What Have Our Social Imaginaries Fallen Captive To?


By Kevin Vanhoozer

One particular of the crucial prophetic tasks of theology is to free of charge the church, a holy nation, from idols. This involves false ideologies and metaphors and stories that guide and govern a people’s way of life. That is the adverse job of theology: to contact out false beliefs and false practices and the false approaches of imagining the planet that fund them.

Pastor-theologians for that reason require to have at least a fundamental understanding not only of the Scriptures but also of the context disciples inhabit. The cultural context deeply influences the way people today expertise, interpret, consider about, and seek to reside out the gospel. To Socrates’ adage “Know thyself ” we ought to add, “Know thy culture.”

Persons develop into secular not by taking classes in Secularity 101 but merely by participating in a society that no longer refers to God the way it applied to.

The philosopher Charles Taylor, in his book A Secular Age, helpfully draws focus to the value of the social imaginary for understanding our present cultural context. A social imaginary is the image that frames our every day beliefs and practices, in certain the “ways people today picture their social existence.”

The social imaginary is that nest of background assumptions, normally implicit, that lead people today to really feel points as appropriate or incorrect, appropriate or incorrect. It is a further name for the root metaphor (or root narrative) that shapes a person’s perception of the planet, undergirds one’s worldview, and funds one’s plausibility structure. For instance, the root metaphor of “world as machine” generates a incredibly distinctive image than “world as organism.” To “know thy culture,” then, we have to develop into much more precise: “Know thy worldview and the root metaphor that generates and governs it.”

Sociologist Peter Berger very first named focus to how the modern day and postmodern planet photographs created religious traditions and the concept of the sacred appear much less plausible. The emphasis right here is on “social” rather than “intellectual”: a social imaginary is not a theory—the creation of intellectuals—but a storied way of pondering. It is the taken-for-granted story of the planet assumed and passed on by a society’s characteristic language, photographs, and practices. A social imaginary is not taught in universities but by cultures, insofar as it is “carried in pictures, stories, and legends.” Persons develop into secular not by taking classes in Secularity 101 but merely by participating in a society that no longer refers to God the way it applied to. “God” tends to make only uncommon appearances in modern literature, art, and tv.

Social imaginaries, then, are the metaphors and stories by which we reside, the pictures and narratives that indirectly indoctrinate us.

Yes, we have all been indoctrinated: filled with doctrine or teaching. The doctrines we hold, be they philosophical, political, or theological, really feel appropriate or incorrect, plausible or implausible, primarily based largely on how properly they accord with the prevailing social imaginary or planet image.

What I have named above the “negative task” of theology is to critically reflect on the way in which the church embodies the prevailing social imaginaries of the day rather than the biblical imaginary—the accurate story of what the Triune God is undertaking in the planet. Pastor-theologians do not fight against flesh and blood, but against social powers and ideological principalities.


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