When I was attending graduate school for my Master of Fine Arts, I was asked to write an extended critical essay of at least thirty pages, and I thought I would share it with my readers in small doses- starting with the introduction.
My mentor was quite impressed with the research for this piece, and asked me how long it had taken me to find all of the passages cited in the work. I told him that I had started gathering my material one semester early.
My father laughed when I mentioned it to him and asked me, “Did you tell him you’ve actually been doing this since you were twelve years old?” Good ol’ Poppy, always making a good joke at my expense…oh well. I was pegged early on as the “religious one” in the family.
So, let’s move on to the essay itself, which I hope you enjoy and gain some insight from.
Peace be with you,
“Divine Doorkeepers: How Mystical Authors Usher Readers into the Spirit Realm” is a study of evangelical writers and how they use literary devices such as metaphor and simile to usher the reader in the door to experience the supernatural realm. The books examined for this extended essay will come from Christian evangelical writers, revivalists, and reformers such as George Fox, Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, Charles Spurgeon, and continuing with writers to the present day. The essay is an analysis of how they portray God and the workings of the Spirit to readers.
How Mystical Authors Usher Readers into the Spirit Realm
“Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in” (Psalm 24:7).
If you were trying to write or speak about a world that cannot be apprehended with the senses, what method would you use to be most effective? How would you make it possible for someone to touch the intangible world, or illuminate the invisible mystical realm for the human eye?
Evangelists, revivalists, and religious reformers have always been particularly fond of metaphor in their writings to make God and spiritual matters clear to their readers. Rather than merely stating abstract concepts in an ethereal way, they build a sense of God being tangible. They use stories like soldiers to round up and captivate the minds of skeptics and unbelievers. In an essay entitled “To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor’s Matter and Spirit,” Mark Jarman writes about this process of presenting the mystical to people in a natural way: “If it sounds too religious to call metaphor an incarnation, then let’s call it a manifestation, for it makes available to the senses what is often intangible, invisible, unknown, obscure; metaphor brings to light, it reveals, it unifies the fragmented, it is an act of creation, indeed” (301).
Christian writers have historically used physical activity, images of nature and weather, and human characteristics to describe the mystical world, enabling people to apprehend God with their senses instead of in an abstract manner. Perhaps for some of these writers, the spiritual dimension is as real as the physical realm.
By using strong verb metaphors, evangelical writers enable the reader to see the activity of the Spirit during times of revival and religious change. By using stories about nature they allow the reader to understand complex visions and theologies. By applying human traits to God, they give readers a sense of the humanity of God and a feeling of kinship with Him. Spiritual writers weave metaphor through their messages and writing in such a way that makes the supernatural seems natural, and the metaphysical seems like physical activity.
Jesus Himself said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13, ESV). Spiritual authors have continued in His style, using allegorical stories or parables to illustrate the spiritual world. In his essay “Follow that Metaphor”, John Savant writes:
“For a person of Christian faith, the Gospels are a similar tool, teaching more through experience and story than through argument or explanation. The Gospels work by juxtaposition, indirection, comparison, and suggestion: they are, in other words, poetic and metaphoric” (18).
In this essay, I wish to examine the kinds of metaphors that are traditionally used to illustrate spiritual events, such as (1) depicting a hero with divine weapons on a spiritual journey, (2) humanizing God in order to give the reader a sense of identification with Him, (3) using weather and nature to depict God’s power and activity, (4) using magical realism in order to “spin straw into gold” and carry the reader into a new dimension, (5) using illustrations that show God striving with man, and (6) using metaphors that relate to the lifestyles and occupations of ordinary people. The authors addressed in this essay are George Fox, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, Søren Kierkegaard, Charles Spurgeon, Dwight Moody, C. S. Lewis, Donald Miller, and Shane Claiborne.
George Fox (1624-1691): Divine Alchemist
George Fox was a well known English dissenter who founded the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). He traveled throughout Britain, challenging the “hireling preachers” of his time and suffering tremendous persecution. Fox was born in Leicestershire, England (now known as Fenny Drayton). George was the eldest of four children of Christopher Fox, a successful weaver.
