“Whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

In our last post, we addressed the question: How do I teach the Bible to my children in such a way that fosters a biblical worldview? How do I teach them to see the whole of life as a reflection of the glory of God?

I argued that a truly biblical worldview is fostered within our children by cultivating their moral imagination. From this vantage point, the imagination is seen has having been given to humans by God to perceive the divinely-infused meaning of the cosmos which provides a moral map of the world by which we might live out our lives. The imagination brings together mind and heart, truth and beauty, knowledge and love.

We further noted that the primary source by which the moral imagination was shaped in the classical world was sacred texts, which were considered inspired by the gods. As Christianity spread, these texts were increasingly relativized to the primacy of sacred Scripture.

A Map of the Imagination

In order to teach the Bible in such a way as to awaken the moral imagination, we have to know a thing or two about how the imagination works. It is here that I find the anthropologist Roy Rappaport’s analysis of cultural meaning systems very helpful in schematizing and organizing how the imagination integrates Scripture with life experiences. Rappaport developed a model for the organization of cultural meaning systems which he termed “cognized models,” where he demonstrates that the worldview of populations exemplify an architecture of levels and distinctions. This cognized architecture involves a hierarchical arrangement of beliefs and conceptions about the world arranged according to their degree of sanctity. The more sacred a belief, conviction, or custom, the higher up it is on the model. So beliefs that are lower on the meaning hierarchy, say, what’s the best baseball team, are by their nature negotiable, while beliefs at the very top of the hierarchy, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, are by their nature non-negotiable. The beliefs at the top cannot be changed without changing the entire belief system.

There are four levels to this cognized model. At the top of the hierarchy, we have what Rappaport calls “ultimate sacred postulates,” these are the unquestionable, non-negotiable presuppositions or foundational beliefs that inform the totality of one’s worldview. Rappaport himself often referred to the Hebrew Shema (“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one”) as an example of an ultimate sacred postulate, as well as to the early Christian confession of faith, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” It is this level, the level of the ultimate sacred postulates, that we place the Scriptures. These are texts that are non-negotiable as to their holiness, their sanctity, their witness to divine life.

The second level involves what Rappaport refers to as “cosmological axioms,” which consist of beliefs concerning the fundamental structures of the universe in relation to the ultimate sacred postulates. So cosmological axioms serve to interpret ecology in relation to divine referents.

The third and fourth levels consist of culture and conduct respectively. This is where the divinely-informed cosmological axioms turn into cultural pursuits and ethical behavior. Historically, culture was an idealized reflection of the divinely-infused meaning inherent in the created order, and provided the tangible substantiation of that meaning in order to draw us into communion with divine life and thus conform our ethical lives accordingly. So it is at these last two levels where cosmology transforms into culture and conduct.

Now, with this model of the cognized imagination in place, what I want to do to in our next post is give you illustrations for how you can begin to shape the symbolic universe of your children with biblical images. What this involves is seeing how everything in the cognized model relates to each other through the symbolic world of the Scriptures, with the imagination as the integrative center. By teaching our children to think in terms of various metaphors, analogies, and parallels that intersect throughout the various cognized levels, they can begin the formative process of being awakened to seeing the totality of life as an integrative expression of the glory of God.


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Featured image credit: © 2013 Philip Edmondson, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio