Focus Area: Scriptural Literacy and Imagination


By Rev. Blair Boyd Zant

Nearly every night for the last nine years, my husband Will and I have taken turns curling up with our daughters before bed and reading. Overtime, picture books have become chapter books. The Children’s Bible became the Adventure Bible. And my role as featured performer of all character voices was recast. Suddenly I was only asked to help with sounding out the really tricky words. It’s bittersweet, now, watching our girls read quietly to themselves. And yet, I am grateful.

Literacy - the ability to read and write - is one of our greatest tools for knowledge acquisition, self-expression, interpersonal communication, and sharing ideas. It is also one measure by which we assess the health of our communities. As many of us are now well aware, the 3rd grade literacy rates of inner city elementary students is one of the key data points and leading indicators used to anticipate incarceration rates and prison capacities 10 years into the future. Literacy is a game-changer when it comes to breaking cycles of poverty and criminal activity, and for the disproportional numbers of persons of color and vulnerable children this affects. 

Literacy is also a game-changer for Christian discipleship.

Our ability to experience the Word, Christ, through the pages of Christian scripture is at the very center of our United Methodist practice of faith. Our Book of Discipline affirms the Bible as the source of all that is “necessary” and “sufficient” unto salvation (Articles of Religion) and “is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice” (Confession of Faith). 

As United Methodists, we assert the primacy of Scripture in theological reflection, and in discerning the heart of God. Our Scriptural discernment is further supported by the movement of the Holy Spirit through the traditions of the church, our lived experience as followers of Christ, and collective reason, aka Holy Conferencing.

Scriptural literacy, the ability to access the Bible’s stories, narratives, poetry, fables, parables, history, prophecy, and exposition is an essential part of our work to both be disciples and to make disciples. It transforms us by the renewing of our minds, and over time, by awakening our Godly imaginations. 

Faith, as described in Hebrews, is the ability to believe in that which has not yet been seen. Imagination, then, is our ability to see in our minds what we have not yet seen with our eyes. Imagination takes what we know and then paints it in vibrant color and stretches it out before us in a way that breathes new life, and spurs hope.  When what we know is Scripture, then we begin to see scripture come alive in the lives of people we meet.

As one Common Table member shared: “I came to an entirely new understanding of Jesus’ birth story after I was in a Bible study with a single mom.”

Another confessed, “I have preached on the Beatitudes dozens of times. Then I moved to a church who had members who were homeless. They hunger and thirst. Do I call them blessed? Or grab them some loaves and fishes?”  

Scriptural imagination also means that in times of grief and distress, passages and psalms just appear, offering calming reassurance. Ours is a Messiah who was and is the resurrection and the life, and was willing to weep with Mary in grief. For how many of us has that been a great comfort to our faith in the face of loss? As we try and imagine what might lie ahead of us, and how we should proceed, Scriptural literacy allows our imagination to take the shape of God’s preferred future… for us, for our neighbors, for creation. 

This are the hopes of this area of focus:

  1. Advocate for literacy in our local communities.  

  • Project Transformation, partnership with local schools, English language classes, Spanish, Korean, ASL classes and worship practices so English speakers can increase their multilingual literacy as well. 

  1. Encourage Biblical literacy at every age and maturity level. 

  • Beautiful examples in our children's, youth, and retreat ministry settings. 
  • Fall Children’s Retreat or Spring Road Trip Retreat (learn more at the Kid’s Table over lunch). 
  • Fall and Spring Confirmation Retreats - begin reading at deeper levels, wrestle with the divine nature of God as well as the humanness of humanity. 
  • Spiritual Life Retreat - practice the spiritual disciplines within community. Allow the Bible to openly challenge and confront us. 
  • Discipleship Pathways at local churches. 
  1. Enliven our individual and collective scriptural imagination for God’s preferred future. 

  • Preaching
  • Teaching
  • Grief-processing
  • Vision-casting

In their work together, Common Table spent time in Acts 2, seeking guidance from the early church, specifically Verse 42:

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.

The early church committed itself to these practices. Let’s remind ourselves what happened next:

43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.

Here’s one way to awaken Scriptural imagination in your own faith life:

1. Choose a scripture. (You could use Acts 2:42-47 or choose something else.)
2. Attend to the verbs. What are people doing? What is God doing? What was a response?
3. Finish these sentences: This scripture helps me to imagine a world in which…. And challenges me to…

Rev. Blair Boyd Zant is director of the Center for Congregational Excellence. Learn more about the 5 Areas of Focus at