30 April 2008

The wind in the sails

by Frank Turk


OK – I sort of blogged for a brief moment at my blog last week, and then, having been away from my desk at my day job for almost 2 weeks, I had to man the pumps and get the swamp of stuff off my desk. But today I have 45 minutes, and that means (since it’s Wednesday) that I’ll be blogging you here.

Yes, nice to see you, too.

First, a brief shaddout to all the peeps who introduced themselves at T4G. Not to leave anyone out, but meeting my brother K. Joel Gilliard (known better to many of you as BlackCalvinist) was a highlight for me. Having known him virtually for years, it was edifying to meet him in person and find him to be actually smarter and more personable in person than I knew him to be via the raw bandwidth.

And, of course, spending time briefly with Dan and Phil (and meeting Dan’s lovely wife Valerie for the first time) was both wonderful and at the same time not enough.

Note to Mark Dever: in ’10, T4G needs to have more intentional social time, and ought not to run 12 hours a day. Anyone who agrees with me ought to e-mail Pastor Dever with a kind note of encouragement in that direction.

Now, this very morning after getting beat down by my new fitness accountability partner, I was checking the blogosphere for anything more interesting than chatter about Barack Obama’s pastor (who, it turns out, was one of Bill Clinton’s spiritual advisors during the Lewinsky thing), and I came across this post at what I would call one of the blogs which hates that it ever agrees with TeamPyro, but cannot avoid it:

Which, you know, yeah. OK. I think “metaphor” is a not exactly the word I would use, but OK.

The word I would use is “condescension”. If you wanted a non-technical, simple word for what I’m talking about, how about “stooping down”.

Now, why split that hair? I mean, what’s my positive affirmation of the “opposite” of what’s been said here, and is what is said here the “opposite” of what I’m saying? Because the guy who said this – he is, as far as I can tell, a nice young man with a fine family, and his blog is at least interesting even if it is, um, succinct. I don’t actually think he’s “wrong” – I think he just doesn’t go far enough here.

I mean, what’s the difference between saying the word “Father” is a “metaphor” and to say it’s a “condescension”? Here’s what I think, and then cry havoc and let loose the blogs of war.

When we say the word is a “metaphor”, what we mean is that somehow we have chosen a word which, as many great preachers have pointed out, points from the lesser to the greater. That is, human language has its limits, and we seek to overcome the limits of language through poetic license – we draw an image and say the greater thing is “like that, but greater.” You know: hell is like fire, but greater than fire – worse for the one who’s in it. The Kingdom of God is like a lost coin which we sweep the whole house to find, but greater – more valuable and treasured.

But the problem with calling these (and the other examples you might pull from Scripture) “metaphors” (or “similes”, if we are going to pick wonkery nits in our blog post today) is that this view overlooks the source of these statements. What is not happening in these statement is man seeking to capture God by human wisdom or philosophy or even poetry: what is happening is that God is revealing Himself to us in terms He has actually deemed sufficient.

That is -- this is not our language trying to reach up at God: it is God’s love and wisdom and power reaching down to us to make Himself known to us. This is not our minds trying to do what, frankly, they cannot do: this is God’s mind sufficiently giving us what we need to know Him above and beyond the vague affirmation “God is the creator of all things”.

If someone wants to call the title “Father” as it refers to God a “metaphor”, yeah. OK. But to say that, for example, to some agnostic or some atheist or some marginal culture-Christian, I think, takes the wind out of the sails of Scripture – and by wind, I mean what Jesus meant in John 3.

Have a nice day. Even if you disagree with me.


DJP said...

"...one of Bill Clinton’s spiritual advisors during the Lewinsky thing..."

Why doesn't THAT surprise me?

John said...

Disagree? Absolutely not!
That is the core, the heart, of most current problems in biblical interpretation, in that most people see the Bible as men trying to describe the things of God to other men. In reality, the Bible is God describing Himself to men.

Frank Turk said...


You bear the mantle of whatever the intellectual category below "omniscience" is with humility and grace.

gods.geek said...

Exactly, precisely, 100% spot on (to borrow a phrase from our brethren on the other side of the pond)!

It's a matter of perspective; is it me reaching up or God reaching down. My arms aren't long enough to reach that far up, so it HAS to be Him reaching down.

Jugulum said...

"this view overlooks the source of these statements. What is not happening in these statement is man seeking to capture God by human wisdom or philosophy or even poetry: God is revealing Himself to us in terms He has actually deemed sufficient."

Thanks, Frank. That is both succinct and helpful. I'm going to remember this for future conversations with people who play around with calling God "she".

