God and the Creative Imagination: Metaphor, Symbol, and Myth in Religion and Theology

God and the Creative Imagination: Metaphor, Symbol, and Myth in Religion and Theology

God and the Creative Imagination: Metaphor, Symbol, and Myth in Religion and Theology

God and the Creative Imagination: Metaphor, Symbol, and Myth in Religion and Theology


'A mere metaphor', 'only symbolic', 'just a myth' - these tell tale phrases reveal how figurative language has been cheapened and devalued in our modern and postmodern culture. In God and the Creative Imagination , Paul Avis argues the contrary: we see that actually, metaphor, symbol and myth, are the key to a real knowledge of God and the sacred. Avis examines what he calls an alternative tradition, stemming from the Romantic poets Blake, Wordsworth and Keats and drawing on the thought of Cleridge and Newman, and experience in both modern philosophy and science. God and the Creative Imagination intriguingly draws on a number of non-theological disciplines, from literature to philosophy of science, to show us that God is appropriately likened to an artist or poet and that the greatest truths are expressed in an imaginative form.Anyone wishing to further their understanding of God, belief and the imagination will find this an inspiring work.


My thesis in this book is that Christianity lives supremely from the imagination. My central claim is that the role of the imagination is crucial to understanding the true nature of Christianity. Unless we attempt to do full justice to the part played by the imagination, we cannot understand the Christian faith and we cannot ourselves truly believe. My argument is perhaps parallel to H.U. Von Balthasar’s massive, extended and sustained advocacy of the place of beauty in the theological realm. There is, he argues, a need for spiritual perception of the form of beauty that is perfectly expressed in Jesus Christ (Von Balthasar, 1982-9, vol. 1). The present study is a sustained attempt to take the imagination or spiritual vision into account when considering Christianity, or (to put it another way) to evaluate Christianity—its scriptures, doctrines, faith and liturgy—in the light of imagination.

I set out to ask: given the imaginative provenance of the Christian faith, how can it also be true? I aim to show that Christianity is indeed true—that its revelation is real, that its central doctrines are informative, that belief in its object is well placed and that its worship is in touch with reality. So my thesis embraces four critical areas of concern: biblical revelation, Christian doctrine, religious belief and divine worship.

Biblical revelation

My starting point is the conviction that divine revelation is given above all (though certainly not exclusively) in modes that are addressed to the human imagination, rather than to any other faculty (such as the analytical reason or the moral conscience). But let no one accuse me of reducing divine revelation to mere human religious consciousness or projection. There is admirable precedent for my claim. As St Augustine saw, God is a poet and speaks to the world in metaphors, symbols and parables. The supreme revelation is the ‘form’ (as Von Balthasar would say) of Jesus Christ—the whole pattern of divine truth embodied in an historical person and shining out through him into human history. Blake said that ‘the Whole Bible is fill’d with Imagination and Visions’ (Ackroyd, 1995, p.27).

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