|Seeing is Believing|
Gregory A. Boyd
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If you're like most people, you consider prayer an obligation. You do it because you feel like you should, not because your passionate about it. The result is often apathy or fatigue or both.
But Scripture and church tradition speak of a different experience of prayer. Seeing is Believing will introduce you to the centuries-old Christian practice of imaginative prayer. Let Greg Boyd lead you to an experience of prayer that is fresh and revolutionary.
|Christianbook.com: By way of introduction, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?|
Greg Boyd: I am a pastor at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. I planted the church around 12 years ago and it is a very vibrant ministry that includes somewhere between 5-6,000 people. Up until two years ago I was also a Professor at Bethel College. I taught there for sixteen years. That's kind of what I do. I am married and have three children, ages 23, 22 and 17. I've also written a number of theology and Christian living books. Among the latter is Letters from a Skeptic, which received an EPCA Gold Medallion.
Christianbook.com: Although the subtitle of your book, "Experiencing Jesus Through Imaginative Prayer," suggests that this is just another 'how-to' manual on prayer, nothing could be further from the truth. Thus, can you briefly explain the overarching purpose of the book?
Greg Boyd: The overall point of the book is to show people a way of transformation that they might not be aware of. In western culture we often fall back on the "try harder" syndrome where we think we can bring about thorough internal transformation just by working hard at it. I'm all for working hard, but fundamental aspects of our lives don't get changed by our effort. Our internal lives, the way we think and feel about things has got to be altered.
So, what I put forth in this book is an application of a very traditional form of prayer that is very transforming. It is called cataphatic prayer, or in more popular terminology, imaginative prayer. This is prayer that intentionally opens up our minds and our imagination so that the Holy Spirit can move and impact us in that way. I find that a lot of the reasons why many people do not experience in any consistent, dynamic way, the reality of Jesus Christ and Christianity is because they've never learned to use their imagination in their prayer life, worship and Bible reading.
The central thrust of the book is to provide the background of imaginative prayer and then to help people experience it for themselves. Hopefully this will help people to have a transforming encounter with the reality of Jesus Christ.
|Christianbook.com: Early in the book you state that, "it is not so much what we intellectually believe is true that impacts us; it is what we experience as real" (pg. 12). Why does our fervent belief in God often fail to lead us towards a deeper experience of God?|
Greg Boyd: The mind doesn't think by information. Rather, the mind thinks by replicating reality on the inside. Science supports this idea, but so does our experience. When you think about your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse you don't get information in your brain about them, you see them. Perhaps you hear them talking to you as well. In your mind you are, quite literally, 're-presenting' them.
The more real, vivid and concrete your mental re-presentation of the one you love the more it impacts you. Just having information about someone doesn't do anything for you. If I think about statistics related to my wife right now, it doesn't do anything for me at all. But if I imagine her, if I think about the time we spent together last night watching T.V. and cuddling it moves me emotionally. Information alone never leads to transformation. Rather, it is what we experience as real on the inside that transforms us. That is all about the use of the imagination.
The belief that God exists is a wonderful belief. The information that God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent is great information, but what will impact you is what is re-presented in your mind when you hear the word 'God.' When you hear the word you might have a mental image of an abusive father which flashes through your brain and produces a feeling of fear, dread and unwillingness to connect. The emotions we have about God all hang on our picture of God.
|Christianbook.com: In Seeing is Believing you do an excellent job of distinguishing life in the Spirit from life in the flesh. In chapters 2 and 3 you explain that the life of the flesh is characterized by deception, a focus on performance, a need for hiddenness and, ultimately, destruction, while life in the Spirit is characterized by a transformed heart, soul and innermost disposition (See pgs. 39 and 23). How does a deeper experience of God enable us to reject the life of the flesh and truly live in the Spirit?|
Greg Boyd: These are big questions. It takes the whole book to answer that! (Laughs…) It's all related to our idea that we have to perform to get life and hide to get life. The flesh is all rooted in a mistaken, deceptive conception of who God is. Remember, in Genesis 3 the first thing the devil did was paint a false picture of God, an unlovely, unbeautiful, un-Christlike picture of God. Which means that Eve, instead of trusting God alone to have life has to get life on her own. The root of all that is wrong is found in a mistaken representation of God. Now, note that it is not the same as wrong information about God. You can have the right information, but still have a totally unloving or untrustworthy representation of God in your mind.
Conversely, all healing and health comes from having a true conception or picture of God in your mind. That is synonymous as saying you are as healthy as your image of God is Christlike. When you really see the true God, and have an experience of him in your mind, you have met a God whom you can totally trust to meet your innermost needs. Then you can experience the fullness of life that comes out of a relationship with him. This frees you from the need to perform as a way of getting life. That frees you from the need to hide what is wrong with you as a way of getting life. That gives you the ability to be open and honest, because your worth is found completely in Christ. Now you are on your way to wholeness.
|Christianbook.com: In chapter 4 you surmise that, "the extent to which the truth about who God is and who we are becomes an experienced reality in our lives is the extent to which our lives are whole" (pg. 63). Thus, you suggest that one way that we can have a true and transforming experience of God is through imaginative prayer. Can you briefly summarize the purpose, structure and the practice of imaginative prayer? |
Greg Boyd: The purpose is to get our actual thought to line up with the truth. Also, the purpose is to encounter the real, living God in a concrete and transforming way. There really is no single structure that governs all forms of imaginative prayer. The kind of prayer that I propose in this book is really a foundational prayer that I call "resting in Christ." "Resting in Christ" really cuts to the heart of the deception of the flesh. It's where you simply rest in the truth of who God is in Jesus Christ and who you are in Jesus Christ. It's just a time to enjoy together.
