Tag Archives: artists

‘Apologetics and the Christian Imagination’ — A Richer, Deeper approach in connecting Souls With The Faith.

Are stories important for humanity? Is telling a story through books, movies, or the extemporaneous tales of mom and dad delivered to the children at bedtime simply an insignificant means of mere entertainment? In her book Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, Dr. Holly Ordway shows us that in truth stories are powerful tools of conveying meaning, tools that are important for the work of spreading the Faith and forming souls in it.

While showing great understanding of both apologetics and human nature, Dr. Ordway explores the relationship between reason and imagination and how the human person utilizes each to come to know reality. Furthermore, she instructs the reader on the art of Imaginative Apologetics, which is a richer, deeper approach in connecting souls with the Faith. In this entertaining and easy-to-read book, Ordway makes a convincing argument for this method of winning souls.


C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, and George MacDonald are but a few of the masters of this technique which Ordway presents. Each figure is a fantastic storyteller with stories that, as she puts it, baptize the imagination that allow the person to find meaning in the Theological world and grow closer to the God hidden beneath the narrative.
Ordway teaches, “Imaginative apologetics seeks to harness the God-given faculty of imagination to work in cooperation with reason, to open a way for the work of the Holy Spirit and guide the will toward a commitment to Christ.” Through the stories told by one practicing this method, the hearers are able to receive more than just a definition to memorize. Instead, the hearers are given a deep descriptive tale that conveys the meaning of the Theological truths that sometime evade the persons being instructed.

The book thoroughly explains how Theological meaning can be lost on some souls who simply misunderstand the words. Dr. Ordway posits that many think poorly of the Christian Faith not because they disagree with what is taught, but because they are without the proper meaning conveyed by what is taught. The author explains, “To those who know Christ, and unfortunately also to many who do, much ‘Christian language’ rings empty. Although words like ‘grace’, ‘sin’, ‘heaven’, and ‘hell’ point to a reality, for many listeners they might as well be empty slogan or the equivalent of the user’s agreement on an upgrade to your phone’s operating system: words that are received without attention, and without grasp of their meaning.”

Being far from one to find the faults and leave us without a solution, Dr. Ordway emphasizes how we apologists can help our listeners create meaning and avoid the sophist misconceptions of our times by way of a good story. She creatively and intelligently instructs the reader by explaining the workings of linguistics and how we understand the various senses of speech that we hear. Furthermore, her understanding and delivery of the meaning of being literal is delightful to read.

With the Church’s call for a New Evangelization, and many faithful Christians responding to bring the Gospel back to the hearts of humanity, this book is an important piece for our times. It instructs the bearer of Good News on how to carry out the work of apologetics as well as doing so in a way that allows the hearer of the Word to better grasp the meaning of the message. Moreover, it leads us to carry out this work in an aesthetic, sometimes even inconspicuous, manner, which would allow for Theological meaning to enter into the hearts and minds of those that might otherwise be opposed to the words delivered in a more outward manner.

Especially in our day, we are witness to many artists, writers, and musicians working to evangelize through beauty. Dr. Ordway’s book is a wonderful companion for those who have heard and answered the call to do this. In fact, it would not be surprising if this book is a catalyst for more talented souls to take on such important work.

Classroom teachers and catechists too can find inspiration to utilize more of Imaginative Apologetics with their students. The way Dr. Ordway presents it, we can see the powerful impact that this method is able to have on the hearts and minds of those being formed, especially the young.

Finally, this book could be greatly beneficial for all people, both within the work of apologetics and without, as we can learn to find Faith and Truth in the stories we hear in our world today, whether these messages are intended or not.

For these reasons I highly recommend Dr. Ordway’s Apologetics and the Christian Imagination to all those working in apologetics and evangelization alike. It is a remarkable manual for leading souls to know and understand the deeply profound truths of our Faith. Hopefully, it will even lead certain souls to become the next C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, or George MacDonald, and enlarge the library of good Christian stories available to mankind today.

Cultivating Beauty

With the election season heating up and the usual sins threatening to conquer us, it’s time to talk about… art.

Eve Tushnet makes a penetrating observation* in an upcoming issue of First Things magazine: If you (a sinner) cannot imagine a different way of life, if you do not see virtue as a real and vital possibility, then you cannot experience conversion. And without the conversion of individual souls, there will be no conversion of the culture, no renewed respect for the human person, no communal solidarity or self-sacrifice.

