Imagine That: The Power of Imaginative Bible Study

Fruitful Bible study often requires careful but creative use of imaginative Bible study. The problem is that many people perceive themselves to lack imagination. I’ve heard it many times: “I don’t have a very good imagination, so I couldn’t do what you do.”

Fruitful Bible study often requires careful but creative use of imaginative Bible study. The problem is that many people perceive themselves to lack imagination. I’ve heard it many times: “I don’t have a very good imagination, so I couldn’t do what you do.”

But I always disagree as agreeably as I can. True, some people have incredible imaginations, people like J. K. Rowling. But everyone has an imagination that is plenty active and plenty creative. To prove my point I simply ask one question: Can you worry?

I’ve never met a person who says no. Everyone worries…a lot. What is worry other than a work of the imagination? Your mind projects itself into the future, thinks about scenarios, possibilities and outcomes that do not yet exist. Is that not imagination?

Over the years I have not only used my imagination in studying the Bible, but I have spent much time looking under the hood of how the imagination works. It turns out there are very practical processes for triggering and steering the imagination. Just like driving a car, if you learn these basic skills your imagination will take you somewhere beneficial. And just to be clear, the imagination does not necessarily take you into fantasy. It can just as readily take you into a clearer view of reality if you know how to use it.

 

Using “Experimental Variations” for Imaginative Bible Study

Just as scientists test hypotheses by changing one component of the experiment, called the variable, to observe what might happen differently, we can do that with a biblical narrative or parable. So in that chapter about loving your neighbor I simply asked the question, “What if after the Good Samaritan rescued the wounded traveler, the same thing happened again the next day, and then the next day?” Even though Jesus did not take the story there in the parable, there is value in meditating on what it might mean to love your neighbor if the same thing kept happening over and over.

That variation causes us to imagine how there would come a point when we would run out of time, money and strength to perform any more acts of rescue. We would have to take a different course of action. What might that course be? Put up streetlights perhaps (metaphorically speaking.) In other words loving your neighbor would require us to give our efforts toward prevention. What could we do to protect people from harm in the first place rather than simply tending their wounds after the fact? After all, if you come across a place or situation that keeps creating victims, loving your neighbor would require changing the environment or conditions that have been so harmful.

Admittedly, that is not the scenario Jesus spelled out in order to answer the Pharisees’ question about loving our neighbor. But I am sure He is pleased for us to take the point He did make about compassionate care for broken neighbors and extend its application into new scenarios. Is that not what meditating on the Word is all about? Following the trajectory of the text beyond raw data toward revelation.

 

More Insight for Imaginative Bible Study

Always remain in harmony with the written Word of God, of course. But let the imagination, harnessed to sound techniques, get up a head of steam. In the Fresh Eyes series, you’ll learn more techniques for making new discoveries in familiar Bible passages. It’ll be like you’re reading the Bible again… for the first time. Don’t worry. Use your imagination for more than that. You can do it.

My three-book Fresh Eyes series demonstrates 31 techniques for making inspirational discoveries in familiar passages of scripture. Those techniques are organized into three categories using the eyesight metaphor: magnifying lens, corrective lenses and virtual reality goggles. All three categories include techniques that involve simple thinking skills, but the “virtual reality” techniques are those pertaining to the imagination.

 

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Doug Newton
Doug Newton is the cofounder and director of the National Prayer Ministry of the Free Methodist Church-USA. The author of twelve books, he served for thirty years as a senior pastor and for fifteen years as editor of Light & Life magazine. Newton and his wife, Margie, live in Greenville, Illinois.