13 Books to Fuel the Christian Imagination
Editor's Note: For full-disclosure, I utilized ChatGPT May 24 version to populate summaries for some of these books. I'm experimenting with the way AI can help with writing. With that said, I went back and re-wrote most of the summaries, or at the very least made them my own.
Our tagline at Stage & Story is to cultivate the Christian imagination. The imagination is crucial because it frames the way we see the world and the choices we make in it.
In short, the imagination is the faculty that allows us to see.
What does it help us see? the past, present, and future. The imagination allows us to envision–
what was, what could have been;
what is, what might be; and
what could be.
The imagination is funneled through our experiences and emotions with the heart at its center.
And apart from Christ, we know that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
As you know, the imagination is not formed in a vacuum; many voices influence and shape it daily, whether it’s our colleagues or our phones, our music or our movies. The formation is slow, but I promise it’s happening. As a friend says, it’s like the slow and steady drip of a coffee maker.
But with the Spirit living within us, we push back. We take “our thoughts captive” to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5); we surrender our ambitions to his providence; we lose our lives that we might gain it again (Mark 8:35).
And we pray that God and his Word might be the primary force upon our imaginations, that when we envision the future, it’s God’s Story that is ever-present and predominant leading the way. This is the Christian imagination.
In this fight to see the world as God would want us to see it, books can play a significant role. I’ve not read as many books as some I know, but I’ve read some powerful ones that have undeniably shaped my imagination.
I could list many, but I’ve tried to narrow it down to the ones that have made the most impact.
Biblical theology has helped me understand that Scripture is telling one unified story. God is the author, and it’s all about Jesus.
According to Plan by Graham Goldsworthy
This book explores the biblical narrative of God's plan of salvation, tracing the unity and fulfillment of God's purposes throughout the Old and New Testaments. To be upfront, Graham Godlsworthy leans more towards Covenant Theology and Amillennialism. But even if you’re a dispensationalist or reject Covenant theology (which I do), this book will prove helpful!
God's Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts
In this work, Roberts has condensed and made Graham Goldsworthy’s According to Plan more accessible to laymen and students in this overview of the Bible's story. I utilized this book when I taught the Old and New Testament to my high school students.
Jesus Story Book Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones
You may have heard of it, but this is a beautifully illustrated children's Bible that presents the stories from the Bible with a focus on how each story points to Jesus, highlighting the redemptive thread throughout Scripture. Don’t be deceived, this isn’t just for kids; I used it with my high school students to see the many ways Christ is at the center of each section of Scripture.
THEOLOGY & PHILOSOPHY
These works provide a systematic look at how to think biblically about the arts.
Art & the Bible by Francis Schaeffer
In this short classic, Schaeffer explores the relationship between art and Christianity, beginning with what the Bible says about art and beauty and then helps us develop a Christian perspective on creativity.
The Liberated Imagination by Leland Ryken
I have read and reread this book many times. Ryken provides a sensible and accessible look at why creativity should matter to Christians and how to think biblically about the arts, whether paintings or poetry or plays. One of my favorite chapters is “What is Christian art?”
The Christian Imagination edited by Leland Ryken
Ryken has edited this significant collection of essays from men and women like G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, or Flannery O’ Connor that explores the Christian perspective on imagination, literature, and the arts. You could read it straight through or skim through the table of contents to see what stands out to you.
Hollywood Worldviews by Brian Godawa
Here’s another book that I’ve read multiple times. In the work, Brian Godawa, a screenwriter, novelist, and Christian thinker, examines popular movies in light of their worldviews, with the goal to help Christians engage thoughtfully with movies. Godawa relies much on Francis Schaeffer’s thinking about culture and the arts, something I appreciate.
Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
This is the Christian classic novel that follows the journey of a Christian pilgrim named Christian, depicting the challenges and victories of the Christian life. In difficult times, I’ve returned to this book for encouragement and exhortation.
One of my favorite editions is by Crossway. The language is updated and contains beautiful illustrations.
But I also must tell you that some editions don’t include the second part (Christian’s journey) and there’s much to be found in the second part. Here’s a great edition that includes the first and second part.
Leaf by Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is a short story that explores creativity in a unique and powerful way. I’m not going to offer a summary, as I don’t want to spoil the plot. Read it!
Hamlet & Macbeth by William Shakespeare alongside Leland Ryken’s individual Christian Guides to the Classics.
I’ve read both of these plays many times and they always challenge me to think Christianly about the human condition. Hamlet illuminates God’s sovereignty and human suffering; while Macbeth is a powerful cautionary tale about sin, ambition, and greed.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I’m not going to hold back – modern TV adaptations have done great disservice to this classic novel. This brilliant and sweeping story follows Jane Eyre from childhood to adulthood. But it’s a coming of age story that is drenched with the Christian worldview, providing a look at romance, friendship, and duty that is biblical and counter-cultural. You can just expect that our culture will leave those parts out when adapting it.
I believe it was Leland Ryken who said this was the great Christian novel. At that time, I had never read it, and so I did. I highly recommend you do too.
PERSONAL JOURNEY AS A CHRISTIAN ARTIST
Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson
In this personal and moving memoir of sorts, Andrew Peterson, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, reflects on God, the creative process, and the Christian life. While it may not be for everybody, this book has proved encouraging, thought-provoking, and practical.
So that’s it! Thirteen books to fuel the Christian imagination.
I'd love to hear from you. What books have shaped your imagination?