"cry havoc and let loose the blogs of war."

Heh. That's great.

Jugulum said...

P.S. The link to the thing about Rev. Wright is malformed.

Andrew Jones said...

metaphors be with you!

Frank Turk said...

wright link fixed.

Daniel said...

I wonder if it works better the other way?

The earthly parent whom I call my father is he not really a "metaphor" for my real Father in heaven?

I mean really, who is picturing whom? Did God give us earthly fathers because there was no other (or better) way to bring us into existence, or was this by design to serve a purpose - so that we might better comprehend God our true Father?

Speculation is certainly fun.

spencer said...

Thanks for the helpful thoughts.
I share your concerns.

Often the mention of metaphor is the first step in a dodge.

Often the admission that our knowledge of God is not exhaustive is the first step in an evasion.

Our knowledge of God is true, though it is finite. It is true because God created us in His image and then revealed Himself to us in words that He deemed suitable for what He wanted us to know.

Goldsworthy's book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics tackles this issue in "finite words and human thought forms" that I found quite helpful.

Scott Bailey said...

OK, I'll bite...

Spencer do you exhaustively know God, and have you cognitively grasped his entire being without any mistake, error or illusion?

Solameanie said...


Great post.

Every time I see the word "metaphor," I can't help but think of the play, "The Importance of Being Earnest." Especially the scenes between Canon Chasuble and Miss Prism. "Ahem! I spoke metaphorically. My metaphor was drawn from bees. Ahem!"

Or, "I spoke horticulturally. My metaphor was drawn from fruits."

Sorry for the diversion. It's really funny when you read the scene.

Frank Turk said...


I think some people use the limits of language to slip into an alleged crack in our theology. I don't think Abraham Piper was doing that here: I think he was trying to slip someone -out- of that crack by underscoring that our language has to speak to us -- that while language is limited, it is us who are the limiters, not God.

But I think that leaves the question of whether or not the language is -sufficient- without any answer.

Language from God to us is a condescension on God's part, and it is wholly sufficient as a means. What that affirmation does is require us to treat language like the kind of thing it is and not as puzzle pieces or legos.

In that ...

Scott Bailey:

Who said anything like what you're asking about? Listen: I know my wife better than anyone else on Earth knows her, and I promise you I do not know her comprehensively or exhaustively.

There is no question that I could recognize her voice on the phone, her e-mails, her face, etc. That doesn't mean I know everything about her, including everything which motivates her.

You cannot leverage my limitations in my knowledge of my wife into skepticism about whether I know her or not -- it's an unreasonable demand; it doesn't logically follow.

In exactly the same way, Christ Himself has said that what the Scripture tells us about God is sufficient to know Him, receive the Gospel, and love and obey Him. Do we know everything about God? Not hardly. Do we know enough to declare that men are sinners and in need of a savior -- a savior whom God has promised and already given?

Why yes: Yes we do.

Don't confuse limited knowledge with the basis for skepticism. That's a wholly-rationalistic way of seeing knowledge, and it overlooks a biblical anthropology of man.

Scott Bailey said...

Frank I agree with you. My comment was to Spencer. I like your eyebrow.

Mike Leake said...

Maybe I am simply out of the loop...but, I do not get this statement:

"I came across this post at what I would call one of the blogs which hates that it ever agrees with TeamPyro, but cannot avoid it:"

I have yet to see any time when Abraham Piper spoke out against TeamPyro. Like I said, maybe I missed it...and also maybe you are joking. I am just confused as to what you mean.

Scott Bailey said...

I'm still a little surprised that a question to Spencer turns into a discussion of my confusion and skepticism. I haven't even said anything yet. I just didn't like the word exhaustive.

Well, at the very least I am reassured that I am not the only fallen being who may misread something, assume WAY too much about the other person and make an argument to something the other was never intending in the first place.

Frank Turk said...


I am certain Abraham Piper has never written a direct criticism of TeamPyro. Certain.

I would suggest, however, that he also does not endorse what we do. He wouldn't do it this way, if I understand him.

I may have misunderstood him, and I welcome his clarification on that.

Frank Turk said...


If I misunderstood your intention, I apologize.

Rick Frueh said...

Any term that God gace us for Himself is infinitely wanting and incomplete which will become immeasurably evident upon the first moment in His visible dwellingplace. Until then, God gets to set the rules, set the terms, set the debate, set the truth, and ...well..."HE" gets to set ALL OF IT.

We get to obey and that my friends His "HIS" doing as well. Aren't we sooooo smart? Not.

Rick Frueh said...