Fox frequently uses surreal imagery to portray God. He presents his life story in a way that leads the reader to believe that he was born into a world of powers far greater than himself, and was chosen to carry divine seed to a parched and weary Earth. He artfully uses ocean waves and clouds, elements and stars, and sparkling fiery seeds to depict the movement of the Spirit. His memoirs seem to have been written with a magic quill, because they twinkle with a fantasy-like quality. His poetic style is reminiscent of Bunyan in that he depicts himself as a seeking hero on a spiritual journey. He creates a mystical sense of place by applying geographical dimensions and weather patterns to abstractions such as good and evil. Michael Graves asserts that creating using this kind of language enables the reader to visualize and vicariously “travel” with the author:
…to name life a Pilgrimage overlays a gloss of geographic factors which may have never occurred to the person who hears the metaphor applied to life for the first time. At the very least, the idea of pilgrimage may call forth associations which have lain dormant… [e.g., living in an evil place; finding a straight path; traveling light (and in the light), etc.]…( 364)
Fox had visions from his youth, which he referred to as “openings” because his eyes were opened to the spiritual. He contrasts light and darkness to show the spiritual battle within man’s heart and on the earth: “I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings” (Journal 87). He uses the ocean to portray the vastness of the forces of evil and good, and a sense of overwhelming waters inwardly and outwardly. Darkness is a metaphor for death, and light is the symbol for the love of God. Fox effectively uses alliteration here as well to couple “darkness” with “death” and “light” with “love”, while making the infinite into something finite and visible. Nature and elements were commonly used by Fox as to describe spiritual revelations. In his journal, he records an experience of being within a mystical cloud:
One morning as I was sitting by the fire, a great cloud came over me, and a temptation beset me; and I sat still. It was said “All things come by nature”; and the elements and stars came over me, so that I was in a manner quite clouded with it. But as I sat still under it and let it alone, a living hope and a true voice arose in me, which said, “There is a living God who made all things.” Immediately the cloud and temptation vanished away, and life rose over it; my heart was glad, and I praised the living God. (Journal 94)
The visionary cloaked in cloud is reminiscent of the story of Moses. The imagery works because it shows that Fox was alone with God and people could not see what was taking place as they communed. Then he creates the sense of light piercing through the cloud when the “true voice” speaks. Elements and stars and clouds are real but uncontrollable things in the universe, and the juxtaposition helps readers to understand God as having the same unfathomable power. Fox writes of God sending him into the world with a message, in a manner that bears resemblance to Dante embarking upon his journey:
Some time after the Lord commanded me to go abroad into the world, which was like a briery, thorny wilderness. When I came in the Lord’s mighty power with the Word of life into the world, the world swelled, and made a noise like the great raging waves of the sea. Priests and professors, magistrates and people, were all like the sea when I came to proclaim the day of the Lord amongst them, and to preach repentance unto them. (Journal 102)
The words “world” and “Word” flow together in this description of the world swelling and raging as he is sent with divine power. He creates with his language a sense of two great powers raging against one another, and the sense of this overwhelming task that the preacher has been commissioned to carry out. The analogy of the sea evokes a sense of great power behind him as he goes forth. Fox often writes about the “Seed of God” that he is “sowing” around Europe. He describes his sense of God having prepared the soil in Scotland before he arrives with divine seed:
For when I first set my horse’s foot upon Scottish ground I felt the Seed of God to sparkle about me, like innumerable sparks of fire.
Not but that there is abundance of the thick, cloddy earth of hypocrisy and falseness above, and a briery, brambly nature, which is to be burnt up with God’s Word, and ploughed up with His spiritual plough, before God’s Seed brings forth heavenly and spiritual fruit to his glory. But the husbandman is to wait in patience. (Journal 316)
This scene of the author’s horse touching Scottish ground could be expected to come from the pages of King Arthur or “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Like Jack, the hero sets out on a journey with only some magic beans and has to battle with evil giants as he climbs toward heaven. The sparkling seeds around his feet give a touch of mystique to his divine calling and the fire is a metaphor for the Spirit. He uses the thick clods of earth and the thorns to show the resistance that he expects to encounter, and the condition of people’s minds before they have been tilled with patience. The mystical plough of God has been given to him as the gardener, and he is expected to work diligently. Like Rumpelstiltskin in the Brothers Grimm tale, Fox seems to be able to “spin straw into gold.” He transfigures the properties of earthly things into heavenly things by using fantasy-like literary devices.
John in the New Testament addressed new believers as “little children” in his letters, and Fox uses a similar style in his epistles. In one of his letters, he refers to converts as “children of the light”:
Sing and rejoice, ye children of the Day and of the Light, for the Lord is at work in this thick night of Darkness that may be felt; and Truth doth flourish as the rose, and the lilies do grow among the thorns, and the plants atop of the hills, and upon them the lambs do skip and play. And never heed the tempests nor the storms, floods nor rains, for the Seed of Christ is over all and doth reign. (Epistle 227)
This passage is illuminated and lyrical, and the style evokes a sense of reverence. The tempests, floods, and rains are metaphors for the evils that can drown out the “Seed of Christ”. The Truth is depicted as the rose, and as lilies among thorns, because they are flowers that are recognized as fragrant and lovely. The lambs skipping represent the purity of children of God, and the tops of the hills indicate that believers transcend the world and its ways. The elevated tone adds to the sense of being in this place of light and truth with the writer.
Fox’s metaphors, similes, and analogies depict might, authority, and movement, and a sense of light and beauty. Through his poetic and magical style, he draws the reader into a sense of being in the presence of something glowing and desirable.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): The Town Crier
Jonathan Edwards was a great American evangelist and revivalist. He was born in East Windsor, Connecticut and was the fifth of eleven children. He and his siblings were all well-educated. Edwards was not only a preacher, theologian, and missionary, but he was also considered a great intellectual. He was very active in the First Great Awakening in the American colonies, and oversaw some of the earliest revivals in 1733–1735 in Northampton, Massachusetts.
In many of his memoirs, he seems to be a divine journalist and mystical meteorologist, reporting the amazing works of God in various communities. Like Fox, he is fond of weather imagery and refers to a revival as a “shower of divine blessing”(Narrative 155), and a spiritual awakening among the youth as being “like a flash of lightning upon the hearts of young people all over the town” (Narrative149). These kinds of images shift the focus from the evangelists to God and enable the reader to visualize what the Spirit is doing. The author also implies that preachers have no more control over revivals than they have over the making of weather.
