Saturday, February 20, 2010

Metaphor, Doctrine, and Model: A helpful rubric in Christological studies

Posted recently in response to ER's Do Creeds Have Cred? i think this is a helpful rubric when discussing differing views of Christ. i think this helps in discussions like the one between Sabio, Anglican Gurl, and myself on Sabio's Charts and why Christians can still be called Christians even though their images and creeds are completely different and even non-complimentary.

i'm taking a Christology class and found a helpful rubric. the early church was like a metaphor machine, churning out images for Christ: Christ is like a vine, bread, living water, shepherd, Moses, Elijah, God, Messiah, etc. etc.
metaphors emote something, causes you to transfer feelings from something you know to something you don't know.
then came doctrines which tell you how to feel and think. Christ is bread and here's how. Christ is two natures, one in being with the Father, and here's how. here is the dividing line, you're either with us or against us.
then come models, which when doctrines fail and cramp your brain, models are what you use to massage it out. two natures?! how does that work! well, it's like peanut butter and jelly, you can't separate the two, yet they are two distinct substances... problem with that model is you can distinguish between the two and that leads to modalism. so it goes.
so creeds serve a group in a particular time and place. helpful to obtain a communal identity. not so much if you want to be open. creeds are exclusive where Jesus, at least how i read him, was inclusive.
The question then becomes, what images are permanent? Can you legislate metaphors? Would it be insane to say "Well, we're the bread people, you vine people are apostate!"? Where do you draw the line?


Al said...

I like the idea of being able to compare something that might need more explanation with something that is well-known. But, like Christ's parables, there will be some aspects of the metaphor that work, and other parts that don't. And it's pretty easy to try to stretch the metaphor beyond what it was intended.

That is likely to make some people say they are full-on bread people, and others to realize that they aren't willing to be so completely committed to that metaphor.

And, of course, the more complex/deep/mysterious/unfathomable the subject is, the more metaphors it may take to try to explain it.

So, you need to have a bunch of metaphors which each add a bit of understanding, but which, when taken too far, will add a bunch of conflicting images.

Doctrines should be able to help weed out the extraneous--if the creator of the doctrine understands everything well. But they can just as easily codify error or misunderstanding or personal bias.

As to 'which images are permanent?', I suppose the images that work will hang around. However, images can change over time. They can lose their significance (like 'shepherd'), or perhaps even do an about-face so that the new meaning is at odds with the original.

Lots of good hmmm material in this post!

Sabio Lantz said...

I think a lot of folks have vested interest in owning the word "Christian" or "Christianity", therein lies the problem.

Luke, being a misfit, sees beyond word ownership.
Smile (that was a compliment)

Luke said...

"But, like Christ's parables, there will be some aspects of the metaphor that work, and other parts that don't." -Al

you're right on track! Al, i think you'd love this class. the metaphors used, even some very directly, don't stick. Like Jesus is a King like David (even of David's line!) isn't exact, as he doesn't have an army, any royal power, nor an affair with Bathsheba (well, documented anyway, Dan Brown says Mary M. is the Bath. ;-) ). Or Jesus is the new Moses but on a different mountain and a different law.

I like a lot of images. i'm a poet and artist by nature and largely paint with my words, much to the chagrin of those like Sabio who are pointers. so this works for me. i think it works for you too... i like your phrase "Lots of good hmmm material in this post!" glad you got a lot out of it! hope all is well with you!

Sabio, thanks for checking in! our discussion on the last post triggered this one. glad you liked it. RAWK!

Sabio Lantz said...

You know Luke, if I read this, I can't really figure out what you are saying. I can guess, tell me if it is any of these:

(a) "Creeds" and "Metaphors" are all cool -- let's just love each other.

(b) Metaphors tell us how to feel, Doctrines tell us how to think. I like the feel stuff, but heck Doctrines make communities, ain't that nice.

(c) Lots of metaphors don't make sense, doctrines divide.

One other thing you said seemed odd:
"Creeds serve a group in a particular time and place".
As I see it, either this is a truism or a euphemism. Because creeds served the early church to shut down other competing groups. It seems a far stretch to call the result "community"-- as if it was a sweet thing. Instead, it just sounds like politics like usual -- nothing surprising.

Sabio Lantz said...

BTW, Luke,

I play flute, guitar and a little piano --- all without music sheets (spontaneous stuff), I photoshop artistically to spruce up my blog, I draw and even read poetry. I spent 4 years in an acting troop in Japan and studied calligraphy. And I speak several languages (not an analytic function).

I may not be an artist of your caliber, but be thee not too quick to judge that someone who has a trained analytic brain runs around with the other part atrophied and withered.

I play a game called "WeiQi" ("Go" in English). It is an amazing game (makes Chess look like tic-tac-toe). I just got slaughtered tonight by a Korean friend here in town. Anyway, the game, as opposed to Chess, uses both sides of the brain (so to speak) -- analytic and artistic (if we want to make dichotomies). Interestingly, you have players with all mixes, but good players have a good mix of both. I have learned much of the workings of my brain through this game -- well, its limitations , that is. I tend to be pretty bilingual between analytic and artistic (albeit weak in each). The important question is to know when to switch ! In that realm, I have much to learn.

Sorry for rambling but did want to straighten out a possible inaccurate sketch you have of me in your head.

Smile !

Luke said...


i know you're a complex character and a very artistic one at that! what i was mainly talking about is the clarity in your writing. you POINT and therefore there is no doubt as to what you think and where you stand. i paint, which leads to comments such as your own which are becoming a staple of your comments with " I can't really figure out what you are saying" ;-)

that's more my fault than yours. what i'm saying is i can see the plus side of creeds as it establishes firm boundaries of identity that are based on a particular set of values and reasoning. yet the bad side is it tends to instill a fear of the other within that particular group. largely i'm interested in the creeds but don't find them particularly binding nor relevant to my faith journey. hence the on-going discussion with the Anglican family (creed happy) vs. you and i (creed skeptical).

hope that clears stuff up my complex blogging buddy.

Sabio Lantz said...

Yep, that was a bit more clear.