Imagine!

It was at the beginning of my time in seminary that I first came into contact with someone who was a reformed Christian. Prior to that, Calvinism was a mysterious belief system derided by some as totalitarian or worse.

I found in reformed theology a way of following Christ that paid serious attention to the intellectual and doctrinal as well as the experiential. I needed a way of being a Christian that allowed my mind to be part of the journey as well as my heart.

This isn’t, of course, to say that there are no other parts of the Christian family that do this only that my experience was that I came to reformed theology before others and now I am a minister in a reformed body, the Presbyterian Church USA.

One of the other significant influences on my Christian identity has been C S Lewis, no Calvinist. In Lewis I found just as much intellect and reason as in the greatest reformed theologian, but something else in addition. Imagination.

For Lewis, the imagination was the most important faculty. In my experience many reformed Christians are more than a little frightened of the imagination. This is why Calvinist poets like John Piper, for example, are something of an anomaly.

Like caricatures of the Puritans, many reformed Christians expect that the imagination will more likely lead them astray than help redeem them. However, there are limits to reason. G. K. Chesterton once wrote that the perfectly rational man lives in an insane asylum. Interestingly, being nothing but rationality or intellect is actually less than fully human.

This is where Lewis is so helpful. He uses story to powerfully enact his theology in a way that helps it to work deeply into our souls. There’s a limit to how deeply a truth can penetrate us through the mind. Real knowledge, the sort that truly shapes and forms us, comes about through the integration of heart and mind and through enacting and embodying that truth in a physical and sensate way. This is the power of liturgy and ritual*, two good words that are rich with meaning and need to be recaptured by reformed Christians.

Several months ago I came across a list of books on the spiritual life that C S Lewis had recommended in his correspondence. You can find that list here.

I have reproduced it below:

  1. Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations
  2. Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
  3. George Herbert, The Temple
  4. William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life
  5. G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man
  6. Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy
  7. Theologica Germanica
  8. Augustine, Confessions
  9. Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity
  10. George McDonald, Unspoken Sermons
  11. John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
  12. Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
  13. Edwyn Bevan, Symbolism and Belief
  14. Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy
  15. Dante, The Divine Comedy
  16. Walter Hilton, The Scale of Perfection
  17. Charles Gore, The Philosophy of the Good Life
  18. Athanasius, On the Incarnation
  19. Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
  20. Thomas Browne, Religio Medici
  21. Jeremy Taylor, The Whole Works of Jeremy Taylor
  22. Joseph Butler, Sermons
  23. Coventry Patmore, poetry
  24. Essays Catholic and Critical, ed. E.G. Selwyn
  25. Francois Mauriac, Life of Jesus
  26. Charles Williams, The Descent into Hell
  27. Dorothy Sayers, The Man Born To Be King
Of course, not all of these books are primarily imaginative. It seems that Lewis read widely and used what he read to form and shape his imagination which in turn shaped and formed his rational mind.
I have to confess that I have read less than a third of these, which is sort of embarrassing. Much of my recent reading has been in the areas of leadership, missional theology/ecclesiology, and some biography. I need to put some fiction into the lineup and also to consciously integrate some spiritual reading into it too.
Here’s my resolution: to read another third of these books over the next academic year. 
What about you?  Does imagination aid in God’s redemptive work in your own life? How many of these books have you read?

*I consider myself a sacramental, liturgical, and missional presbyterian.

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