“Whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
It’s August, and as an educator, I am already experiencing summer vacation withdrawal. Nevertheless, August is a time to reflect on goals for our kids for the coming school year. As Christian parents, our highest priority is to educate our children in the Scriptures. But I am often asked how to go about teaching children the Scriptures in such a way that cultivates a biblical worldview. Where does one begin? Do we just keep going over the same Bible stories and passages? How do we teach the Bible in such a way that whatever our kids do, they do it all for the glory of God?
The Moral Imagination
The challenge is to teach the Bible in such a way that imparts to our children an integrative vision of life, where all things are done for the glory of God, where the totality of life displays God as the all-sufficient source for cosmic life. This involves the forming and shaping of the student’s moral imagination into a biblical integrative symbolic universe so that they see every particle in the cosmos in light of the dawning of the new creation in Christ.
What is the Moral Imagination?
The term “moral imagination” is derived from the eighteenth-century British statesman Edmund Burke to denote specifically the integrative role of the imagination. The imagination has been gifted 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 our lives. This moral map is constituted by a symbol system made up of metaphors, analogies, and paradigms by which the totality of our experience can be synthesized and expressed in a Christ-centered intellectual, moral, and spiritual life.
The important point here is that the imagination is the integrative center of our children’s minds and hearts. The imagination does not merely think; it feels. It does not merely know; it loves. It does not discern merely truth, but also beauty. An awakened moral imagination is nothing short of the awakening of the image of God within us.
The Moral Imagination and Scripture
The primary source for fostering the moral imagination in the classical world was sacred texts, books considered inspired by the gods. By the fourth-century BC, sacred texts functioned as the foundation for Greek education and society. For the Greeks, the text par excellence was Homer, exemplified in Plato’s famous saying in his Republic: Homer was the “poet who educated Greece.” Next in importance was Hesiod, in his genealogies of the gods and men, and over time, the Homer-Hesiod canon included all the major Greek poets (Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus). The poets were seen as divinely inspired by the muses to reveal the nature of the cosmos and how men could live in harmony with the gods and their fellow man.
The early church scholar Frances Young has made a very convincing argument that this is precisely how the Scriptures were appropriated in the first centuries of the church. Young traces the process whereby Christians deliberately subordinated the sacred writings of the Greeks (e.g. Homer, Hesiod) to the philosophical, chronological, and theological primacy of the (developing) Christian Scriptures. When we look at the writings of Christians in the second century, and the schools that develop over the course of the third in Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea in Palestine, Edessa in Syria, they are all characterized by a classical curriculum that has been reoriented around the emergence of a new classical canon, namely, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
The role of Scripture in the shaping of the human imagination in early Christianity was the subject of the 1991 study by Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire, where Cameron explored how the sacred texts of early Christians provided the foundation of what she calls a ‘totalizing discourse’. In other words, the Christian meta-narrative from creation to consummation, from the primeval Adam to the New Adam, provided an alternative cosmic narrative to those of the classical world, by which the totality of life could be understood. Without this precedent for a totalizing discourse inherent in early Christian writing and speech, Cameron argues that Christianity would never have been a world religion in the fourth and fifth centuries. Thus, post-Constantinian Christianity was an outgrowth of Christian discourse from its beginnings. Indeed, Cameron concludes that “if ever there was a case of the construction of reality through text, such a case is provided by early Christianity.”
So we have here the historical relationship between the Bible and the formation of the moral imagination. In our next post, we will explore precisely how to think about the imagination, and then learn how to teach in such a way that awakens awe and wonder in our kids.
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