The native habitat of reason

‘Lewis was an imaginative genius. But more than that, he was a man who understood that a rightly ordered imagination was a fortress for the rational capacities of man. It is not the way we normally suppose. It is easy to think that clearheadedness is the fortress and that it protects the imagination, what we are allowed to play with in our recreational hours. But Lewis’s tough-mindedness was the result of having been given a sanctified imagination. In the apostle Paul we see the same kind of thing–it is the peace of God that passes understanding that protects our “hearts and … minds” (Phil. 4:7). It is not the other way around. One of the reasons many apologists are not nearly as effective as Lewis is that they want the cold granite of reason to do everything. But true reason will collapse before a false imagination. False imagination must be answered by a true imagination, and when that happens, reason can flourish in its native habitat.’

[Doug Wilson, Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on your Bookshelf (Crossway, 2015), p105]

This begs the question of what “true imagination” looks like. Nevetheless, the quote above adds support to the view that a purely rational approach to apologetics is deficient, since it tends to ignore essential non-rational aspects of human nature. No apologetic should be irrational, of course, but the process of persuasion is never simply a matter of the truth value of particular propositions. Scripture speaks in such a way that our capacity for imagination, beauty, poetry, humour, and so on, must be employed to be receptive to it. So, a defence of biblical truth should likewise employ these same capacities in order to reveal more clearly the nature of that truth as well as its truth value.  For example:

Rise, heart, thy lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him may’st rise:
That, as his death calcinèd thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and, much more, just.

[George Herbert, Easter (from The Temple)]

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

[Psalm 23, KJV]

The truth that we confess is not merely true, justified and coherent, but also beautiful.

We cannot  ignore the fact that different people differ in their appreciation of beauty and imagination, etc. Nevertheless, a truncated apologetic that only targets one dimension of human nature (i.e. rationality) will be constrained in what it can say and communicate.

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