Analogy

In this post, I’d like to draw attention to the doctrine of analogy in relation to providence and soteriology. I’ve drawn from an article by Dr. Michael Horton in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. His piece is primarily directed towards delineating the distinctions between the theological methods used by Reformed and open theist theologians, but it is a good starting point for thinking about the classical, Western doctrine of God.

What is the doctrine of analogy? Horton:

“When we assert certain predicates of God, based on God’s own self-revelation, we use them in one of three senses: univocally, analogically or equivocally. If we say that the predicate “gracious” means exactly the same thing, whether in God or in a creature, we are using “gracious” univocally. At the other end of the spectrum, if we say that by using that predicate we are ascribing something to God whose appropriateness is unknown to us, we are using it equivocally. If, however, God is said to be “gracious” in a way that is both similar and dissimilar to creatures, we say it is analogical. For instance, when we acknowledge that God is a “person,” do we really mean to say that he is a person in exactly the same sense as we are? When we follow Scripture in using male pronouns to refer to God, do we really believe that he is male? Unless we are willing to ascribe to God (in a univocal sense) all attributes of human personhood, predications must be analogical.”

Important to note is that we aren’t simply saying, for instance, that God is more gracious than a creature. God’s graciousness is qualitatively different, not just quantitatively different.

What does this have to do with our understanding of salvation and providence? Well, in the conversations I have on the topic, one of the objections that my Arminian/Molinist interlocutors advance is that, on the Reformed view, God is the author of sin. Once the ambiguities of that statement are cleared away, what they mean is that God is the only real cause of everything that happens and is therefore culpable for all evil. Secondary causes, such as human actions, don’t have any moral standing.

To illustrate the objection, suppose a man uses a pole to push a rock. The pole bears no responsibility for moving the rock; the man does. The argument is that if God ordains all that happens, we’re not much different than the pole. We can’t resist. We can’t do otherwise. We have no responsibility for our actions.

This betrays a univocal understanding of God as cause. In human experience, it is generally (though even here, not always) the case that increasing the amount of control one person has over a situation decreases the responsibility of others. However, if we recall the doctrine of analogy, God is a cause in a way that is both similar and dissimilar to us. One of the dissimilarities is that God can cause things such that a) the event certainly happens and b) creaturely freedom is not violated. It should be no surprise that God can ordain that Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, an obviously immoral act, while stilling holding Joseph’s brothers responsible for the sin. When God works providentially, He is operating on a totally different level from us.

It’s yet another mark against theologies built on a commitment to a libertarian account of free will that they lead one to adopt a heterodox view of God.

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