DKG questions: 2 (Precision and Metaphor)

  1. “We should not seek to impose upon church officers a form of creedal subscription intended to be maximally precise.”

Again, Scripture’s vagueness disallows ultimate maximum precision and secondarily, it makes unwise to force subscription to a document that implicitly seeks to be more precise than the standards God Himself set. Thirdly, such maximum precision and subscription unconsciously makes the Confession irreformable and canonical.

  1. Sometimes, metaphors come to our rescue in theology.

 

Metaphors, especially controlling ones, state thorny theological concepts in a s ccinct manner. This presupposes, of course, that vagueness is not only in Scripture, but vague statements about Scriptural truths are allowed. For example, how does one view the relationship between Adam’s sin and the human race? The best example, although one in need of qualification, is the “Federal Headship” of Adam. Adam represented the human race as a Federal head.

 

  1. Often, in fact, figurative language says more, and says it more clearly, than corresponding literal language would do.

 

Figurative language allows one to use popular concepts on the lay level to express truths. For example, it is clearer to say “God is like a mountain, unmoved” than to say “God is immutable.” The latter is more precise, whereas the former is able to communicate the same truth on the lay level.

 

  1. Use of a metaphor may be helpful in one context, misleading in another. Discuss, using examples.

 

Frame suggests that it is best not to use metaphor unless its purposes can be clearly expressed and limited. An example is the Dooyeweerdian definition of law as the boundary between God and the Cosmos. This is good in one sense but raises the question as to what degree does law limit or not limit God. In what sense, then, it is a boundary?

 

  1. Discuss possible cases in which there is danger in using metaphors when more literal language is necessary.

 

Either certain metaphors must be “unpacked” or more technical terms must be used. In other words, uninterpreted metaphors must not be used in philosophical, legal, or scientific discourse.

  1. Everything is comparable to God. Compare

 

Everything is analogous to God to the degree that all creation bears God’s imprint on it. God is like a “fire,” “wind,” “Lion of Judah,” “king,” “love,” etc. But for every analogy there is a disanalogy. God is analogous to evil men (or rather, they to him being created imago dei) but not in the same way that he is analogous to righteous men. That is, there are degrees of analogy between God and creation.

 

  1. Do we need special technical terms to refer to God’s transcendence? Discuss.

 

Technical terminologies concerning God’s transcendence are helpful but their uses ought not to be pressed. It is helpful to know the “qualitative difference” between God and men, for example. The same principle applies to God’s omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. These terms are true as far as they go, but Scripture does not describe God in this way, preferring human referents: Lord, King, Saviour.

 

  1. The History of Doctrine, too, has progressed very largely by negation. Explain

 

Many doctrines have been formulated by way of contrast with heresies. Negation, like Scripture, seeks to contrast truth with error. Many doctrines, such as creation ex nihilo, seem to be most meaningful as an exclusion of contrary heretical positions. The nature of negation in theological formulation, however, is limited. Negation seeks only to show why or for what purpose doctrine x serves. Examples are, as Frame points out, the Reformation Confessions against sectarianism and Romanism, Nicene Trinitarianism against Sabellianism and Arianism, etc.

 

  1. …some doctrines have very little meaning except for their negative function of exclusion.

 

The denial of various heresies constitutes the meaning of a said doctrine. Given tough, philosophically vague concepts like substance, nothingness, hypostasis, it is difficult for the theologian to state a doctrine positively from Scripture. However, a Scriptural case can be built inferentially from negation.

 

  1. Everything is a matter of everything else. Discuss.

 

We must be aware of using “historical disjunctions” to deny other theological truths. For example, while doctrine x is true, it does not necessarily follow that doctrine y must be false. There are degrees to which each doctrine is related and not related to the other doctrine, to be sure, and these degrees of relation ought to form a framework in which to evaluate those doctrines.

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About Ephraim's Arrow

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism
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