Interview with Andrew Davison about Imaginative Apologetics – Part 2

This is the second part of our interview with Andrew Davison, editor of Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition. Read Part 1 HERE.

How are the essays in this volume representative of “imaginative apologetics?” What role does imagination have in Christian apologetics?

I can pick up here where I just left off. An account of reason worthy of the name does not stop with mathematics, logic, and the natural sciences. Reason is a feeling thing, and it is also intimately bound up with the imagination. So much so, that even my invocation of mathematics and the natural sciences just then is unfair to those disciplines; the mathematician and the scientist use their imaginations, at least if they are up to their job. This is where the philosophy comes in: the “New Atheists” and their like are hopelessly behind the times when it comes to epistemology—the theory of knowledge—and are living in a time warp of discredited logical positivism. We are among those people pointing this out.

The book presents apologetics as a matter of the imagination in at least three ways. The first is perhaps the most obvious: apologetics can, and often should, draw on works of the imagination: literature, film, and so on. Alison Milbank addresses this, as does Michael Ward in his chapter on C. S. Lewis’s apologetic method. The second point picks up the thought I have just mentioned. Imagination is not the isolated preserve of the “creative” person; it is part of what everyday reason always involves. As I remember, the poet Coleridge called the work of the creative imagination as we know it today—the sort that produces poems or novels—the “secondary imagination.” He reserved the term “primary imagination” for the sense in which all thought requires elements of exploration, sympathy, and creativity. As for the third way in which the book is imaginative, I’d point to some of the more unusual angles we take on apologetics: “imaginative angles,” we could say. These include getting at apologetics through its history, a chapter on unbelief that asks what Christians have done that has made the faith unbelievable, and a chapter on “Christian Ethics as Good News”: an approach that I think is good for both apologetics and Christian ethics.

In your essay in Imaginative Apologetics, you discuss Christian reason as distinct and attractive and then relate it to community. What is the role of Christian community in reason and apologetics?

I wonder whether the standard view of apologetics as the work of the individual—which I accept—needs to be broadened to include a sense of the church as an apologetic community. I stand by the idea put forward by figures such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michael Polanyi, and Alasdair MacIntyre that particular forms of reason are bound up with particular forms of community. If that is true, then an invitation to think in a Christian way cannot be separated from an invitation to live in the Christian community: the church. It seems quite possible that certain Christian claims—on forgiveness, for instance—might make no sense outside an experience of the Christian community that makes those claims. We are not asking people to adopt new abstract ideas, argued based on what they already take to be obvious; we are asking them to take on a new sense of where to start, a new sense of what is obvious, of what makes sense. This makes some fairly strong demands on the church and how her communities work on the ground. They are demands worth making, since they are what Christ already asks of us.

Andrew Davison (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the tutor in doctrine at Westcott House, University of Cambridge, in Cambridge, England. He has taught theology at St. Stephen’s House, Oxford, and is known for his writing on doctrine, mission, and the church. He is coauthor of For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions and joint editor of Lift Up Your Hearts.

For more information on Imaginative Apologetics, click HERE.