Edwards depicts God in terms of supernatural strength and energy, using His strong arm to smite and jerk and awaken humans from spiritual slumber. He describes the revival in Northampton using many exercise metaphors and he emphasizes concrete verbs showing physical exertion to illustrate God’s presence in the towns. He refers to revivals as “works” and “awakenings”, and describes the Spirit striving vigorously to win over the hearts of people. Throughout his memoirs in A Faithful Narrative, he uses language that creates a sense of motion and strife and physical strain. Upon witnessing a great urgency towards spiritual matters in one community he writes: “…the Spirit of God began to extraordinarily set in, and wonderfully to work amongst us…and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner: The only thing in their view was to get into the kingdom of heaven, and everyone appeared pressing into it” (150). The language connoting physical activity in these passages gives the reader a sense of motion and people straining to get closer to God. In the last sentence, you can envision a crowd trying to squeeze through a door at the same time, pressing against each other in desperation to get in first.
Edwards describes the supernatural swiftness of the conversion of souls during this time, and how humans could not possibly have accomplished this on their own:
God has also seemed to go out of His usual way in the quickness of His work, and the swift progress the Spirit has made in His operations on the hearts of many…seized with strong convictions of their guilt and misery…
The work of God’s Spirit seemed to be at its greatest height in this town…When God in so remarkable a manner took the work into His own hands, there was as much done in a day or two at ordinary times, with all endeavors that men can use, and with such a blessing as we commonly have, is done in a year. (159)
Edwards humanizes God, and then creates a sense of tension between Him and people. He puts flesh and bones on the Spirit, and allows the reader to see God at work in the souls of men. The reader gets the sense of men being sleepwalkers who God is sharply awakening from slumber. He juxtaposes physical strength and supernatural power, thus allowing the reader to sense the activity of God.
Charles Finney (1792-1875): Retained by God
Charles Grandison Finney was born in Warren, Connecticut, and was the youngest of fifteen children. As a son of farmers, Finney never attended college, but he apprenticed to become a lawyer. After his conversion, he became an important figure in the Second Great Awakening which swept over the northern states, especially upstate New York. Finney believed that the revivals did not have great impact in the Southern states because of the evil of slavery. He has been called The Father of Modern Revivalism and he was famous for sermons that were preached without notes and without memorization, also known as “extemporaneous preaching.” He developed the custom of the “anxious bench” for people who were anxious about their souls and wanted guidance.
Finney was a tireless spiritual leader who worked to bring about revivals in many communities in America and Europe. Having been a lawyer before his conversion, he was well-suited to “plead the case of Christ”. He was often told that his style was like a lawyer at the bar talking to a jury, because he was powerfully direct, searching, and persuasive in his language. Finney was criticized by other preachers in his time for his straightforward and plain style, and his illustrations that were directed at common people in ordinary occupations. He was told that his sermons were an embarrassment to the ministerial profession. But he replied by saying, “Great sermons lead people to praise the preacher. Good sermons lead people to praise the Savior” (Autobiography 74). He frequently had to defend his style: “Among farmers and mechanics, and other classes of men, I borrowed my illustrations from their various occupations. I tried to use language they would understand… my object was not to cultivate a style of oratory that should soar above the heads of the people, but to make myself understood” (Autobiography 70).
In one of his lectures recorded in the book Revivals of Religion, he uses the analogy of hardened ground to represent the hardness of the human heart that resists the gospel message. Like George Fox, he refers to himself as the divine gardener that has been appointed by God to labor in the field and plant holy seed:
Fallow ground is ground that has once been tilled, but which now lies waste, and needs to be broken up and mellowed, before it is suited to receive grain. I shall show, as it respects a revival in the church…
To break up the fallow ground, is to break up your heart, to prepare your minds to bring forth fruit unto God. The mind of man is often compared in the Bible to ground, and the Word of God to seed sown therein, the fruit representing the actions and affections of those who receive it…
Sometimes your hearts get matted down, hard and dry, till there is no such thing as getting fruit from them till they are broken up…It is that softening of the heart, so as to make it feel the truth, which the prophet calls breaking up your fallow ground (32-33).
Fox previously used the analogy of “thick cloddy earth” in a similar manner. Finney explains that tilling represents self-examination which allows the heart and mind to become tender and receptive. He explains that no preacher can “sow seed” or have any effect until a man prepares his heart on his own first.
Finney also depicts the movement of the Spirit with language pertaining to weaponry. For instance, he spoke of the Word of God as an arrow: “The Word of God had wonderful power…and I was surprised to find that a few words spoken to an individual would stick in his heart like an arrow” (Autobiography 32). He refers to preaching as being like a sword: “I concluded with such pointed remarks as were intended to make the subject go home…The sword of the Lord slew them on the right hand and on the left” (Autobiography 63). The “pointed remarks” and the sword represent the effect of the truth on the minds of people, piercing them with self-awareness and “slaying” their evil natures.
Finney was disillusioned that many ministers in his day had been trained in such a way that diminished their spiritual potency and hindered their growth. He writes of one such minister in his autobiography: “The fact is that Mr. Gale’s education for the ministry had been entirely defective. He had imbibed a set of opinions, both theological and practical, that were a straitjacket to him” (Autobiography 50). The straitjacket is used as a symbol for a condition of being restrained and weakened in faith.
Charles Finney uses simple stories and style in a way that is persuasive and authoritative, and draws readers into a stronger understanding of their own spiritual condition and the workings of God.
Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855): Thinking Outside the Crowd
Søren Kierkegaard was a renowned Danish philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was born to an affluent family in Copenhagen, and his mother was employed as a maid in the household before marrying his father.
Kierkegaard was greatly influenced by Socrates and the Socratic method of thinking. His theological writings primarily focus on the flaws in the church institution and the crowd-driven mentality of believers. He was strongly opposed to the way that theology and organized religion had tarnished the Gospel message, and he believed that seminaries taught Christians to think and talk about God rather than to take any kind of action. His writings beg for soul-searching and an active response from the reader.
