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Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Analogy of Faith” by Archie J. Spencer

af-spencer

A question which we don’t often stop to think about in theological discussions is whether or not it is, in principle, possible to speak of the divine. Archie Spencer’s book, The Analogy of Faith, asks just this question and offers an in-depth analysis of various approaches alongside proposing a model for speaking about God.

The book is split, roughly, between analysis of various proposed models for speaking about God and a development of a Christocentric model for speaking of the divine.

The analysis of Aristotle’s analogy of being in the first chapter is particularly interesting. Spencer notes that because Aristotle’s analogy depends upon the interrelatedness of things through cause, and because God is the ultimate relation of causation as the unmoved mover, his concept of analogy is ultimately almost useless. The reason is because it becomes too broad: effectively anything can be related to anything else through an analogy of relation, and then this tells us nothing about the things being related themselves. Yet even here Spencer argues that Aristotle’s concept of analogy–itself reliant upon Plato in many relevant ways–can be useful in that it relates causality and the divine ideas, thus preparing the way for Neoplatonist thinking.

Following on the heals of this analysis are some fantastic insights into Augustinian and Thomistic thought about analogy as well. Thomas Aquinas is perhaps the most important thinker regarding the use of analogy in speaking about God of all time. As Spencer notes, it is impossible to adequately deal with the topic without spending significant time on Aquinas’s view of analogy. However, Spencer’s ultimate analysis is that Aquinas did not have a well-developed theory of analogy of his own. Instead, he asserts, it has been the followers and interpreters of Aquinas who made a “Thomistic” theory of analogy, based around the analogy of being. Because these theories ultimately depend on an Aristotelian foundation, they, too, are found to be ultimately inadequate. After all, if we are unable to reference God’s being in any direct way, then it is difficult to see how creatures totally unlike the divine can have an analogue of that divine. Spencer’s analysis in this section is thorough and fairly convincing.

Karl Barth and Eberhard Jungel are the next thinkers addressed, and they provide a basis for Spencer’s own theory of analogy, which is Christological. I’m summarizing an extraordinarily detailed theory here, so I’m sure I’m not adequately outlining it, but the basic thought is that because God has come to us, that allows us through divine revelation of Christ to refer to God. Thus, analogy is the analogy of faith rather than an analogy of being–one in which God has condescended to allow reference to the divine being in human language, rather than one in which we are able to, by our own thinking, come to language which speaks of God.

Upon reading Spencer’s analysis and arguments, I am fairly convinced that he is correct in his notion that the analogy of being is insufficient to capture the possibility of talk about God. What I do wonder, however, is whether Spencer (and most others) too quickly dismiss the possibility of univocal language about God. It seems to me that if we are to say “God is love” then we must have some sense in which that actually relates to God. To be fair, Spencer could respond by pointing to such a statement as exactly in concord with his theory, which would assert that it does relate to God because God has revealed the divine nature to us in Christ and God’s Word, thus allowing us to rightly say “God is love.” However, I think that a deeper treatment of the possibility of univocal language related to God talk would have been appreciated in a book like this. Though, admittedly, the book is already lengthy and is specifically focused on analogy, not the possibility of univocity or equivocal language.

One minor complaint I have is that in the thoroughness of the book, it seems that Spencer is sometimes repetitive. He hits the same point from several different angles in the same chapter, to the point that the book can become quite dry at times. However, the subject matter itself is deeply intriguing, and his full treatment of the topic makes it hard to fault him for stating a few things more than once.

Those interested in reading a dense book of philosophical theology should look no further than The Analogy of Faith by Archie Spencer. It is a deep work that demands much reflection and consideration. It is the kind of seminal writing to which one will constantly return as one thinks about the topic discussed. I can say that I learned a great deal from the book, and had my mind stretched as it hasn’t been stretched in some time. I recommend it highly.

The Good

+Deep analysis of key concepts related to analogy
+Many avenues for further research
+Workable theory which offers some resolution

The Bad

-A bit too verbose at times
-Dismisses univocity a bit too quickly

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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Source

Archie Spencer, The Analogy of Faith(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

7 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Analogy of Faith” by Archie J. Spencer

  1. A sharp review of what sounds like an interesting book. It’s been a while since I’ve read any Barth, but it sounds as though Spencer fairly sums it up, and you accurately represent it, too. Barth’s methodology thoroughly persuaded me, although I do understand why some of his critics accuse of him of circular reasoning. But the other part of it is, a statement like “God is love” is essentially meaningless apart from reference to God’s prior, self-revelation in Christ. We do not know what “love” is apart from God’s revelation in Christ. God’s revelation redefines “love.” This is why “love is God” is not an equivalent statement. Our speech about God must begin with God’s speech to us.

    That — again, as I understand it — was Barth’s key insight (and he did not claim it was original; he was recovering it from those who had gone before), and I think it’s marvelous. It does, however, force us to be even more creative and courageous when talking to those who do not share our experience of and commitment to God’s self-revelation.

    You are more familiar with current apologetics than I am. Does Barth figure to any degree in the field right now? Have any notable apologists drawn on him as a resource?

    Posted by Michael Poteet | November 25, 2015, 9:35 AM
    • On my phone so tough to respond fully but regarding apologists I think that, not unironically, the presuppositional school with Cornelius Van Til isn’t that far off. Also a great book I reviewed on here compared Plantinga and Barth on epistemology. You can search on here or I’ll try to link it when I have computer access again.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 25, 2015, 3:21 PM
      • As laid out in Kevin Diller’s book “Theologies Epistemological Dilemma”, Barth’s doctrine of revelation is wholly compatible with Plantinga’s epistemology of Christian belief. I think the Van Til school tends to confuse ontology with epistemology, and therefore have some dreadful pitfalls in regards to their position and apologetic methodology.

        Posted by Anthony | November 27, 2015, 2:11 PM
      • Yes that’s exactly the book I was thinking of! I reviewed it here. I couldn’t think of the title and was on a trip so I didn’t get a chance to look it back up. That’s why I think presups in general are probably closest to Barth as far as apologetics is concerned. I’m lumping them together for simplicity’s sake, but I think that in general, it is the presuppositionalists who would be closest. Another example of this is Molnar’s discussion of Barth in Faith, Freedom, and the Spirit (link to my review). Therein, he discusses apologetics and natural theology a bit and he notes Barth’s Christological focus and how that makes it difficult for traditional versions of apologetics. Yet, as I read it, I even wrote in the margin that it was quite similar to a presuppositional approach.

        .

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 27, 2015, 9:30 PM
  2. I think you should post your review on Amazon. The only review currently there is mine, and I only gave it three stars because I had a difficult time following it.

    Posted by jamesbradfordpate | November 25, 2015, 12:28 PM

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