A renewed imagination | Abide (pt. 4)

Remember WWJD?

The “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets somehow became a hot cultural item for a brief period in the late 90s and still remains cool in a few pockets of homeschool co-ops.

But seriously, what would Jesus do?

In many ways, “What would Jesus Do?” is the right question. It makes one think creatively about who Jesus is, what he did and does, and what he would look like in a totally new situation. We can’t just copy what we see him do in Scripture because 21st-century America is a little different than 1st-century Palestine. Rote repetition is not what disciples of Christ are after — a renewed imagination, the mind of Christ, is.

Ultimately, abiding is a matter of having a creative understanding of what it means to be sons and daughters of God, today, in our vastly diverse contexts.

We aren’t just talking about having a more comprehensive biblical worldview here. I am using ‘imagination’ quite intentionally. Many will react to the term,

Disney's "Imagination Movers"...for those who didn't know.

considering the use of imagination being to create something fictional and made up.

In his book, The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer describes imagination thus, “The imagination…is not simply ‘the power of forming mental images of what is not really present.’ The theo-dramatic imagination that fuels Christian play is altogether different: it is the ability to form mental images of what is really present –the kingdom of God — even though it cannot be perceived empirically with the senses” (416).

In other words, a renewed imagination is the ability to “see” the invisible familial bond between Christians and the Father, Son, and Spirit. To live within the family of God fittingly and naturally — Jesus is indeed your brother!

“be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” Romans 12:2

How to abide in it

Aristotle was among the first to consider theatrical improvisation an apt metaphor for practical wisdom. To talk of improvisation in regard to biblical understanding may seem dangerous. There is only one gospel, after all. To ‘improvise’ sounds like ‘swerving’. However, in theater, faithful improvisation is performed only by those actors most faithful to the story and informed by the script. Improvising is different than ad-libbing. Improvising is acting within the overarching story in a way that it appears to be scripted.

Vanhoozer borrows theatrical improvisational methods for cultivating the Christian imagination.

He does so using the two virtues of being perceptive and having perspective (334)

Perception

“To be perceptive…is to be a person upon whom nothing is lost; it is to be a person who sees and tastes everything about a situation that is theologically relevant.” (ibid)

Being perceptive, then, is how we are going to abide. For without being able to perceive the significance of ordinary circumstances, how will we enjoy the Father’s gifts? How will we recognize the opportunity to dramatize God’s goodness? How will we acknowledge God’s image in our fellow humans?

Perspective

“Perspective is…a habit of viewing particular situations in the broader context of the theo-drama.”

Having proper perspective is “the antidote to short-sightedness” (Vanhoozer, 335). Unless we are able to habitually realize our situations and circumstances are part of the unfolding story of redemption, we will not be able to improvise our role in new contexts. For in having perspective, we keep the Story in view.

Jesus did this all the time. He would charge ordinary events (like a meal with friends) with theological significance (“this is my body and my blood”). Such is Christian imagination in action, or better put, “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

Together, perception and perspective form the renewed imagination which enables adopted children of God to participate fittingly in the family of God in our respective contexts. Such an imagination is the servant of abiding. Are you cultivating it?

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This post is part of the series Abide | Robust and Ordinary Life in God

Check the others out!

Bearing the Father’s image | Part 1

Performing the gospel | Part 2

Enjoying the Father’s gifts | Part 3

Renewing your imagination | Part 4

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