Dr. George Pattison writes of the author’s style in his introduction to Kierkegaard’s Spiritual Writings: “The discourses are not plodding expositions of ready-made dogmas, but have an almost conversational feel, sometimes serious, sometimes playful, but always seeking to open a dialogue with the reader, whose own response is anticipated and responded to” (57).
Kierkegaard tells stories about God humanizing Himself willingly out of His great love for people. He depicts Christians as thieves and cheaters who twist the gospel to suit their own agenda. Here he portrays the struggle between worldly religion and true spirituality: “…The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly…Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament” (Provocations 201). His representation of religious folks as “scheming swindlers” is a piercing metaphor that suggests deception and misuse of something valuable.
In one of his letters, Kierkegaard presents God as being a creator who fashioned humans in His own image, and loved them so deeply that He placed Himself into their lives. He asserts that the Incarnated God taught people about service to others by His own example. In this passage he uses an analogy pertaining to artists and their productions to illustrate how even God lowered Himself out of compassion for humans:
If a poet or an artist puts himself into his Productions he is criticized. But that is exactly what God does, he does so in Christ. And precisely that is Christianity. The creation was really only completed when God included himself in it. Before the coming of Christ, God was certainly in the creation, but as an invisible sign, like the watermark in paper. But the creation was completed by the Incarnation because God thereby included himself in it. (Journals 324)
This statement bears resemblance to one of the parables of Jesus, in which God finally arrives on the scene Himself when his workers have rebelled against Him in the vineyard where he hired them to work (Mark 12:1-10, NKJV). These stories have power because they present the idea that God is one of our kind and that He loved us enough to get involved in our drama of sorrow and suffering and even our mortality. Kierkegaard’s comparison to the creation without Christ as being as a watermark on paper adds a touch of mystery, because it portrays the idea that we don’t see everything that exists.
In the chapter from Provocations entitled “Behold the Birds of the Air,” Kierkegaard spins a fable about wood doves. Using an opening like his fellow Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, he writes of one wild dove that refuses to live in a dovecote under the care of a kind farmer: “Once upon a time there was a wood dove. It had its nest in the fearsome forest, where wonder and apprehension dwelt together, among the erect, lonely trees. But nearby, where the smoke rises up from the farmer’s house, lived some tame doves” (148). The wild dove is a metaphor for a person who chooses to live without divine authority. The “fearsome forest” where “wonder and apprehension” live together is an aesthetic way of portraying the world and the conflicts that beset us each day. The reader is hereby summoned into a sense of inner tension which Kierkegaard evokes to show the awful state of man without God. Through interactions between the wild dove and the tame ones, the writer portrays the inner friction between faith and the natural mind:
From now on, the wood dove began to worry. His feathers lost their glint of color, his flight lost buoyancy. He was no longer joyful; indeed, he was almost envious of the rich, tame doves… In worrying about his needs he had trapped himself in a snare in which no birdcatcher could have trapped him, trapped as only a free creature can trap himself. (Provocations148)
The “tame doves” depict the faithful who don’t live unto themselves and need not worry about their livelihood or their future. Kierkegaard uses artful paradoxes and images to represent the anxiety that began to trouble the “free” dove, describing the loss of luster in his feathers and how he felt weighted down when he attempted to fly. The glossy feathers and lightness are symbols for joy and peace, and the lack of them implies strain and encumbrances. The wild dove that “has trapped himself…as only a free creature can trap himself” is an apt representation for a man cannot extricate himself from his ways because his ego is at stake. The author creates irony in that the tame birds are free and the wild bird is in bondage.
Kierkegaard was accomplished in the art of addressing controversial subjects with satire and paradox and allegorical tales, and by using graceful metaphors to illustrate his views in an evocative manner.
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892): Spiritual Lyricist
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a British Baptist preacher, but his style stirred the interest of Christians of all denominations. He is referred to by many as the “Prince of Preachers”. He was born in Kelvedon, Essex and was converted on January 6, 1850. His conversion occurred when a snow storm cut one of his journeys short and he stopped into a Primitive Methodist chapel in Colchester.
Spurgeon preached up to ten times per week in different locations during his years of ministry. He was the pastor of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for thirty-eight years and was a prolific author of many types of works. He wrote sermons, an autobiography, devotions, poetry,a hymnist, prayer books,and more. Many of his sermons were transcribed as he spoke and translated into many languages.
Charles Spurgeon has a graceful poetic style in his writing and speaking, and his voice is elevated and lyrical. He has a remarkably sensitive and gentle voice by comparison to other evangelical authors and preachers, as he is full of comfort and encouragement. His writing is melodious and flowing and almost angelic in its tone, and his metaphors evoke a sense of divine music. One of his most “musical” transcribed sermons is his aptly titled “Songs in the Night” (Job 35:10, KJV). He begins by exhorting the reader about how to maintain good cheer in the midst of distress:
Anyone can sing in the day. When the cup is full, one draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around them, anyone can sing to the praise of a God who gives an abundant harvest. It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is the one who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from their heart, and not from a book that they can see. (Songs I-1)
This passage contains many of the poetic elements used by Fox in his epistles, such as the contrast of light and darkness, and the exhortation to sing in the thick night. The songs represent joy and the night represents times of adversity. The full cup and the harvest are images of abundance. He uses them to clarify that it takes no strength of character to be cheerful when one has wealth and comfort.
