As an apologist, I appreciate the value of the imagination in no small part because of the role it played in helping me come to Christian faith. I was once an atheist, and a hostile one, who agreed with the New Atheists that Christianity was not just false but irrational and harmful.
Although I was not interested in apologetic arguments at the time, I had, without knowing it, been experiencing the work of grace through my imagination. As a child, I fell in love with the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. At the time, of course, I didn’t know that I was encountering God’s grace through those books. Years later, as an atheist and graduate student, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on fantasy novels and had J. R. R. Tolkien’s great essay “On Fairy-stories”—with its powerful statement of the evangelium, the Good News—at the heart of it. When I became a college professor, I was deeply moved and intrigued by the writings of Christian poets. In time I realized that the faith of these writers was more complex and more interesting than I had thought, and I decided to learn more.
Like C. S. Lewis, I had a two-step conversion. I came to belief in God but then struggled with the idea of the Incarnation. All the evidence pointed toward the Crucifixion and the Resurrection as historical facts, but I found that I was unable to accept the idea of Jesus as God incarnate. At that point, I turned very deliberately to the Chronicles of Narnia: I went looking for Aslan, the lion who is the great Christ-figure of the Chronicles. Through my experience of those stories, my imagination was able to connect with what my reason already knew, and I was able to grasp as a whole person that God could become incarnate. That imaginative experience removed the last stumbling block for my acceptance of Christ.