BTW Frank - next time you label your post just say "everything" and save yourself some time! :)

~Mark said...

Ironically, as I prepared my information for tonight's air shift, this little gem popped out at me:
[around April 30] "418 Roman Emperor Honorius (who ruled 395-423) issued a decree denouncing Pelagianism, which taught that humanity can take the initial and fundamental steps toward salvation by its own efforts, apart from divine grace. "

Your post, especially the close, brought this to mind.

Gummby said...

Here’s what I think, and then cry havoc and let loose the blogs of war.

Ideally, that brilliant little statement would have evoked visions of General Chang in Star Trek VI. Instead, sadly, I've had Def Leppard singing about "the blogs of war" in my head for the last few hours. I am so a child of the 80s.

Rick Frueh said...

"let loose the blogs of war"

I love it. Bring up the sovereignty blogs on the right flank while the apostate archers let fly with firey arrows of truth. The heretic hunters approach with boldness and the Arminian Armada are court marshalling many of their own.

the Blog Wars - truth lies in the streets, incoming incendiaries, truth castles, and strange emergent wookies.

Ahhhh...a little melodramatic. Blog wars - just a bunch of people punching out thoughts through their fingertips. A gentlemen's game.

spencer said...

Scott: Thanks for the question. I will stick with Frank's answer. I am in complete agreement with you about his eyebrow.

Frank: Thanks for your answer. I like your comment even more than the original post.

DJP said...

Frank: fwiw and a bit late in the day, I think this is an excellent post, and agree with everything you say. Calvin made much of the language of condescension, saying that God was like a parent lisping to His little babes so they could understand Him.

Frank Turk said...

I am sorta put out that nobody has commented about the actual metaphor I used at the end of this post.

Gummby said...

So with regard to your post, would this be a reason why The Shack is different from, say, the Parable of the Two Sons?

Stefan said...

Frank: Your thesis is really good, and makes an excellent distinction that might be easily overlooked.

Wind out of the sails of Scripture? Yes, that is actually a brilliant metaphor...inspired, one might even say. No Spirit? It's just your generic Ancient Near Eastern literature (Lord forgive me). Reborn in the Spirit? It's the providence of the Father in the form of daily manna, and the handicraft of the Holy Spirit, all testifying to the Son.

Strong Tower said...


What did John mean by wind?

Is that a splash-back to a response made a couple of threads back about what was meant by wind?

I liked what Daniel said. The Truth is above and what we have on earth is the type. Father is not a metaphor but the true discription of God in his perfections. It is man that stands as a metaphor and is called father pointing to Him who has made all.

Thanks for the clarification on exhaustive knowledge Frank. Many people do not understand what has been given us, 1 Corinthians 2. And while it may be true that there is much more that we will know in the perfected state which frankly we cannot know now because of remaining corruptions, and that there is much to learn while yet in the body, God has given us the fulness of the Revelation in Christ. Our faith is not a guessing game. What we know, we know exhaustively or it cannot be said to be known. Paul said, "I know him in whom I have believed, definining faith for us. There is much more to learn, but the apostle could not say, "you have not learned so in Christ" if indeed we had not. We know Christ as Savior- we know him as Lord, we know him in our desperate condition of extensive depravity and the totality of our hopelessness without him- what more is there to know about what we know? Who would call upon Him if he doubted that he was what he said; if there was some unknown fact that might overthrow that reality? Faith is substantial, its truth fully revealed in as much as it is faith.

God truly has condescended in Christ and we have this promise that though we see, we see not all that is to be seen, but when he appears, is revealed, then we shall know in the perfected fulness, knowing as we are known. That should blow us away (wind thing). To say that what is made to be known cannot be truly known, exaustively in as much as it has been given, is to deny what John said about what is written of the Son. Which puts one in an obviously perilous position. For it is what is written to which Christ point so that we would know him, the true God and Savior of man. Deny the knowledge and you deny the Son and the one who sent him.

Stefan said...

Re my last comment:

Not that it is generic Ancient Near Eastern literature by any stretch of the imagination, but that's how comparative religion types, Jungians, ultra-liberal Episcopalians, and assorted other malcontents see it.

On a side note, isn't it amazing how not only did the Holy Spirit move the human authors of Scripture as they wrote the word of God, but that He moves us as we read it? I've heard R. Kent Hughes* cite John Woodhouse, who's demonstrated a close correlation in Scripture between the Spirit of God and the breath (or word) of God. Not only is the Bible God-breathed in its Authorship, but the Spirit of God illuminates it as we read it.

* Not namedropping...just citing my sources.