Then his images shift when he speaks of singing without any light to read the notes by, from an inward book which cannot be seen. The darkness is a symbol for the times when things appear bleak to us and we have to grope for happiness. The “skillful singer” is a graceful metaphor for the one who can retain joy in times of tribulation, and memorizing the words as opposed to reading them re-emphasizes the skill of the vocalist. The passage is richly sensual, engaging both sight and hearing and also full of contrasts of light and darkness, joy and pain, music and silence. Rather than merely telling the reader of joy in the midst of trials, he paints glorious pictures and makes lofty music to illustrate his message.
Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow along my path; but put me in a desert, where there are no flowers, and how will I weave a chorus of praise to God? How will I make a crown for him? Let this voice be free, and this body be full of health, and I can sing God’s praise; but stop this tongue, lay me on the bed of suffering, and it is not so easy to sing from the bed, and chant high praises in the fires…confine me, chain my spirit, clip my wings, make me very sad, so that I become old like the eagle—ah! Then it is hard to sing. (Songs I-1)
His flowing musical style creates a tone of worship. The coupling of the verb metaphor “weaving” with “songs” is aesthetically pleasing as weaving is rhythmic like musical notes. “Chanting praises in the fire” is remarkably visual and conjures up an image of strong faith. He writes that the desert has no flowers to weave a chorus and then asks how to make a crown of praise for God; these two sentences make the reader associate weaving with crowns, and this seems to imply the crown of thorns. The old eagle is similar to T. S. Eliot’s verse from “Ash Wednesday” about the aged eagle that no longer stretches its wings, and both authors are speaking about mortality and loss of dreams.
While making melody can produce comfort in a troubled mind, Spurgeon is not referring to a real song, but to a supernatural state of mind which he asserts can be retained through the Spirit, which makes people resilient beyond the limits of human fortitude. The unfruitful fig tree is symbolic of the times of struggle, and the divine song represents an attitude of acceptance and peace.
He then speaks of not trying to create joy but to simply ask for it, and he uses a metaphor of an old well pump:
So, then, poor Christian, you needn’t go pumping up your poor heart to make it glad. Go to your Maker, and ask him to give you a song in the night. You are a poor dry well: you have heard it said, that when a pump is dry, you must pour water down it first of all, to prime the pump, and then you will get some up; and so, Christian, when you are dry, go to God, ask him to pour some joy down you, and then you will get some joy up from your own heart. (Songs I-2)
The water Spurgeon refers to is a metaphor for joy, and he tells readers that they are “poor dry wells.” The old well pump was a familiar household appliance during the days in which he preached, and he uses it as a symbol for striving to find joy when the heart is troubled. He tells his audience not to work at it on their own or “pump the well” because God can pour down the joy upon His people.
Spurgeon refers to God as the great composer of songs, meaning that God is the one who creates the joy that man cannot find inside of himself.
It may be darkness now; but I know the promises were sweet; I know I had blessed seasons in his church. I am quite sure of this; I used to enjoy myself in the ways of the Lord; and though now my paths are strewn with thorns, I know it is the King’s highway. It was a way of pleasantness once; it will be a way of pleasantness again… Christian, perhaps the best song you can sing, to cheer you in the night, is the song of yesterday morning. (Songs Part II-1)
Spurgeon suggests that people should encourage themselves by remembrance of better times, and he presents the notion of life having seasons. Seasons illustrate that “pleasantness” will always circle around again after a time in which the path is covered in thorns. The thorns were used by Fox in his writings as well, and they are a symbol of piercing anguish and suffering in the human heart. The King’s highway is another example of metaphor suggesting a pilgrimage. Spurgeon’s language and tone are effective, because rather than trying to appeal to the heart through abstractions, he creates imagery and music and moods through his flowing style and use of lyrical metaphors.
Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899): Soul-Winning Storyteller
Dwight Lyman Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts and was one of nine children. His father, a poor farmer and stonemason, died at the age of forty-one while praying on his knees when Dwight was four years old.
Moody was a shoe salesman before he became a missionary. He acquired great fame as an evangelist in England in 1872. He was invited by Spurgeon for speaking engagements and was also promoted by him. Moody mentions Fox and Finney in some of his writings, referring to them as great leaders in reforming and reviving God’s work among the slumbering churches. He had a soul-searching tone that was similar to Finney’s, and he had a gift for spinning stories in such a way that calls upon the reader to extend the tales and draw more conclusions on their own.
For instance, he asserts that the spiritual needs of humans are as real and treatable as physical ailments. In The Best of Dwight Moody, he writes of the importance of fellowship by using a medical simile: “Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man.” This statement is effective because he shows in the statement that even a disciple can become spiritually ill if he does not maintain his “health” by following the precepts of God and being in a community of encouragers. It also allows the reader to conclude that the disciple could die in a spiritual sense from lack of encouragement and fellowship. He juxtaposes the physical man and the spiritual man and alludes to the healing blood of Christ through the transfusion simile. By being inconclusive in his stories, he allows the reader to make more associations.
Moody believed in using simple and plain style. In Dr. Joe McKeever’s article called “Why We Need Parables”, he writes: “Dwight L. Moody used to remind pastors to ‘put the cookies on the bottom shelf so everyone could reach them.’ What he meant–and what he practiced as well as it could be done–was, ‘Keep the message simple.’ Make it accessible to everyone” (par 1). Moody, like Finney, used the idea of a courtroom when explaining why flowery speech was not his method for addressing an audience of unbelievers.
