Friday, June 10, 2011

Vanhoozer on evangelical identity and the imagination

"Intellectualism and moralism alike are fatal to genuine faith; evangelical churches must avoid them both. It is fatal, on the one hand, to equate faith with intellectual assent. Too many people in our churches identify themselves as evangelicals because they can give mental assent to a list of doctrines. We have far too many believers and far too few disciples. Bonhoeffer weas right: 'cheap grace' - the preaching of forgiveness but not of discipleship - is the enemy of the evangelical church. Moralism - the notion that to be an evangelical is to behave a certain way - is equally damaging. Going through the external motions, even when they are moral, is not the equivalent of having one's inner being renewed and transformed.

"Evangelical identity, I submit, is best viewed as formed by what we might call the evangelical imagination, namely, by the biblical narratives that display the world as it really is: created, fallen and redeemed. By imagination I am referring not to the capacity to produce images of things that are not there, but rather to the capacity to apprehend a dimension of reality that eludes sensory perception. The imagination is a distinct cognitive faculty that grasps diverse persons and events together in a kind of synoptic vision; it is the ability to grasp diverse parts in terms of a unified whole (or story). Evangelical s locate their identity in the gospel story concerning what God was doing in Jesus Christ. The gospel story should enjoy epistemic and existential primacy, serving as the norm for knowledge and ethics alike. In short: the imagination is the way to integrate the head and the heart: the unities it grasps are both thought and felt.

"The imagination is linked to another whole-grasping activity: the gaining of wisdom. It is not enough to know the facts of the Bible; one has to know how to apply and relate to them. The imagination is in this respect an ally of wisdom: the ability to see how things fit together and to know how one may oneself rightly fit in. Evangelicals must define themselves in terms of the gospel; the story of Jesus is the evangelical norm and criterion for understanding the true, the good and the beautiful. 'Evangelical' thus simultaneously names a renaissance of faith (born-again), a reformation of doctrine (Bible-believing), and a revitalization of the imagination (Bible-indwelling)."

Kevin Vanhoozer "Evangelicalism and the Church" in Bartholomew, Parry & West (eds) The Futures of Evangelicalism (IVP, 2003), pp.51-52

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