God and the Creative Imagination

'Among contemporary theological voices, that of Paul Avis is always wideranging, constructive and sane, combining scholarship with a nuanced feel for tradition. This book covers the central questions in the philosophy of religious language in a way that is digestible and fresh.' 'This is a book of scholarship and integrity. A unique combination of theology and literary methodology.' R.William Franklin, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale 'God and the Creative Imagination is an extremely well...

The legacy of the Enlightenment

Suspicion of metaphor and the figurative generally belongs to the mentality of the Enlightenment. As we shall see when we discuss metaphor specifically, this suspicion can be traced back to Aristotle. But its author in modern thought is the founder of empirical science, Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Bacon is the originator of the analytical view of language, a tradition that runs through Descartes, Hobbes, Locke and Bentham to the linguistic analysis of the twentieth century. Bacon advocated a...

Divine worship

Finally, I want to argue that the answer that we make together to God-in-revelation that is to say, in the Church's worship is also enacted in the mode of imaginative expression. The touchstone of liturgy is its imaginative adequacy. In its heights and depths, its profundity and simplicity, liturgy must be commensurate with our most treasured moments of knowing that we are in touch with a reality that is unconditional, infinite and eternal and, moreover, is the source of our deepest well-being....

The poetical character of revelation

Let us take six examples of writers who have brought out the poetical, figurative and symbolic character of the Bible Augustine, Aquinas, Burke, Coleridge, Newman and Blake. 1 Few theologians have reflected more deeply than St Augustine on the imaginative complexion of Holy Scripture. For him, as Carol Harrison has shown, scripture is one of the primary ways in which God addresses humanity in concrete form others being creation, incarnation and the Church through the tangible signs of images,...

Analysing and integrating

We prosecute our grasp of reality by a combination of analysis and synthesis, of discrimination and integration. We discern ever finer differences and we apprehend ever wider similarities. We are enabled to isolate discrete features of experience but also to create more ambitious combinations of them. We switch our attention from the part to the whole and from the whole to the part. In this dialectic of analysing and integrating, of attention to the part and to the whole, the analytic and...

Imagination and the adventure of faith

Faith is the act of the whole person and has as its object a personal God. Faith cannot be less than personal and personalist categories are required to interpret it. Provided that we remember this, we may speak of the role of various faculties in conducing to faith reason, conscience and imagination. It is the crucial function of the imagination in the venture of faith that I propose to explore in this chapter. Newman wrote in his Anglican days ('The Tamworth Reading Room', 1841) and quoted...

Creative theology and the making of doctrine

It is not only the primary speech of religion in revelation mediated through the Bible that is ineradicably figurative, but also the language of theology and the doctrine that it articulates. Theology, as a second order critical reflection on the first order utterances of faith, finds it neither desirable nor possible to escape from the all-embracing realm of figurative language which is generated by the primary encounter of individuals and communities with the reality of the sacred. Sallie...

Seeing and shaping

The analytical tradition in epistemology that emerged in the pre- and early Enlightenment period was mesmerised by the ideal of a completely dispassionate, totally objective, perfectly clear and absolutely certain act of knowing. Bacon believed that an unmitigated realism was possible for science. Descartes' method confined itself to 'what we can clearly and perspicuously behold and with certainty deduce'. It was an ideal of knowledge without the knower, objectivity alienated from subjectivity,...

Biblical symbols spirit light love

Already in the Bible, the spontaneous metaphors generated by engagement with God in religious experience are reflectively refined into conceptual symbols. Abstracted from their original context in the address to God of prayer and praise, sacred symbols stand in their own integrity as windows on the transcendent. But they continue to have a living connection with liturgy (though this becomes even more pronounced in the case of myth reference the long debate on the priority of myth or cult). The...

Metaphors of revelation

'Ah Lord GOD,' Ezekiel cried, 'they are always saying of me, He deals only in figures of speech' (Ezekiel 20.49 REB). The language of the Bible is the language of the sanctified imagination. Blake claimed that the Bible was addressed to the imagination and declared that 'the Whole Bible is fill'd with Imagination and Visions'. Spinoza, one of the founders of modern biblical criticism, stated Scripture does not explain things by their secondary causes, but only narrates them in the order and the...

Biblical myth

Is there myth in the Bible While that might strike some as a rhetorical and indeed superfluous question, there have been biblical scholars who have answered it, in effect, in the negative. Such scholars collude with popular misunderstandings of myth and the strong aversion to recognising myth in the sacred scriptures among Christian believers. Frei denies that the Bible contains substantial mythic elements. He argues that the concept of 'narrative meaning' avoids the dilemma of choosing between...

Thinking and speaking

We need now to take a firm grasp of a connection that has been hovering on the edges of the argument throughout the connection between imaginative insight and its articulation in words. The effect is actually reciprocal. Insight needs verbal expression both to reflect it back to the subject, so clarifying the experience, as well as to communicate it to others in order that they may share in it and verify it for themselves or not, as the case may be . But the words that are available to us...