My friend, we have too many orators. I am tired and sick of your “silver-tongued orators.” I used to mourn because I couldn’t be an orator…
Take a witness in court and let him try his oratorical powers in the witness-box, and see how quickly the judge will rule him out. It is the man who tells the plain, simple truth that has the most influence with the jury (Best 198).
This passage depicts the urgency that the evangelist feels to “plead his case” and why it is so important to be understood as opposed to merely sounding lofty and educated. It also carries the reader to think upon the consequences of being “ruled out” and the injustices that may result, and he juxtaposes earthly and divine judgment.
He uses a similar method in this passage where he tells the story of a little boy who catches a sparrow, and he uses it as an allegory for redemption:
A friend in Ireland once met a little Irish boy who had caught a sparrow. The poor little bird was trembling in his hand, and seemed very anxious to escape. The gentleman begged the boy to let it go…but the boy said he would not, for he had chased it for three hours before he could catch it. He tried to reason it out with the boy, but in vain. At last he offered to buy the bird. The boy agreed to the price and it was paid. Then the gentleman took the poor little thing, and held it out on his hand…in a little while, it flew away chirping (Best 16).
The purchase and release of the sparrow represents the redemption of souls by the grace of God. Moody also allows the reader make other associations, and think of the weakness of the little bird being like humans without the strength of Christ, and wondering if the sparrow fully appreciated its freedom. One might also contemplate how the sparrow had no concept of what had transpired, and thus could not feel truly grateful, and that man is often the same way towards God. The reader continues to make associations beyond what the writer develops in the piece, and this is artistic because by understatement, the author causes the reader to think further on the matter.
Moody uses a balloon analogy to speak to believers about how to walk in a manner that is pleasing to God and allows them to meet their full potential:
You know, when a man is going up in a balloon, he takes in sand as ballast, and when he wants to mount a little higher, he throws out some of it, and then he will mount a little higher; he throws out a little more ballast, and he mounts still higher; and the more he throws out the higher he gets, and so the more we have to throw out of the things of this world the nearer we get to God (Best 72).
This analogy is very thought-provoking and clear. The balloon was a familiar mode of travel during Moody’s day which makes it appropriate, and it gives readers a sense of the time period the writer is speaking from. One can also visually see the effect of abstinence and self-denial through this portrayal of the man in the balloon, and how the level of spirituality a man reaches is determined by what he lets go of. This matter of weight works well in association with the subject of burdens and encumbrances, and the balloon connotes lightness of heart and freedom. The writer allows the reader to visualize so they can comprehend the principle more clearly, which is quite superior to merely explaining the concept without the illustration.
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963): Scholar of the Divine
Clive Staples Lewis was a highly acclaimed Christian apologist. He was born and raised in Ireland and as an adult became a faculty member at Oxford University in England. Lewis had been baptized in the Church of Ireland at birth, but gave up his faith during adolescence. Because of Tolkien and other close friends, Lewis returned to Christianity when he was thirty-two. He became known for his strong intellect and ability to debate with spokesmen of different faiths and philosophies. In an article entitled “How Does C.S.Lewis do Apologetics?” Dr. Pavel Hosek describes Lewis’ appealing style:
As no one else he succeeded in attracting the mind of the unbelieving reader…Many Christians testify that they only learned to really look for heaven after reading Lewis’ books. The way he is able to picture heaven and the spiritual world in general very often enables the reader to taste the heavenly quality, its atmosphere, beauty and splendor (par 11).
Having been an atheist in his younger years, he was especially capable to address a broader audience than most Christian writers, and to consider questions that people ask about God and faith. While Fox seemed to be an alchemist, and Finney seemed to be a lawyer, Lewis speaks with the voice of a professor addressing other scholars. He uses metaphor and personification throughout his books, to enable the reader to comprehend the complexities of good and evil in a fallen world.
In Mere Christianity, he illustrates many of his concepts with comparisons to people. In this segment, he describes what true pride is as compared to humility. First he says that “Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-god state of mind.” Then he uses the metaphor of a young girl to illustrate the nature of pride: “What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers? Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid. It is Pride” (Classics 103-104). The way that Lewis personifies Pride as a careless woman enables the reader to see the true nature of this vice as being senselessly competitive and self-centered.
In his essay called “The Obstinate Tin Soldiers”, he compares people who avoid God to toy soldiers who, like Pinocchio, have come to life:
Did you ever think, when you were a child, what fun it would be if your toys could come to life? Well suppose you could really have brought them to life. Imagine turning a tin soldier into a real little man…And suppose the tin soldier did not like it…all he sees is that the tin is being spoilt. He thinks you are killing him. (Classics 146)
Lewis is using the story to explain how people fear that their lives will be ruined if they allow God to take charge and kill their sinful natures, which really brings them to life. The irony here is hilarious and Kierkegaardian in style, because the toy which was never alive in the first place thinks he has been killed, and was made better but thinks he is ruined. It is humorous to imagine the soldier worrying about its tin being damaged. The story makes it seem silly that humans can feel so threatened by God. Lewis is the master of creating imaginative metaphors that allow people to laugh at themselves.
In The Great Divorce, Lewis responds to William Blake’s book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and uses the metaphor of divorce to show that good and evil are opposing forces that can never be reconciled. He uses a simile of a tree whose branches keep separating to illustrate this spiritual principle:
We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork, you must make a decision…life is not like a river but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. (Classics 465)
In this example, Lewis illustrates his belief that all roads don’t lead to Heaven and Christ is not merely another “great teacher.” Like Kierkegaard, Lewis always seems to be in debating mode and tries to challenge those who think they are too intelligent for God. He always is seeking dialogue with his readers.
