Imagination the Basis of Ethics, Worldview

Below is a recent post from my blog on children’s literature, “The Children’s Hour.”  It concerns the role of the imagination in the development of a worldview and in sanctification.  This is a significant pastoral issue both in the pastor’s role of thinking about the training of the children in the church and just in thinking about the way adults think as well.

David Mills’ article, “Enchanting Children: Training Up a Child Requires a Well Formed Imagination” (from Touchstone) is a great resource for parents. He deals with several issues, primarily the importance of the imagination in shaping life. He argues that the imagination shapes life more than the facts we know and that stories are the key factor shaping our imaginations. Therefore we ought to be very diligent in guarding what stories our children take in- e.g. limit television and read them good stories. I agree wholeheartedly!

Here are some quotes.
On the importance of imagination Mills wrote:

We tend to rely, I think, too much on knowledge. Even if Johnny has memorized the Baltimore Catechism or the Westminster Confession, or even hundreds of verses of Scripture, if his imagination has been formed by the wider, secular culture, he will respond to temptations as a secularist, not as a Christian.

He will know that fornication is wrong and that intercourse is a gift reserved for marriage, but he will feel that it is a recreational activity to be enjoyed … When he brings himself to temptation, his feelings are more likely to move him than his thoughts, and of course once he falls, his thoughts will start to change to fit his feelings.

Revulsion is a much better protection from the force of the passions than an intellectual understanding by itself. To feel “This is yucky” is not a final protection from sin, but it is better than thinking “This is wrong” but feeling “This is okay.” Lust offers the paradigmatic case (examples come quickly to mind), but this is true of pride, gluttony, envy, and all the rest, even sloth.

He encourages avoiding the warped stories which cascade from the television and developing a family culture more oriented to reading. He admits this will be difficult and will set you apart as odd in comparison with others.

But it is worth the effort. Hearing his father or mother read a good story forces the child to hear and begin to imagine stories he would not necessarily read himself, and it gives you another time to talk with him about the deeper things, without being overtly religious in the way that puts off so many children

He continues:

Good stories read seriously and with enjoyment will help form a child’s imagination, and give it a shape it will never entirely lose, no matter what the child does when he grows older. But we would be foolish to rely on stories to do more than stories can. Wise Christian parents will immerse themselves and their children ever more deeply in the life of the Church, whose worship and teaching and charity and fellowship will be the most profound creator of the Christian imagination.

There they should meet Jesus. The world in which the child knows that Jesus is present is a world he will always live by, even in reaction and even when he convinces himself that it is an illusion. The well-formed imagination is a gift that keeps on giving.

As St. James pointed out, even the devils believe, in the sense that they know what the reality is (James 2:19). But they cannot imagine that the reality is good. They may know of God the Father, but to them such Fatherhood feels like domination and oppression, because their imaginations are so completely corrupted. They do not hear “Thus says the Lord” as “Here is the antidote for the poison that is killing you,” but as “Down, vermin slaves.” Think of Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew, who hears Aslan’s kind words only as a threatening growl.


  1. Dear Dr. VN,

    I noticed that there are few comments on this blog. I just wanted to make sure you know someone is reading and deriving great benefit from what you are sharing here.

    Love in Christ,


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