Book Review: Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story & Imagination by Brian Godawa

Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story & ImaginationWith a title like this, how could any writer not take a look? And once I read the summary description and browsed a view pages through Amazon, I decided I needed to read it. I down loaded it onto my Kindle and quickly read it over the weekend. Loved it!

Part of my attraction to this book has to do with the perspective of the author. Brian Godawa is a professor of apologetics and begins the book by providing a picture of himself and his approach to the scriptures. He does this to help you fully appreciate what has changed in his approach to scripture and also to show that he has shared the mindset of most evangelical Christians of this era.

Logical reasoning was his strength. He could convincingly argue the historical basis for scripture, the logical reasoning behind God’s laws and His plan of redemption and the need of man for God’s salvation. In spite of this, he found that even when others would acknowledge the wisdom of his reasoning, that didn’t necessarily bring them into a relationship with God. Something was missing.

He begins to look at scripture with a fresh eye and realizes that (as many people had previously pointed out to him) the Bible is a very confusing book. The book of Jeremiah is known for its lack of chronology. The story jumps around from present to past. The four gospel don’t always mesh in their details. Why didn’t God lay out his ‘manual for living’ in a more concise manner? Did He make a mistake? Did the writers misunderstand His directions?

Godawa comes to the conclusion that it is we, the generation of logic and reason, that have misunderstood. The Bible is written almost exclusively in narrative form. Stories. We have allowed the scientific age to influence our approach to scripture in an attempt to defend the attacks against it. In trying to turn it into an answer book, Godawa contends, we have lost as much as we have gained. When we look only for the ‘meaning’ behind a parable, we separate ourselves from the story and it becomes sterile fact. He proposes that God has purposely enclosed His truths in stories in order that we might enter into the story, not dissect it.

He maintains his belief in the historical accuracy and realities of scripture, i.e. miracles, the flood, visions, etc., yet he seems to be seeking a balance between the figurative and the analytical reasoning views of scripture. His conclusion being that it is almost impossible to distinguish what is to be interpreted figuratively and what is not. Which makes Biblical interpretation even messier than it already is BUT which explains why two different sets of theologians can ‘prove’ their opposing views using the exact same scripture texts.  The modern evangelical church does not handle these ideas well largely because they have become a religion ‘of the book’ more than of the relationship with God they so strongly proclaim. 

One of the great pieces in the book was near the end where he talked about C.S. Lewis who, of course, is known for both his powerful apologetics and his powerful fiction writings. He told how Lewis’ writing took a turn towards more fiction after a strong challenge in a theological debate.  Lewis is quoted, “…we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the Reality, from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself.”  Also later—“The Imaginative Man in me…led me to embody my religious belief in symbolical or mythopeic forms…to write the series of Narnian stories for children; not asking what children want and then endeavoring to adapt myself but because the fairy tale was the genre best fitted for what I wanted to say.”

The other large issue addressed in the book is what he calls ‘Subversion’. I loved that portion since that is the very word I have used to describe my own approach of interacting with people regarding my faith. He uses Paul’s discourse in Athens as his primary example. He shows how Paul is obviously well acquainted with the culture of the day. (He didn’t simply quickly peruse a few Greek bestsellers to help with evangelization) He was using arguments that his audience would be familiar with from their own philosophies of religion; he did NOT quote scripture; he DID quote from hymns to Zeus and other such material but he used all of this ‘common ground’ to bring them to his final point in the end which they would not have considered listening to if he hadn’t properly prepared the staging with recognition of the truths they already accepted that were in agreement with his own Christian beliefs.

There is still quite a bit of the ‘modern evangelical’ flavor to the book, as he admits, he is still in process, but he raises some very powerful arguments for taking a long look at the ‘status quo’ in several areas.  He has much to say of the power of communicating through story, metaphor and symbolism vs linear reason.

I would encourage you to click on my link and order a book from Amazon yourself. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

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