an interesting analogy

Julie and I have spent the last four days in South Florida, speaking on Christian worldview at a women’s retreat (thanks, Tullian!), collecting sea shells on Sanibal Island, and watching drunk old people dance in the streets of Naples (are you sure this is the greatest generation?).  The weird part is that I haven’t missed any of my classes, which either means that I have a terrific schedule this semester or I forgot about my Barth class on Friday.

I’m writing this from the airport in Charlotte, so a few hundred hackers probably know my password and are cleaning out what’s left of my 403b.  But I wanted to get on and post an interesting analogy from Joel Borofsky (a very sharp college student in Texas.  Actually, I’ve never met Joel, so I’m taking his word on this.  Here’s hoping he’s not a teenage girl just playing with me).  

Here’s Joel’s comment, posted in the thread of “centered-bounded set.”  Any thoughts on his analogy?

A man went home over Christmas break and spoke with his grandmother. His grandmother was, sad to say, suffering from dementia. She began to talk to her grandson, telling him how proud she was of it and how much she loved him. Then she began to tell stories about her grandson that never happened. She then spoke of accomplishments he never did, attributes about him that weren’t true, and so on. When the others in the room tried to correct her, she denied it and said she knew her own grandson. Due to this blockage, she still had a relationship with her grandson, but it wasn’t a fulfilling one – he couldn’t open up to her and she couldn’t see him for who he really was.


Why is it when we see a woman like that, we feel sorry for her, pity her, or call her crazy, but when we see someone claiming things about Jesus that aren’t true we call that person “seeking,” “spiritual,” or “Christ-centered”?


Jesus is the center of our focus, but we have to keep in mind that there are certain facts about Jesus was must believe (and certain facts about those facts that must also be believed). There are some facts – such as inerrancy or the virgin birth – that if false, would shake the foundation of our relationship with Christ because we don’t really know Him.


All relationships are based on facts. We believe the fact that the other person exists. We believe other facts – where the person is from, what his name is, what he is like, what he likes to do, etc. Facts don’t rule the relationship or define it, but they are the foundation.







11 responses to “an interesting analogy”

  1. Layman Speaks


    I love this parable. I think it well illustrates the hole in the emergent argument relative to “centering on Jesus”. The “postmoderen innovators” as you have termed them, have got to come clean and admit that what they really are after is a whole new “religion”. Their practice of spinning the Bible to suite themselves is both disingenous and dangerous to the spiritual destiny of many who follow their teachings. Here we have man trying to make or prove himself righteous through his own efforts.

    When the “innovator” freely admits of little or no doctrine, and places doing above believing, we have a whole different belief system. Is it not the “innovator” who say’s in effect: “do like Jesus and you are in”? And is it not the New Testament that say’s “believe on Jesus and you shall be saved”? (We are talking doctrine here.) While “faith without works is dead” doing without believing is “the natural man receiving not the things of God for they are spiritually discerned.”


  2. mikewittmer

    In case some of you are wondering, I did NOT see Gary Meadors dancing in Naples. I am as surprised as you are.

    Here’s a bit of serendipity. Our plane from Charlotte to Chicago was apparently broken, so we deplaned and are now waiting to try again in an hour or so (and then drive a red-eye rental back to GR). When we got off the plane I noticed Anne Graham Lotz waiting to board a flight to her hometown. I introduced myself and said that I had just come from her nephew, Tullian’s church, and then she said, in her sweet drawl, “O bless his heart” (which is southern for “He’s an idiot”).

  3. While I am agreeing with your discussion of centered-bounded set, I think this analogy breaks down a bit too quickly to be helpful.

    Our grandparents do not cease to be our grandparents when they suffer from dementia. Though the dynamics of the relationship deteriorate, the relationship itself is unaltered, regardless of what the elder believes of the younger.

    This leads to two possible interpretations of the analogy. Either we can say, “Yeah beliefs are important and help strengthen the relationship, but you can reject the virgin birth without threatening the foundation of the relationship.” Or we can say, “She used to be my grandma, but now she thinks I’m President Obama, so our relationship is void.” Neither of these seem to be very productive conclusions.

  4. My grandparents have lived on Sanibel Island since 1979. I used to go down there every Christmas break until I was a Senior in high school. What a great place. I hope you enjoyed it.

    I agree with Seth in that I agree with the basic position being stated but the analogy falls short.

