Imaginative Apologetics at Work
By Justin Ariel Bailey
My wife works for a health care management company based just outside of a major city. Her irreligious coworkers find her Christian faith quaint or exotic but respect her enough to express interest. On one occasion, a coworker ventured to ask why we would indoctrinate our children with Christianity rather than allowing them to choose a religion for themselves. Melissa understood that a frame had been placed on faith; for this coworker, faith is opposed to freedom and thus should always be consciously chosen. Underneath the objection is the ethic of authenticity: people should believe what feels right to them rather than being told what to believe. Melissa's response was to sketch an alternative picture. “That's not really the way faith works for us,” she said. “For us, faith is the most liberating thing we have ever experienced. We feel like it is this amazing gift that we get to pass on to our children.” The coworker was stunned: “I've never thought of it that way.” She had never imagined that faith could feel so generative.
What Melissa had offered this friend was a glimpse of what faith feels like from the inside. The invitation to see the world through the eyes of faith affirms the value of authenticity but situates it in terms of the Christian imaginative vision, asking, “What if faith can actually set you free? What if the open space that you are looking for can actually be found in living with faith?” Melissa's short testimony prompted her friend to reconsider what it means to live an authentic life, embodied in her concrete person. Another coworker, who describes himself as “religiously apathetic,” recently told her that her faith is “the one thing about you that doesn't make sense.” What I think he means is that she is generous, funny, and intelligent, and this does not fit with his picture of people of faith. The cognitive dissonance created by a beautiful life is itself an imaginative provocation. It is an apologetic opening that challenges the habits of too quickly-closed minds. The provocation invites, if not yet belief, at least the suspension of disbelief. It invites the observer to hit pause on their incredulity and to take a look. It invites the imaginative leap of imagination that may be already the first movement of faith.
— Justin Ariel Bailey (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is assistant professor of theology at Dordt University. He works at the intersection of theology, culture, and ministry, and is the author of Reimagining Apologetics (IVP Academic, 2020). He is an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church, and he has served as a pastor in Filipino-American, Korean-American, and Caucasian-American settings.
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