It is one thing to talk about the Resurrection. It is quite another to see the Easter fire struck in the night, the candle lit, the light of Christ filling the tomblike darkness of the waiting church. As a Catholic, I live and relive that liturgy every year; every year it astonishes me as no amount of evidence-based argument—The Case for the Resurrection—could ever do. Yes, yes, I want to say to the apologist, I get it. But when the lights come on and the bells ring and the music starts, I know it. If, as John Lukacs has written, knowledge is “personal and participant,” then our knowledge of Christianity must, at its most real, be both of those things. If you ask a child, “Where is God?,” he may respond, “God is everywhere.” This is a fact, easily memorized. But until the child has some personal and participant sense of who God is, what it feels like for God to be everywhere, his answer falls short of knowledge.
Such knowledge involves the imagination. Gretchen Wolff Pritchard argues in Offering the Gospel to Children—a book that has shaped the way I think about religious formation—that the power of the gospel lies primarily in its power as story, its power to kindle the imagination. The gospel is what the Victorian British educator Charlotte Mason called a “living book,” a book that is imaginatively alive. The best religious books for children, in my view, are those written not just with piety or orthodoxy, but with literary power. They are “living books,” written as beguilingly as the best fairy tales.