The Role Of Metaphor In Christian Thought And Experience As Understood By Gordon Clark And C. S. Lewis -- By: Peter W. Macky

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 24:3 (Sep 1981)
Article: The Role Of Metaphor In Christian Thought And Experience As Understood By Gordon Clark And C. S. Lewis
Author: Peter W. Macky


The Role Of Metaphor In Christian Thought
And Experience As Understood By
Gordon Clark And C. S. Lewis

Peter W. Macky*

The publication of Gordon Clark’s Language and Theology1 raises anew the question of how Christians are to understand the role of the Bible’s metaphors, parables, visions, analogies, and so on for Christian thought and experience. Clark attacks a considerable array of philosophies and theologies in order to defend his own philosophy, which others call rationalist idealism. He does not, however, deal with the views of other evangelicals who disagree with his approach. Clark views metaphor and analogy as essentially ornamental or decorative, not types of speech that are essential to Christian speaking about God. By contrast Arthur Holmes says:

While analogy, symbol and even paradox are indeed literary devices, they are still vehicles of understanding. They represent exploratory probes, the stretching of the mind to grasp what is unfamiliar or remote, the attempt to probe the mystery of something utterly unique, even to capture some elusive but alluring thought. For a finite man who knows in part and sees through a glass darkly these devices are indispensable. For a creative thinker treading new paths they are essential.2

Holmes’ view is developed in great detail by C. S. Lewis. Clark does not mention Lewis’ views, even though Lewis has probably written more extensively on metaphor and related subjects than any well-known Christian writer in this century. Since Clark does not relate his views to Lewis’, this paper is an attempt to extend the scope of the dialogue by comparing Clark’s theory with that of Lewis.

The heart of their disagreement is this: Clark asserts that Biblical metaphors are inadequate for insight and understanding, mere surrogates for the real thing, which is the interpretation we give to them. Lewis on the other hand proclaims that God has spoken to us (among other means) by divinely authorized metaphors, parables, analogies, and so on. These are not only adequate to provide insight but are the means by which we can “see God’s face and live.” This striking difference in how the two men value the Bible’s metaphors is rooted in quite differing views of knowledge, truth, language and reality. Clark takes geometry as the standard of thought. Lewis, however, believes that such more “scientific” speech is valuable for many purposes but not all, so it should not be taken as the standard for judging more “poetic” speech such as is used in religion.

I will summarize Clark’s theory first, then Lewis’, then compare them.

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