Here is this week’s excerpt, from chapter three of Reimagining Apologetics, a chapter entitled, “Reaching Out.” In this (slightly modified) excerpt I explore three dimensions of the imagination: seeing, sensing, and shaping.


Imagination is essential for imaging God in cultivation of creation, and any discussion of the divine image ought to include the imaginative capacity to say, “what if we did this?”

There are multiple layers to this imaginative exploration. First, there is an aspect of seeing, the apprehension of our position in the world: where are we? Next, there is an aspect of sensing, the way desire is evoked particular directions: what is worth pursuing? Finally, there is an aspect of shaping, the creative activity of culture making: what will we make of our situation?The imaginative faculty moves us forward by facilitating three things: (1) an orienting vision for the world, (2) an aesthetic experience of the world, and (3) poetic participation in the world. The lives we lead in response to these questions are our lived interpretations of God’s creative address.

Let us briefly examine each of these dimensions.

1) Seeing: Imaginative seeing occurs when the imagination projects an image toward the world that is connected to belief or desire that something be the case. Projected belief is successful when belief matches the world; projected desire is successful when the world matches the desired state of affairs. This is the most basic level of intentional imaginative activity, including the simplest forms of imagining like speculation (“I imagine it will rain today”).

2) Sensing: Whereas seeing projects an image on the world, sensing moves in the opposite direction and occurs when an image impresses itself on the mind. Instead of me using my imagination, my imagination uses me, captivating me with a felt sense that translates spontaneously into a physiological response. The image that impresses itself spontaneously evokes fear or gladness, anxiety or anticipation, consistent with my desires.

3) Shaping: Shaping is the most creative exercise of the imagination, a multi-dimensional constructive project in which a person clears a generative space to facilitate a perspectival shift. Counterintuitively, this means pursuing imaginative tension, even stirring up unpleasant emotions, for the sake of some greater imaginative payoff.

An illustration may be helpful. When I read Harry Potter to my children, their imagination is engaged at multiple levels. First, when my children imagine that Voldemort is chasing Harry, their minds are projecting an image for the sake of the story. This is the first layer of imagining: seeing. The image allows the story to be believable on its own terms, even if my children willingly suspend their disbelief about Voldemort’s existence in the “real” world. They are seeing things that are not physically present, and they are able to distinguish between the truth-value of their imaginings in terms of the story from the truth-value of the imagining in terms of the real world. Furthermore, they desire that Voldemort not exist in the real world, even as they desire that he exist in the world of the story; both imaginative desires seem to be satisfactory to them.

When we close the book and they try to go to sleep, they find that the image of Voldemort continues to impress itself on their consciousness. This is the second layer of imagining: sensing. They still see images of things that are not present, but what they see is evoked contrary to their desire (they don’t want to see it). Yet their imagination has been taken captive, and they feel that they are still on the inside of the story. Thus they spontaneously feel Harry’s fear as the imaginative impulse evokes their desire for safety. The image has captivated their imagination so that they are not able to wish it away by sheer force of will.

Finally, even if the feeling of fear evoked by the images that linger is unpleasant, they continue to ask for the story each night. When they play, they integrate the narrative of the story into their games, acting out the adventure together in a mash-up of other stories they have heard, seen, or invented. This is the third layer of imagining: shaping. The story creates tension, but it also situates the difficult emotions in a larger narrative. Playing with the elements of the story creates a space where they can process the difficult emotions they encounter in the primary world.

In the scenario, all three kinds of imagining are active at the same time. The first moves from mind to world, the second reciprocally from world to mind, and the third creates a space in which the two can be negotiated in a satisfying manner. Throughout the process, they are engaged in the larger project of exploring possible ways of being in the world.

But if human imagination is meant to image God in unfolding the potentialities of creation, it follows that our seeing, sensing, and shaping find fullness in being, loving, and doing. The imagination projects possible visions, draws out our desire, and seeks creative space. But as we move toward ethical fullness, seeing must lead to integrity: the visions we project must become true of us. Sensing must lead to commitment: properly elicited desires, rightly ordered by love. And shaping must lead to care: taking responsibility for the world in which we are embedded


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Photo by Louis Maniquet on Unsplash

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