The Dogmatic Imagination:
by A. James Reimer, Herald Press, 2003, 107 pages.
In The Dogmatic Imagination, James Reimer has done for the Mennonite Church what Kathleen Norris has done on a broader front in her book, Amazing Grace. He has taken twenty-four components of traditional Christian dogma and written a short essay on each one. While being careful to honor those who articulated these doctrinal statements in the past, he is convinced they need to be revisited and reformulated in our contemporary context. This process, he insists, can be both faithful and fun. Indeed each essay is a pleasure to read even though it deals with foundational issues of the Christian faith.
Reimer feels that by simply continuing to use yesterdays’ language we have domesticated the great issues of faith instead of wrestling with them. He suggests that in order for theology to be dynamic it must be imaginative, drawing on experience and reflection as well as academic rigor. And always there must be a healthy balance or tension between the personal and corporate understanding and application of faith issues.
It is fair to say that Reimer’s essays form a kind of bridge between the modern and postmodern worlds. One foot is squarely planted in his experiences in the twentieth century while the other is dancing about on the edges of the postmodern world. At the same time it is clear that his central purpose is to articulate faith in a way that will catch the imagination of the younger generation. This is already obvious in his first essay in which he asserts that doing theology is more like playing a game of scrabble than doing a jig-saw puzzle. The scrabble game paradigm allows for greater dynamic and diversity, yet is guided by a specific set of boundaries. And, Reimer acknowledges, the outcome of this enterprise will be less predictable and precise than a completed jig-saw puzzle would project.
Reimer understands that this approach to faith issues will call for a greater degree of forbearance within the church. This is to be distinguished from a pagan notion of tolerance that implies that anything goes. “With forbearance, one holds strong commitments and tries to convince others to share them, while learning to live with those who differ from us”(88).
While a few years separate us, Jim (as I knew him in his younger years) and I have much in common with respect to our early experiences of faith and church life. In a way this book was a God-send for me, because at this point in my life I am also in the process of reformulating and refocusing many issues of faith in the context of my experience on the edge of a postmodern world. While I may not share Reimer’s conclusions on every point, I do appreciate the fact that he has demonstrated for me how to play holy scrabble in a way that remains faithful to our heritage yet finds meaningful expression in our contemporary world.