Yet the best method to communicate these needs usually does not lie in philosophy. A person’s openness to logical argument is half-determined before the argument begins. Molding his perception of what is possible and what is desirable is the culture that surrounds him — the paintings, films, poems, photographs, TV shows, books, stories, songs, and plays that have shaped his imagination. If the good and the true do not appear beautiful in these works of art, they will not seem good or true, either.**

In brief, art tends to normalize what it portrays. If in art the human person is degraded, the vulnerable are treated with contempt, and life is chaotic and meaningless, then the viewer may conclude, even if only unconsciously, that the best worldview is “every man for himself.” But if art portrays beauty, order, friendship, and the sacred, honoring the dignity of the individual, then the viewer may look for more in his philosophy.

So how do we cultivate a more beautiful culture? Simple: If you’re an artist, create things of beauty; if you’re not, then go out of your way to find, treasure, and share beautiful things. Here are a few ways to start.

1. Visit museums! So many beautiful pieces of art languish in museums, yearning for visitors. Give them some love. This is easiest, of course, in major metro areas like Washington, D.C., and New York City, but many colleges have small art museums. Get a list of museums by state here. (Granted, museums don’t always do much for contemporary artists, but they do foster an appreciation for art.)

2. Attend concerts, plays, movies, recitations of poetry, and other cultural events. Sure, it’s possible to rent movies, to listen to CDs, to read poetry online, but beauty is best experienced in the flesh. This is harder to do if you’re not in a major metro area, but colleges, high schools, and community groups still put out some beautiful work.

3. Buy books, artwork, photography, magazines, CDs, etc. Free access to art (via the Internet) is awesome, but in the long run, there will be little new art if no one is willing to pay the artist. So, where to find contemporary art, music, and texts worth paying for…

Artists: I’m partial to Michael O’Brien (though his work is out of my price range), Matthew Alderman (website, flickr), and Daniel Mitsui.

Writers: I’ve listed some great Catholic novels here before. My favorite contemporary writers are probably Marilynne Robinson, Wendell Berry, Mark Helprin, and Michael O’Brien (the artist who also writes).

Poets: Dana Gioia, Wendell Berry (the novelist/essayist also writes poetry), A.M. Juster, Brian Doyle, and Sally Thomas (yes, this Sally Thomas) have all written some lovely poetry. A fellow Hillsdale alum has praised some other poets that I’m not yet familiar with — Averill Curdy, A. E. Stallings, Steve Gehrke, and Roddy Lumsden — for defying today’s “poetry-about-poetry house-of-cards garbage.”

Publishing houses: Ignatius Press may take the top spot; also keep an eye on Our Sunday VisitorSt. Augustine’s Press, Franciscan Media (includes Servant Books, St. Anthony Messenger Press), and the Sophia Institute Press.

Magazines: Naturally I must recommend my current employer, First Things (essays and poetry). Via St. Peter’s List, you can find fiction, art, poetry, essays, and more in Image, Dappled Things, and Pilgrim. I’ve also enjoyed The Christendom Review.

Movie studios/directors/films: You can’t go wrong with Grassroots Films. Icon Productions is behind a few good movies of recent years. I am dreadfully ignorant about film, though. Who else is good?

Musicians: My ignorance of movies is only outweighed by my ignorance of contemporary bands and musicians, so you’ll have to help me out here. I like Scythian, for one. Conductor and composer Richard Proulx, who died in 2010, put out some wonderful sacred music in recent years.

So, what great artists or promoters of art did I miss? Share in the comments!

Further reading:

Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists

Pope Benedict’s Address to Artists

*Eve Tushnet makes this point in a totally different context, namely that of Catholic sexual morality, but I wanted to credit her for the basic insight.

**I haven’t distinguished here between Catholic/Christian art and secular art, though my specific recommendations emphasize the former. Some secular art better communicates Christian truths (that life is sacred, etc.) better than some Christian art does, though obviously that’s not to say that there’s no need for explicitly Christian art. But this point, the related exploration of didactic art’s many pitfalls, the question of portraying vs. glamorizing sin, and many other related issues are beyond the scope of this post. The image is “Flower Beauty” by Cornelis Vreedenburgh, via Wikipaintings.