The Hebrew term for imagination is either yatsar or yetser. Yatsar means to fashion in the mind before forming in time and space. That is, to fashion in the mind also holds in its meaning the capacity to imagine, to invent, to form, to frame (in the mind’s eye); and the emphasis of the term is in on the ability to see something—that could be real and true—in the mind’s eye BEFORE it is actually formed in time and space.
Hebrew concept of imagination includes two dynamic applications: 1) with regard to the human capacity to invent or make something, imagination is ‘the capacity to see what could be but is not yet.’ An example of this human capacity is Jer. 18:4, “But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” And, 2) with regard to the human capacity to interact with transcendence, imagination is ’the capacity to see through what is known into the realities beyond what is known.
My life’s work and my passion are to motivate the Church toward thinking more deeply and seriously about the importance of creatives and artists who serve as “imaginative expression specialists.” And, toward these ends, my goal is for pastors and others in church leadership to treat singers, musicians, fine artists, dancers, and others as not just performers but as key strategists on the evangelism and outreach teams. Why? Because God has gifted artists with the ability to uniquely communicate his infinite, unfathomable transcendence.
To craft a theology of imagination and artistic human expression I believe there are six basic – but foundationally important – theological principles that both church and mission leaders in general, and worship, music, and arts-ministry practitioners in specific, need to understand. It’s necessary to establish these six principles if we are going to responsibly and energetically help church and mission leaders around the world better re-engage and integrate imaginative expression specialists into ministry strategy development and missional ministry practices.