Donald Miller (1971- present): Mystical Ringmaster
Donald Miller is a best-selling American author and public speaker from Portland, Oregon. He founded “The Mentoring Project,” a non-profit agency that works with local churches to help fatherless young men. In his memoirs, Miller seems like a literary ringmaster entertaining the reader in a three-ring circus that consists of humor, sensitivity, and spirituality. In To Own a Dragon, he writes about the emotional problems that are experienced by young men who are raised in the absence of a father figure. He begins by describing a documentary pertaining to elephants in which the narrator describes how young male elephants that lose their fathers become particularly violent and aggressive during their “musth cycle” (puberty):
Occasionally, two elephants in a musth would meet, and the encounter was always violent, going so far as to uproot trees in the fray of their brawl…I couldn’t help but identify…I mean, there were feelings, sometimes anger, sometimes depression, sometimes raging lust, and I was never sure what any of it was about. I just felt like killing somebody, or sleeping with some girl, or decking a guy in a bar, and I didn’t know what to do with any of these feelings. (32)
Miller juggles sensitivity and humor in this passage, causing the reader to laugh about problems that aren’t innately funny. He uses the angry young elephants as an analogy for adolescent young men who need paternal care in their lives. He describes how mature male elephants “adopt” young elephants and have a calming effect on them: “The green pus running down his hind leg and his smell like fresh-cut grass alerts an older, fully mature male, that this is a young elephant in need of guidance. Upon finding a mentor, the young elephant’s musth cycle ends” (33). Miller then writes of an older male mentor coming into his own life and offering guidance, and extends the analogy into the spiritual realm, explaining that the Heavenly Father can also assume the role of adoptive father and resolve many of these issues for men.
In another of his books entitled Searching for God Knows What Miller describes his own spiritual journey, prefacing the book with a story of being born in a circus surrounded by clowns:
Sometimes I feel as if I were born in a circus, come out of my mother’s womb like a man from a cannon, pitched toward the ceiling of the tent, all the doctors and nurses clapping in delight from the grandstands, the band going great guns in trombones and drums…the smell of popcorn in the air…and all the people chanting my name as my arms come out like wings…the center ring growing enormous beneath my falling weight.
And that is precisely when it occurs to me that there is no net…who is going to rescue me? (ix)
Through the absurd he illustrates the fears about life that surround people from their youth. He creates the sense of terror by depicting the man coming out of the cannon and discovering he has no net to catch him, and wittily embarks upon the subjects of desperation and divine intervention when he raises the question of who will rescue him. Miller always performs a graceful balancing act of seriousness and humor, making his writings entertaining and yet profoundly meaningful.
Shane Claiborne (1975- present): Gentle Revolutionary
Shane Claiborne is one of the founders of a New Monastic community called the Potter Street Community (formerly The Simple Way) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Claiborne worked with Mother Teresa during a ten-week term in Calcutta, worked in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team.
Shane Claiborne was raised in East Tennessee where he and his family attended an old-fashioned Methodist church. Being both idealistic and intelligent, he began at an early age to question what all of the activities and programs in his church had to do with Jesus or being a disciple. His sincerity and earnestness toward God are reminiscent of George Fox as a young man, going about questioning the authorities in religion and seeking for the true meaning of “taking up the cross” of Christ. In one of his books called The Irresistible Revolution, he speaks of wanting to follow Christ but not knowing where he could buy a staff. By merely mentioning the staff in the context of modern life, he accomplishes two things: He makes the reader laugh, and he puts forth the concept of embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage without the proper equipment.
Most of his writings evoke a sense of conflict internally and externally. Claiborne uses a metaphor in his chapter entitled “Spiritual Bulimia” to illustrate the growing hunger for God and the fact that he was not being “fed” by the church:
I developed a common ailment that haunts Western Christianity. I call it spiritual bulimia. Bulimia, of course, is a tragic eating disorder, largely linked to identity and image, where folks consume large amounts of food but vomit it up before it has a chance to digest. I developed a spiritual form of it where I did my devotions, read all the new Christian books and saw the Christian movies, and then vomited information up to friends, small groups, and pastors. But it never had a chance to digest. I had gorged myself on all the products of the Christian industrial complex but was spiritually starving to death. I was marked by an overconsumptive but malnourished spirituality, suffocated by Christianity but thirsty for God. (Revolution 39)
Claiborne strengthens his analogy with strong verb metaphors such as “gorged”, “vomited”, “starving”, and “suffocated” as well as strong adjectives like “overconsumptive” and “malnourished”. These all enhance the metaphor of the spiritual sickness that was tormenting him so that he could not “digest” the truth.
Claiborne uses Babylon as a metaphor for the worldly kingdom that wars with the kingdom of Heaven in his book entitled Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. In the chapter “The Empire has No Clothes,” he talks about the spiritual marriage of believers to God and the problem of the church lusting after the world system which is represented in this passage as a prostitute:
John’s language couldn’t be clearer: we are to “come out” of her literally to pull ourselves out. Let’s be honest here: this is rated R…Scholars point out that this is erotic language and that the words John uses are the same ones used for coitus interruptus– to interrupt sexual intercourse before climax. As John is speaking of this steamy love affair with the empire, he calls the church to “pull out of her”– to leave romance with the world and be wooed by God, to remember our first love, to say no to all other lovers. (150)
After quoting John’s metaphor, Claiborne compares worldly desire to a whore who tempts believers into spiritual adultery, and Christ is portrayed as the one true love to whom a believer must always be faithful. This is a very powerful juxtaposition which is easily understood by the reader with all of its connotations. Claiborne uses his illustrations in attempt to be a catalyst in the church system which he considers to be largely in conflict Christ’s teachings. Like Bonhoeffer, he advocates monastic life within the secular community, not in an isolated place.
