Reclaiming Imagination

We have made the mistake of underestimating the power of imagination. This was not always the case. Somewhere in your past you likely appreciated your imagination. Perhaps you navigated deep space in a cardboard box spaceship, dined and had tea with royalty in the shape of stuffed animals, or captured ghosts in folding colanders in an attempt to join the Ghostbusters. Yet as you grew, you likely grew out of your imagination, thinking it not the right size or fit for your life anymore. Some of that tension with your imagination stems from unmet expectations. We have all imagined the world, people, or events one way, only to discover things were not as we imagined at all. Our relationship with imagination grew even more strained as we were taught and conditioned to value reason and logic over the childish ways of imagination. In time, we learned to shelve our imaginations next to unaffordable dreams, nostalgia, and regrets. We outgrew our imaginations only to replace them with the harsh “truth” of reality.

We made a mistake. In a recent conversation with church leaders, I asked a member of the Anglican Church what we could do to define the church’s role in the world. He proposed that we become the imagination of the world once more. He waxed almost poetically of the “good ol’ days” when Rembrandt inspired and challenged the world to think of God through the medium of paint, and when Handel wrote Messiah to tell the story of Christ to the world through music. When the world today is imagination-starved, he suggested that the church feed the world’s imagination in the telling of God’s story. We must find a way to imaginatively feed the creatively-starved world with the gospel.

Fast-forward a few months, and while I was reading The Preacher as Liturgical Artist by Trygve David Johnson, I stumbled across the same idea. Johnson argues that in our postmodern world reason and imagination are no longer a dichotomy, but perhaps even partners. Noting Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, Johnson points out that science and reason are often the result of imagination; without the ability to imagine a new way of understanding the universe, these scientists could not have provided us with a new rational. [1] Ultimately, he concludes:

Imagination is an intentional act of the mind that is the genesis of creativity, novelty, and originality. In this sense, it is understood to be what ties all perception, memory, emotional thinking, and rational thinking together. It is not distinct from rationality but is rather a capacity that greatly enriches rational thinking. What imagination does with reality is the reality we live by. [2]

Imagination creates reason, forms new logic, and even creates a future reality. The world today is nothing short of what the generations before us imagined it to be. Yes, occasionally our imaginations run away from us: the Cubs didn’t win the series in 2015 like Back to the Future II predicted, and we aren’t piloting flying cars or living in the world of The Jetsons just yet. But the truth still stands that today’s reality is the result of yesterday’s imagination. Call it invention, innovation, creativity, or discovery—it all comes from imagination.

This changes everything. No longer are dreams like Martin Luther King Jr.’s simply optimistic hope; they are a possible reality. No longer is optimism a naïve trait of those who wear rose-colored glasses, but it is the imagination for a different, better tomorrow. And no longer are the ways of God’s kingdom something we must await in eternity, but a possible way of life today. Johnson stipulates, “Christianity is a result of the Holy Spirit working through the particularity of the imagination to birth us from above and into the kingdom of God.” [3] Imagination is the tool that spurs us toward creating a future reality for ourselves, our children, and the world that is grounded upon kingdom life. In the same way that Copernicus imagined the planets revolving around the sun, the church needs to imagine kingdom life as tomorrow’s reality rather than death’s eternal gift.

We must remove our imaginations from the shelves of our childhood and dust them off. It is imperative for the future of the church that we imagine a world driven by kingdom living so that we can work together to let that imagination form tomorrow’s reality. We must dream again, hope again, renew our optimism, and “strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I know your imaginations have failed you before as unmet expectations confronted reality. My heart hurts for those who imagined a life of marriage only to be met with divorce, or whose life as a parent ended too soon by the death of a child. But we must reclaim our imagination and put it to work once more so that the realities of God’s kingdom can live beyond the pages of our Scriptures; so that the world may know God.

[1] Trygve David Johnson, The Preacher as Liturgical Artist: Metaphor, Identity, and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2014), 13.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 14.


Chess serves as the pulpit minister at Gateway Church of Christ in Queen Creek, Arizona. A born and raised Texan, Chess earned a B.A., M.Div., and M.A. in New Testament from Abilene Christian University. He is passionate about God and his family, and deeply desires to help others fall in love with God so that they may imitate the life and love of Christ. Chess loves to read, learn, and have deeper conversations about God. He also enjoys Formula One racing, playing golf, working on and rebuilding cars, and translating and studying dead languages.

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Author:  Publish Date: October 31, 2016


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The CHARIS website hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. In partnership with the ACU Library and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX), the website is supported and led by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The Center’s mission is to renew Christian spirituality through engagement of Christian heritage, at Abilene Christian University and beyond. The views expressed on the CHARIS website are those of the various authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Abilene Christian University or CHARIS at ACU. Questions or comments about the CHARIS website can be directed to charis @

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