Meaning and Metaphor: An Interview with Douglas Wilson

Authors on the Line

Sometimes spiritual truth is best communicated in straightforward prose, and sometimes spiritual truth is best communicated through the imagination. The imagination was designed by God as one way we receive truth, and I think this explains why the book of Revelation includes war tales of red dragons and multi-headed beasts — nasty creatures are a great way to embody evil and rebellious nations.

But the non-fiction imagination comes in many different forms, and one form is the metaphor. Jesus, we are told, is “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29), a metaphorical truth meaning at the same time Jesus is and is not a lamb. Metaphors lead us to embrace a thing (Christ crucified) in terms of some, but not all, of the characteristics of another thing (a lamb).

Metaphors carry meaning, and we need them, writes pastor and author Doug Wilson: “Because we are creatures, we must necessarily see and express the world poetically. All our knowledge is in some fashion metaphorical. Only God knows things immediately. For us, wound tight in our finitude, knowledge of the world must be mediated, that is, apportioned to us the same way a toddler gets his mashed peas.”

The value of metaphor for communicating meaning is the latest topic in the Authors on the Line podcast. I put Doug Wilson on the line to talk about metaphor and meaning and to explain why metaphor is more than a garnish to sprinkle prose, but finds itself deeply embedded in the process of Christian logic. Along the way Wilson explains why reformed theology makes the necessary connections for truly valuing the potential of metaphor, and then we talk about the opportunities and challenges he faces in using metaphor in contemporary cultural debates.