Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Beware of Exploding Wolfs - New Creation and Sanctification

As many of you know, my reading of Romans 7 is that it refers to pre-Christian Paul and not to the struggle of Christian Paul. You know also that I really dislike the analogy of a Christian having two natures a fleshly nature and spiritual nature and the struggle between them being likened to two dogs fighting and the dog who wins the contest is one you feed the most. I don't like this because it promotes an ontological dualism that does not square with the new creation. Justin Taylor blogged on this some time ago which prompted some discussion, and as a follow up (thanks to Aaron), I have a further analogy for how to integrate belief in new creation into our doctrine of sanctification with the struggle of sin in the life of the believer. Here it is:

Beware of exploding wolfs!

Once we were wolves. We were ravenous, blood thirsty, violent, predatory, and evil creatures of the night. And then a heavenly veternarian found us wounded and caught in a bear trap, while we were yet wild and untamed, he gave us an injection to treat our wounds. But this was no ordinary injection, he wasn't trying to cure our cuts and laserations, but to destroy the wolfness of our wolfhood. One particular wolf was given the injection and within moments the wolf suddenly fell to the ground clutching his stomach in pain, then pawing at his throat, howling in agony and confusion, bright lights started shining out of his nose, mouth, ears, and his eyes began glowing with dazzling white light with enough brightness to illuminate a baseball stadium. And then, quite dramtatically, the wolf exploded in a blinding explosion of radiant beams of golden light and covering the surrounding area in a debris of blood, bone, guts, and gore. Yet in the place where the wolf was lying down racked in pain was now a perfect looking lamb. It is the mind and soul of the same animal, but the wolf was gone and the lamb was there instead. The lamb, unfortunately, was still coverered in bits of the blood and gore of the exploded wolf that need to be cleaned off. But the wolf is dead, and the lamb is here. The new lamb begins acting immediately like a lamb but there is still a struggle with remnants of wolfiness still around. People keep asking him or her, "Didn't you used to be a wolf?" And the lamb answered, "Well, yes, but he exploded, and I'm a lamb now". Every now and then, he'll feel like eating some mutton, till he remember that lambs don't eat mutton. Eventually, most of the old wolf instincts faded as more and more of the wolf gore was wiped away and he spends time frolicing in the pastures with the Vet who is also the Shepherd of the flock.

That I think is a better analogy than the old "two dogs" story that you hear. No analogies are perfect, but does this do the job better than the "two dogs" analogy?


Angie Van De Merwe said...

The analogy holds IF there has not been a "change" in virtue.

Virtue is not anti-self, or "anti-other". It makes space for the "other", but must also not allow the "other" to take up all the space...there is mutual sharing, and mutuality in relationship. Otherwise, wolf devours the other wolf, in the name of lambship. Therefore, it is necessary and mandantory for there to be accountability to "something", either 'the law', others (who have no conflict of interests!!!)

Conflict of interests becomes problematic where it concerns the Church, as the Church HAS to be self-interested, but then, we as individuals are as well...So, the Church cannot be a wolf in sheep's clothing trying to 'educate" another out of wolfishness, demanding that in the name of the Church, they should 'deny self' and become a lamb and benefit the Church's cofferes!!!

Alyosha said...

Any analogy featuring an exploding wolf contains promise. Thanks for the post.

John Ottens said...

Nice theology . . . but it's not a great illustration . . .

Two dogs fighting: realistic.

A wolf getting injected with potion, shooting light out of every orifice, *exploding* into little pieces, leaving his 'inner lamb', and frolicking in a field for a happy eternity: unrealistic.

Jesus could talk about transformation without resorting to cheesy sci-fi. Maybe we could try to do so as well.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

John, Wehn you talk in realistic terms, of two dogs fighting, I think of political situations. Realism does not spirtualize these situations, as real people, real issues, and real problems exist in rectifying these (and them). One does not use a "majic wand" in this sense.

I fear the religiously zealour to "bring about truth", meaning, some spiritualized "fruit" will undermine a true and real human being, which brings about damage, not a lamb. Torture does not bring about submission, unless one thinks that there is something of value that is more important than the human being. This is where religons are dangerous! God is more important to these people.

Tyler said...

This is brilliant.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tyler, the only thing brillant about it is that you may believe in "sanctions". But, sanctions don't always work.

Or possibly you are thinking in spiritual terms, such as pruning the vine. Question is; is the vine in the right place for its proper development. Environment is everything when it comes to the right (or most profitable) fruit production. When Christ used this analogy, grapes, figs, etc. were "in the right place".

John Smuts said...

"It is the mind and soul of the same animal..."Now who's using platonic dualism? :-)

Tyler said...

Angie, two things:

1) I don't think you get the analogy, jump off of the clouds for a moment and read it closer to the ground.

2) The brilliance is in the fact that it made me laugh riotously. It was fun, demanded my attention, made me think about the already/not yet tension of walking in faithful obedience to Christ, etc., NOT that it is somehow infallible and evidence that we should go ahead and establish a second pontificate.

There is no such thing as a flawless analogy, but there is such a thing as overanalyzing them.

Tyler said...

And John,

If Jesus had cheesy sci-fi at his disposal, who is to say that he would not have employed it?

John Thomson said...


Sci-fi horror analogy aside, I am largely with you on this... though not quite.

I am pretty sure my reservations are ones you share about your own position.

Firstly, you are surely right to resist the idea of a dualism of two opposing forces fighting a pretty well equally balanced civil war in the life of the Christian. This does not seem to me to be the anatomy of the believer.

To begin with the Holy Spirit is more powerful than the flersh. This alone makes the contest unequal.

The picture it seems to me in Scripture is that the human heart is a Kingdom. In the unconverted person this Kingdom has self/sin/Satan on the throne in absolute control.

The believers heart has seen a regime change (a new heart). Now enthroned on the heart is God. However, the old enemy (flesh) while dethroned is a very active and powerful guerilla movement always seeking to regain the centre of command, the throne.

Functionally, this guerilla movement is held back and defeated by 'faith working through love'. Or to say the same thing in another way, 'by walking in the Spirit'.

I guess it is the level of 'power' that flesh can wield if we allow it that is hard to tie down. While I am largely with you I have a worry that your analogy is not quite giving due weight to the enemy - to the resurrecting potential of the wolf (like the metal reuniting in an exploded Terminator).