“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 explored the architecture of our imaginations to better understand how to teach the Bible in such a way that awakened the moral imagination. We looked at how the imagination is structured by a hierarchy, where beliefs that are absolute and unquestionable form an almost unscalable pinnacle from which all other beliefs cascade downward in a triangular fashion. The farther down the belief system, the more contestable the beliefs. So one’s belief as to the time of day, which is at the lower level of the belief system, can be easily corrected; whereas one’s belief in the nature of God, which is at the top level of the belief system, is virtually unquestionable and absolute.
Now, with this model of the cognized imagination in place, what I want to do 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. Through learning various imaginative metaphors, analogies, and parallels, our children can begin the formative process of seeing the totality of life as an integrative expression of the glory of God.
Ultimate Sacred Postulates: A synthetic vision of Christ
Scripture, as it climaxes in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, occupies the position of ultimate sacred postulates in a Christian worldview. So the first step in forming the moral imagination is to cast all the characters and events of Scripture into what we might call a “synthetic vision” of the dawning of the new creation in Christ. The principle operative here is that all things flow from God through Christ as he embodies the new creation. From this vantage point, the new creation is inextricably linked, indeed, embodied by Christ, and thus the whole of Scripture is related to that revelation, as per the Pauline contrast between the two Adams in Romans 5:12-21 (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).
So when looking at, say, the David and Goliath narrative, we examine the symbolic universe that constitutes the narrative, and then see how it coalesces into a vision of the new creation in Christ. So we note that David is a Shepherd from Bethlehem, armed with garden utensils, who is a conqueror of giants like Joshua (note: Yeshua), and who, by slaying the Giant, is then seated on the throne of God’s holy mountain anointed as God’s Son. This is a simple example of how the symbolic universe of the narrative constitutes a vision of Christ and his church, and all the major characters and events in Scripture can be seen as anticipating and reflecting the grandeur of Christ. The key question to be constantly asking your children is: How does this reflect Jesus?
Cosmological Axioms: Creation and Cosmos
Now Scripture provides, further, the symbolic world into which the cosmos is swept, and that brings us to the next level in Rappaport’s model of the imagination, “cosmological axioms.” So the next step is to begin to see the whole of the cosmos in relation to this synthetic vision of Christ, to teach the imagination to draw analogies and metaphors between the arena of creation and divine images. Here are some examples:
The Sun. In the closing prophetic book of the OT, Malachi, we read that for those who fear the name of the Lord, “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (4:2). The sun of course is the ‘light of the world’ that rules the day in parallel to Christ’s own self-description. It is set in the blueness of the sky which is symbolic of the throne room of God.
Mountains. Mountains are the place where heaven and earth meet. The Law of God is received on Mt. Sinai; Jerusalem, the city of God, is on Mount Zion, Christ preaches the most famous of sermons on a Mount, Christ dies on the hill of Golgatha; in Matthew 28, the resurrected Christ gives the Great Commission on a mountain in Galilee, and the Messianic Banquet takes place on a holy mountain (Isaiah 25).
Trees. We open up the Bible and read about a Garden, and we are told of two very special trees – the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, both of which are in the presence of God. Hence, God’s presence is related to trees throughout Scripture. Moses’ staff becomes a manifestation of the same glory presence that he sees at the Burning Bush; the budding of Aaron’s rod as the priest of the new Garden, the Solomic Temple (the dwelling place of the presence of God) was made of cedar wood (1 Kings 6), Jesus comes from Shoot of Jesse and he dies on the Tree of the Cross, we fall at a tree and we are redeemed at a tree.
Birds. Birds fly by forming a cross with their wings, and fly in V-formation representing the victory of Christ’s cross over sin, death, and the devil. One of my favorite quotes is from the fourth-century St. Ephrem the Syrian and his interpretation of a bird. He writes:
A bird grows up in three stages
From womb to egg, then to the nest where it sings;
And once it is fully grown it flies in the air,
Opening its wings in the symbol of the Cross.
But if the bird gathers its wings,
Thus denying the extended symbol of the Cross,
Then the air too will deny the bird:
The air will not carry the bird
Unless its wings confess the Cross.
Society and Culture
The next step in forming the moral imagination is teaching students to see all of society and culture in relation to Christ. This is where history, literature, art, music, science, mathematics, and gymnastics all become lenses or portals through which we see the glory of God in Christ. Here are some examples:
- History teaches us about God’s providence.
- Literature reflects the grand narrative of Scripture.
- Art depicts the world as images of new creation.
- Music resounds the physics of a cosmos redeemed in Christ.
- Science teaches us the very processes in which Christ was incarnated.
- Mathematics reveal an eternity of numbers in the mind of God.
- Gymnastics train the soul through the body to develop self control, which is one of the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:23).
In our next post, we will complete our picture of the moral imagination with an exploration of teaching Christ-centered ethics to our children. Until then, you can read a development of these ideas in more detail in my book, Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty available here.
And make sure to take advantage of our back-to-school special! Classical vs. Modern Education: A vision from C.S. Lewis, a brand new eBook available for FREE download here.