Rethinking The Value Of Metaphors In Listener-Sensitive Homiletics -- By: Argile Smith

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 06:2 (Fall 2009)
Article: Rethinking The Value Of Metaphors In Listener-Sensitive Homiletics
Author: Argile Smith

Rethinking The Value Of Metaphors In Listener-Sensitive Homiletics

Argile Smith


Edwon Campbell

Dr. Smith is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Biloxi, MS. He has formerly served as Vice President for Advancement at William Carey University and as a professor of preaching at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dr. Campbell is Associate Professor in English at Leavell College of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.


Discourse in a religious setting like Christianity incorporates figurative as well as literal language. Figurative language includes tropes, one of which is metaphor. The research in metaphor has been extensive and vast in disciplines like communication, psychology, philosophy, linguistics, education, and theology. Because metaphor is a critical component in religious discourse and since the sermon is a vital component in the discourse about the relationship between God and the people in the pew, metaphor can be a beneficial study for preaching theorists.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the use of metaphors in listener-sensitive homiletics. A survey of metaphor theory research from the various social science perspectives and a description of the role of the trope in religious language will provide the context for a consideration of pertinent developments and an appraisal of recent research in the homiletical use of metaphor.

Research In Metaphor Theory

Originally perceived as rhetorical ornaments, metaphors have come to be viewed by social science researchers as integral components in the process of cognition. In other words, metaphors are being viewed as figures of thought, not figures of speech. The formal study of metaphor dates back to Aristotle, who situated it in what came to be referred to as the rhetorical canon of style. Aristotle described metaphor as a borrowed term, a word substituted for another word, or a form of analogy that could be used to intensify the persuasive effect of an argument.1

Aristotle’s theory predominated until the early twentieth century when I. A. Richards introduced the notion that metaphor is not simply a stylistic device, but a critical component in generating meaning in human interaction. According to Richards, metaphor includes primary and secondary terms that interact in a coherent cognitive framework involving tension and resolution. Richards referred to the primary idea as the tenor and the secondary idea as the vehicle. For example, in the expression “life is a game,” life is the ten...

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