The practice of "Resting in Christ" can be transforming if you open up your mind to the influence of the Holy Spirit, work in line with what we know to be true in scripture, and to vividly see, hear and sense Jesus Christ. Just knowing the wonderful truth of John 3:16 will not conquer all of the internal concrete pictures and voices that say you are unlovable. But, seeing and hearing Jesus, as you sense him holding you…that impacts as well as transforms you and has the power to collapse the concrete lies that are in our life. "Resting in Christ" is a way of embodying or incarnating the truth in a way that is personal and transforming.
The basic structure is to find a place that is safe, put on some music because as human beings we respond to that, inviting Christ in and hearing him say all the things that he has already said in scripture. The truth of Christ needs to be incarnated. You are loved with an everlasting love, you are the bride of Christ, you are holy, you are blameless, you are spotless, you are redeemed, he rejoices over you with singing and dancing! Through the power of the Spirit you can behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as you're having these truths spoken to you personally. You are encountering God face to face as Moses did. Truth is applied personally, poignantly and transformatively in your life.
|Christianbook.com: Although the practice of experiential prayer is undoubtedly new to many of us, it is not a new practice for the people of God. Thus, it would be helpful if you could briefly explain the biblical and historical background of imaginative prayer.|
Greg Boyd: The biblical background: one of the things you find in scripture is that God has always spoken, appeared and interacted with his people. We tend to read back into those texts an assumption that it all took place on a physical plane. For instance, when the Lord appeared to Saul or an angel appeared to someone we assume that it was something that anyone could have seen if they were there. But I believe that more often than not that was not the case. In fact the word for vision in the Bible is the same word used for dream. It is something that happens on the inside of the head or in the imagination which is the mind's capacity to experience images. That is one aspect of the rooting in scripture.
One text that is really important is 2 Cor. 3:11-4:4. In this passage Paul explores the story of Moses' descent from Sinai. If you remember, when Moses descended from the mountain his face was radiating God's glory to such an extent that the Israelites couldn't handle it, so Moses had to conceal his face with a veil. By analogy, Paul argues that non-believers have a veil over their mind or the heart, so they cannot see the glory of God. But, Paul says, when you turn to Christ that veil is removed. So we all with "unveiled faces are able to see through a glass darkly the glory of God and we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another." The principle there is that what you see effects what you become. As you see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ you take on the glory of God. Then in the next chapter he talks about how the "god of this age" has blinded the minds of non-believers, so that they cannot see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that believers see. In all of this he is talking about what goes on in the mind. In the mind we are able to really encounter the living Christ and to be transformed.
Then throughout church history, as I discuss in the book, the 'practice of resting in Christ' was practiced by Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Julian of Norwich, St. Francis de Sales, and, especially, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
|Christianbook.com:What reservations might some people have about imaginative prayer?|
Greg Boyd: One reservation is that they might have been taught that it is idolatry. I respond by saying that this is not a graven image, it is a mental image. The Bible is full of mental images! It has word pictures all over the place. How do you think about the Good Shepherd without thinking about a shepherd? How do you think about wife without visualizing your wife? Think about Christ in the way that you usually think, by using your redeemed imagination.
The second reservation that a lot of people have is they equate it with the New Age thing, because people are going on shamanic journeys, encountering power animals, and its all in their imagination. My response to that is it is rooted in scripture, grounded in church tradition, and if there's any borrowing going on it's not us from the New Age but the other way around. You can't throw reject the real thing because there is a counterfeit. Everything that is genuine has a counterfeit or knock-off of some sort. If we followed that thinking through consistently we would get rid of our Bible because there are false bibles out there and our Messiah because there are false messiahs. If anything, the fact that the devil can imitate something is one reason not to throw it out because that's one strategy of the enemy. When we surrender our imagination and we try not to use it in prayer, Bible reading or worship we're letting the devil the lion's share. We can't let this beautiful thing from God seem like a threat from the enemy.
|Christianbook.com: As your book makes clear, imaginative prayer is only one of the ways that believers can experience God. What are some other practices or disciplines that can help us have a deeper experience of God?|
Greg Boyd: The ones that I'm concerned with in this book all involve imaginative spirituality. For example, when people read scripture its important not to read it like a newspaper and not to read it for mere information. There's a place for bible studies getting information and I don't mean to belittle that at all. But there also needs to be a place where we encounter the Word on a personal basis and let God personalize it and communicate it to us.
For example, reading through the gospel narratives it's very helpful to make a video movie out of the verses in your mind. Imagine the text from different perspectives and try to employ, as St. Ignatius says, all five senses. The classic illustration is the "Parable of the Prodigal Son" what does that story look like, sound like, feel like, even feel like as you run it through from the perspective of the prodigal son, then the perspective of the father, then the perspective of the elder brother. You can learn so much if you get on the inside of the characters and experience the characters. It can be absolutely profound! If you read it only for information, you'll get what you're looking for and be bored with it. But if you run a movie in your mind and work with the Holy Spirit to make it come alive (What does the prodigal son see on the road? How does the rock feel under your feet? What is he thinking) you are able to more fully explore the wonderful truth of the story.
Another practice is in worship. I've always found, granted this is anecdotal, that the main difference between those who really get into worship and those who don't get into worship, or those who get into Bible reading and those who don't get into Bible reading, or those who get into prayer and those who do not get into prayer is not necessarily that the first group is more spiritual than the second. Rather, the first group has something going on in their head. For some reason they learned to use their imagination while the second group didn't get that. Learning how to open up your mind to the Spirit's influence in the imagination is absolutely crucial to getting or experiencing power and transformation in any discipline that we use.
Dr. Boyd, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with us!