    I think one of your original points is most important: we all have boundaries. Afterall, the PI’s say that being like Jesus is more important, but in that statement, they are claiming facts about what it means to “be like Jesus” and I would assume that they define some actions as “not like Jesus” and others as “like Jesus.” Therefore, they have a boundary. The real question is “what is the right boundary?”

  5. Mike,

    Thanks for putting the analogy up! If nothing else, it exploits that I don’t proof-read my comments (so many errors).

    And I am a college student from Texas, though I’m not sure about the “sharp” part.

    On a more serious note, I do appreciate the compliment. As I believe I’ve already told you, it was your book “Heaven is a Place on Earth” that got me interested in philosophy to begin with.


    All analogies break down – many of them fairly quickly. The point of an analogy is mostly to clarify what one is saying in an example format. That means that the analogy and the subject being analogized aren’t going to hold everything in common (i.e. in the parable of the ten virgins, can we interpret this to mean half of humanity is going to Heaven and half is going to Hell…or is this one part of the parable that isn’t congruent with reality?).

    So for reality, I would argue that if we deny the virgin birth, the resurrection of Christ, or His deity (amongst other things), then not only does it harm our relationship with Him, it means we didn’t have one to begin with! So yes, the analogy doesn’t cover that.

    However, if I remember correctly, I was attempting to convey a minimalist context anyway. That is, if I can get someone to admit that facts do have some basis in relationships, the conversation can progress from there. The problem is, some people would even reject the analogy I gave, which is a minimalist analogy. Hence it’s inadequacy in summarizing the entirety of the complexities involved salvation.

  6. Ah, hermenetiucs…

    As an analogy, this does break down, but as a parable (which is what the OP called it), it makes a good point: why do we feel sorry for humans who think they know a loved one, but really don’t, while labeling as “spiritual” those who believe things about their dearest Loved One that are untrue?

  7. Darrell

    As a parable this is helpful. I just posted on this topic at the bottom of the original list of comments, not realizing this post was here yet, so I’ll throw this out here as well:

    The language of boundaries and fences (to determine who is in and out) seems unhelpful because it’s not our job to determine who is in or out. We cannot read someone’s heart.

    However, doctrines are necessary–but not as boundaries. They are necessary for clarity, or to relate back to the parable, for reality. If we are imagining a Jesus that fits our desired paradigm (one that only cares if we imitate him not that we believe rightly about him), we are not focusing on or moving toward the true Jesus of the Bible (or chances are we are not). So, doctrines provide clarity on what, or better Who, we’re focusing on.

    As we learn from the Bible who Jesus really is, we are constantly presented with opportunities to accept or reject what we learn. As we accept what the Bible teaches, we continue to move toward Jesus, know him better, love him more, serve him better, and live more like him. If we reject what we learn, we divert toward a Jesus that does not exist. So, I don’t think we need to argue for “boundaries” even if we argue for doctrines.

  8. Maybe we should just go back and read Calvin. I think John nails it in Book 2, chapter 8, section 11.

  9. mikewittmer


    Saying that we don’t need to “argue for boundaries” doesn’t negate the fact that we all necessarily have them. The question, as Brian noted above, is not whether you will have a boundary but what boundary are you going to have. And it’s clear from reading the New Testament that both doctrines and ethics formed the boundary of the church. In other words, people were disciplined out of the church for sinful living and incorrect beliefs.

  10. Darrell

    I’m not saying we don’t have boundaries. We all certainly do have criteria by which we say “this is right” or “that is wrong” either on beliefs or ethics. I’m just wondering if “boundary” is the best metaphor.

    Perhaps it would be more helpful to think in terms of clarity about the Center (Jesus) and what he wants us to believe/do–rather than setting up boundaries/fences. It avoids the objection that “All you focus on is what keeps people in or out. I don’t care about doctrine. I just follow Jesus.” The problem with this kind of objection is that if one is not clear on who Jesus is, there is no guarantee that one is truly following Him. And if we reject the Virgin Birth, for example, it stands to question if we are actually following Jesus at all.

    I think this is my point: You cannot avoid doctrine by rejecting boundaries and focusing on Jesus and being like him because what you believe (or not believe) will determine if you are actually focusing on Him. Or maybe I’m in left field…

  11. mikewittmer

    Thanks for clarifying, Darrell. I think that your point is the point of my “centered-bounded set” piece, so it seems that we agree.

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