The Bible as Literature Part 4: “With Many Such Parables”: The Imagination as a Means of Grace -- By: Leland Ryken

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 147:588 (Oct 1990)
Article: The Bible as Literature Part 4: “With Many Such Parables”: The Imagination as a Means of Grace
Author: Leland Ryken


The Bible as Literature
Part 4:
“With Many Such Parables”: The Imagination as a Means of Grace

Leland Ryken

Professor of English
Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois

[Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of four articles delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 7–10, 1989.]

The aim of this article is to explore a heresy that rules vast segments of evangelical Christianity. That heresy is to defend a neglect of the imagination and the arts on the ground that believers must be busy in God’s work, assuming that Gods work is never artistic. Yet the Bible itself, to say nothing of the creation in which humankind lives, shows that God’s work is partly artistic.

One of my colleagues has several times conducted an informal poll in his art classes. He asks how many students can say that in their families any of the arts was talked about and regarded as important. The percentage of such families is exceedingly small. Then when he inquires into the matter more precisely, he finds that in the overwhelming number of cases either the families in which the arts are considered important are non-Christian families, or the affirmation of art is something that preceded conversion to Christianity.

Of all people on the face of the earth, Christians have the most reason to value the arts and the imagination. The title of this article speaks of the imagination as a means of grace. This does not mean that participating in the arts makes a person more acceptable to God or that the arts explicitly recall God’s saving acts. Instead it suggests that the imagination is a means by which God can reveal His truth and beauty and people can respond with due appreciation.

The Doctrine of Creation and the Artistic Enterprise

In countering the heresy that God’s work excludes involvement in the arts, three great biblical principles may be addressed. The first is the doctrine of Creation. The Bible begins by stating that God created the world. That world is beautiful and artistically pleasing, as is known simply by looking around and as the Bible confirms.

God looked at what He had created, and, “behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). The psalmist wrote that the creation proclaims God’s handiwork (Ps 19:1), implying that handiwork has value. In the Garden of Eden God made to grow “every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food” (Gen 2:9). This is a double criterion—one artis...

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