The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best,” 75.
[20] Ward, “The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best,” 77.
[21] Ward, “The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best,” 78.
[22] Ward, “The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best,” 78; citing C. S. Lewis, “The Decline of Religion.”