December 22, 2009

The Importance of Recognizing Metaphor and Analogy

Once again, I find myself compelled to respond to something Douglas Wilson has said on his Twitter page.  Once again, let me say up front that I like Doug, think a lot of him, appreciate much of his work, disagree vehemently with his Calvinism.  So here goes.  Doug said, "Some reject the idea that regenerating grace is irresistible. But nobody objects to the fact that our physical birth was irresistible."  I would of course be one of those people.  Yes, regenerating grace is resistible.  No, physical birth is not.  This matter comes up frequently in Calvinist/Arminian discussion and is worthy of attention.  The issue is that, like other Calvinists, Wilson fails to appropriate the metaphorical relationship between physical birth and spiritual birth.  Physical birth is a metaphor for spiritual birth; physical death is a metaphor for spiritual death.  If one thing is a metaphor for another, then they have some characteristics in common and others not in common.  They have both similarities and differences, and, in that sense, they are analogous and not identical.
A particularly illustrative text comes in the opening verses of Ephesians 2.  There Paul says that Ephesian Chrsitians were once dead through tresspasses and sins.  Here he is speaking of spiritual deadness, and the idea of physical death, with which most of us have come in contact, informs our thinking of the spiritual death of which Paul speaks.  That Paul is using metaphor is indicated by his saying that these tresspasses and sins are something in which the Ephesians formerly walked.  Now physically dead people don't normally walk in anything not least tresspasses and sin.  In contrast, spiritual death does involve some activity in tresspassing.  They are similar in that both are undesirable states, but the similarity does not extend to every characteristic of death.  Thus, the analogical and metaphorical nature of Paul's claim.  You were dead in your sins and that is both similar and different from being dead in the ground.  Paul goes on to declare that God has made the Ephesians alive by grace through faith.  Like spiritual death, spiritual life should be informed by what we know of physical life.  Both are indeed desirable and good.  This most certainly does not mean that both are alike in every respect.  And one of the ways in which they are not alike seems to be the matter of the resistibility of the one, namely spiritual life, and the irresistibility of the other, namely physical life.  Spiritual life is received through faith, according to Paul, which is an active response to grace.  So, the spiritually dead, by preceding grace, can evidently do something that conditions their regeneration, that is respond with faith. 

It is important to remember that metaphors and analogies are metaphors and analogies precisely because they are not the things to which they are metaphorical and analogous.  This distinction must be rightly appropriated if we are to understand biblical soteriology aright.

2 comments:

Justin Meek said...

Thanks for you work on this blog. Its nice to hear from fellow Arminians. I have been listening to various Calvinists of late (most recently John Piper) and have been somewhat dismayed by the tone they take with those of us that disagree with their ideas. Piper implies regularly that Arminians "play with the Bible" or in some way refuse to accept its obvious message and, therefore, don't respect Scripture. I am offended by this attitude. Calvin himself believed in infant baptism, a view with little or no Biblical support, did he take the Bible lightly and refuse it obvious meaning too. I can respect the Calvinist position and can see where they get their ideas from in the Bible. I still disagree with their conclusions and it is arrogance that suggests any disagreement is due to ignorance or obstinacy on the part of any who disagree with your ideas. I am a classical Arminian (meaning I am very close to the views of Arminius himself) and am eager to engage Calvisits in a healthy debate and discussion. I only wish most of them afforded me the same respect I offer to them. Anyway, keep writing about these issue brother.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Hi Justin. Thanks very much for your encouraging comments and for reading this blog.

Grace and peace,
Matt