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Use Your Imagination

Seeing and feeling your way into the text
Use Your Imagination

I don't believe you can apply or even interpret the Scriptures accurately without your imagination. About 90 percent of the Gospels and 60 percent of the Bible is narrative.

A reader has a better chance of winning the lottery than understanding narratives without their imagination.

The Bible stories don't work unless readers see them on the screen of their minds.

Then, too, the letters of Paul and Peter and John are not documents to be dissected so that the nouns and verbs and clauses lie scattered like body parts on the page. Written in passion and blood, these missives demand a good dose of imagination as well as analysis, if we hope to recreate them again for modern readers.

Theologians bring much to the table, but as a bunch they don't seem to have much imagination. I value those who do. Theology stays distant from life if imagination and truth are not mixed. Doesn't God work on our imaginations when we are converted so that we connect the abstract idea of sin-in-general to our own personal sin? We may have always believed in the concept of sin, for example, but then suddenly one day deep inside us we develop a deep awareness of it. We identify with that poor wretch in the temple who beat his breast in grief crying, " Oh, God, be merciful to me the sinner! "

We know these truths, but it is in the imagination that the Holy Spirit makes them real for us.

Theology in a party dress

Preachers who want to see lives changed by their preaching cannot take their lead from exegetical commentaries, where imagination is in short supply. Ernest T. Campbell noted that imagination is stimulated when you change " your angle of vision. " Look at how that works with the biblical text. Imagine that you had been invited to the party the father threw for his delinquent son after the kid came home from his fling in the far country. Would you have attended? If you went, would you have gone to celebrate the lad's return or simply to enjoy a roast beef dinner?

The best sermons don't describe emotions; they create them.

It's one thing to analyze the party, but imagination allows you to attend it.

Imagination isn't a cute device preachers use to dumb down their sermons. It is a way to help listeners feel their way into what they need to do. Imagination helps the preacher see abstractions in overalls, in party dresses, in obituary columns, and in crimes investigated by police sergeants. As listeners see what you're saying up close and personal, they apply it to their lives. If you talk about poverty and helping the poor, nothing happens. Change the angle, and imagine poverty as people experience it — standing in line at the welfare office, sweltering in an apartment in 100-degree heat, putting off visits to the doctor.

The best sermons don't describe emotions; they create them. That requires your imagination.

Jesus told stories — secular, worldly stories — that changed his listeners' angle of vision. They were not " Bible stories " as we think of them. He didn't read them out of a book. He made them up on the spot. He created them out of life. He used his imagination. Some hearers followed him; others wanted to murder him. But they got his point. If the sermon is for our hearers, then we must serve the hearers as our Teacher did. We must use our imaginations and help them use theirs.

Haddon Robinson was a preacher and teacher of preachers all over the world. His last teaching position was as the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

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