The writers and orators in this essay were chosen because of their tireless efforts in the furtherance of God’s kingdom, with particular emphasis on revival and reform. All of them address people with truthful compassion and concern for their souls, and none of them conform to the status quo religion of the day or are crowd-pleasers. While these authors seldom mention each other, they all are concerned with the common purpose of advancing the Kingdom of God, many of them at the expense of their own comforts and livelihoods.
At times their messages and styles bear striking resemblances to each other. Fox and Claiborne are iconoclasts, seeking to tear down the “graven images” of empty religion and draw believers to a deeper personal spirituality. Spurgeon and Moody both have a gentle chiding style in their writings and sermons. Kierkegaard and Lewis tend to personify God to establish our kinship with him, and they have a more argumentative and logical style which is well-suited for dealing with more scholarly audiences. Like Miller, they are also fond of humor and satire to illustrate their teachings. Lewis, Fox and Kierkegaard enjoy using fantasy-like style to create fables and allegorical tales. The sense of a hero on a spiritual journey can be found in the writings of several of the mentioned authors, including Fox, Lewis, Miller, and Claiborne, who write their memoirs in a way that the reader can travel with them on their path as they seek answers to life’s questions.
Through artful literary devices, these spiritual authors coax unbelievers to contemplate the divine. Savant states that through metaphor we can open the doorway to the supernatural realm: “Precisely because metaphor suggests meaning or sensibilities beyond quantification–beyond plain-speaking and common sense–it serves as a tool, however imperfect, with which we can open up the mysterious in human life and destiny” (18). While earlier writers used farming and weather images to address people who lived on farms and dealt with seasons, seed times, and harvests, modern authors have evolved and become more scientific, industrial, and sociological. Though the metaphors of spiritual writers change to suit their audience, they continue to recognize that stories and illustrations are a powerful tool to make God and the Spirit realm more tangible.
Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006. Print.
Claiborne, Shane, and Chris Haw. Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. Grand Rapids, MI: The Simple Way, 2008. Print.
Edwards, Jonathan. “A Faithful Narrative.” The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Ed. C. C. Goen. New Haven, CT.: Yale UP, 1972. Print.
Finney, Charles. “Charles Finney Systematic Theology.” Finney’s Revivals of Religion: Lecture 3 on How to Promote a Revival. Didaskalos Ministries, n.d. Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.bibleteacher.org/finrev1b.htm#LEC3>.
—. The Autobiography of Charles G. Finney. Condensed and Edited by Helen Wessel. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1977. Print.
Fox, George.”Selected Epistles of George Fox.” Renascence Editions. U of Oregon, 1998.Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/foxep.htm>.
—. The Journal of George Fox. Edited by Rufus Jones. Richmond, IN: Friends UP, 1976. Print.
Graves, Michael P. “Functions of Key Metaphors in Early Quaker Sermons, 1671-1700.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 69.4 (1983): 364-378. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.
Hosek, Dr. Pavel. “How Does C.S. Lewis do Apologetics?” (2003): n. pag. European Leadership Forum Research Center. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.euroleadershipresources.org/resource.php?ID=76>.
Jarman, Mark. “To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor’s Matter and Spirit.” 301-318. Southern Review, 2007. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.
Kierkegaard, Søren. Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. Ed. Charles E. Moore. Farmington, PA: Plough, 2002. eBook.
—. Kierkegaard Spiritual Writings: A New Translation and Selection by George Pattison. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. 57. eBook.
—. The Journals of Kierkegaard (edited by Alexander Dru. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959), 324.
Lewis, C. S., The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: Harper One, 2002. Print.
McKeever, Dr. Joe. “Why We Need Parables.” (2009): n. pag. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.biblestudytools.com/pastor-resources/11610729.html>.
Miller, Donald. Searching for God Knows What. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. Print.
Miller, Donald, and John Macmurray. To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006. Print.
Moody, Dwight L. The Best of Dwight L. Moody. 6th Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1971. Print.
Savant, John. “Follow that Metaphor.” Commonweal 132.20 (2005): 17-19. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.
Spurgeon, Charles H. “Songs in the Night.” Spurgeon Collection on Bible Bulletin Board. Tony Capoccia, 2004. Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.biblebb.com/files/spurgeon/2558.htm>.
- George Fox (1624-1691): Divine Alchemist (olivetwist.wordpress.com)
- Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): The Town Crier (olivetwist.wordpress.com)
- Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855): Thinking Outside the Crowd (olivetwist.wordpress.com)
- Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892): Spiritual Lyricist (olivetwist.wordpress.com)
- Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899): Soul-Winning Storyteller (olivetwist.wordpress.com)
- C. S. Lewis (1898-1963): Scholar of the Divine (olivetwist.wordpress.com)
- Donald Miller (1971- present): Mystical Ringmaster (olivetwist.wordpress.com)
- Shane Claiborne (1975- present): Gentle Revolutionary (olivetwist.wordpress.com)
- Concluding Remarks (olivetwist.wordpress.com)
- Works Cited for “Divine Doorkeepers” (olivetwist.wordpress.com)