Bad Analogies 101

At church we're going through an evangelism course called Way of the Master. I want to be clear up front that just because the course uses one tortured analogy doesn't make the whole course bad. It only makes the analogy bad. Indeed, the course could potentially be valuable. (How valuable? Too soon to tell. We've only had one week of it so far. Though, already, it has managed to set me thinking, and that in itself is not without value.) Still, I feel the need to vent about exactly how terrible this analogy is, so here we go.

The analogy is that a firefighter arrives at a house fire and proceeds to sit locked in the fire truck, listening to music on headphones, while the house burns to the ground around a family of five, whom he can see screaming and calling out to be rescued, which pleas he ignores. When questioned about his actions, he says he was testing the CD player that he'd bought as a gift for the fire chief, at great personal expense.

Aside from the obvious physical problems with the analogy (he can see the family from the truck, but they can't get out of the fire without help), the really broken part is the spiritual side of the picture. I don't know about you, but to my knowledge I've never had an unbeliever cry out to me for help with spiritual things. Ever.

Believe me, if somebody even *asked* me to explain salvation to them, let alone *cried out*, I'd be... willing isn't even the right word. Enthusiastic probably falls short of the mark as well. That's the kind of thing you daydream about, but it does not generally, you know, happen. On the contrary, people typically don't know the house is burning around them, and the few who do know it are usually convinced they cannot be helped.

Now, I'm not saying it's right for us to sit and do nothing just because unbelievers are content to stay that way. It's certainly not. But I *am* saying the analogy is flawed.

Here's another analogy: I'm not a firefighter. I'm a geologist. My geology degree is from an unaccredited college, which most people have never heard of, which has had to move across international boundaries numerous times as various governments have tried to shut it down. The government of my country officially tolerates the school, but you can tell they consider it an embarrassment.

So I have an unaccredited degree, and I call myself a geologist, but I am not employed as a geologist. I work some other job to pay the bills. The equipment I use is different from the equipment that other geologists use, too.

For the past few years I've been independently studying a certain mountain, and I have concluded that not only is it actually a stratovolcano (a fact which was previously unknown), but furthermore it is active, and is building up tremendous seismic pressure even as we speak and will soon erupt. It's impossible to know an exact timeframe, but with every passing month the pressure builds higher. There is a large bulge on the side of the mountain that has doubled in size over the last six weeks. It's going to go, soon, and furthermore it's going to be a very potent eruption. From the amount of pressure that's building up, my estimates say it could be bigger than Krakatoa, or at least comparable.

At the base of the mountain there is, of course, a town. When the volcano erupts, it will blow a large chunk of mountain, tens of thousands of tons of rock, down the mountainside and straight through the town. And on top of that there could be lava, volcanic ash, quakes, and so on, all the usual destructive stuff that goes with a major volcanic eruption.

I have to convince the people to evacuate.

People have been living in the town for generations. The mountain has never erupted in the past. The local news runs stories about what a crackpot I am. The local authorities, as well as the state government, are reassuring people that of course the mountain is an ordinary mountain, just like all the other mountains in the area.

But the people still need to evacuate. They're going to die if they stay. I know they're going to die, but I sit in my bedroom and make excuses for why I'm not talking to them about the volcano. I even post about it on my blog (which nobody reads), but I don't go out and tell people about the volcano.

Okay, so this analogy isn't perfect either. I think it's closer than the other one.


Andy said...

I've had people (well, one person) ask, although it wasn't completely out of the blue. We'd been corresponding for months, and I had mentioned spiritual things before. It was still a very welcome surprise.

Unknown said...

So non-believers have their heads stuck in the sand, refusing to believe what is in front of them and it is the duty of those who do know the truth to enlighten them? I don't know if that works as an analogy, but I find it pretty damn offensive.

Unknown said...

I think your analogy is better, if somewhat long. Closest I've come to someone "crying out" was a guy at work who asked me if I thought God would mess with people just for fun. We had a short conversation about spiritual matters from that. But, yeah, not a fireman analogy situation.

Jonadab said...

Tom: I apologize if I have upset you. It was not my intention to offend anyone.

Having seen the content of the rest of the course, I can now say that the bad fireman analogy is probably the worst offense. The course is not perfect by any means, but it's substantially better than any other evangelism training course I've yet encountered.

One other thing that does bother me about the course (and this may seem like a nitpick, and maybe it is, but I'm going to say it anyway) is that some of the early lessons actively encourage people to leave tracts laying around in random places, ostensibly in the hopes that people will find and read them. To me, that's littering.

I'm pretty sure the intention is to get people to build up their courage so that later they can work up to handing the tracts directly to people and ultimately to actually speaking with people, but the later lessons (which do, of course, talk about actually speaking to people) neglect to say, "and instead of just lamely leaving tracts laying around..." or in any other way indicate that that was a transitional courage-building step and should be discontinued. I suppose this is common sense, but I feel that it ought to have been stated, because not everyone has common sense.

Jonadab said...

Also, the course makes the classic evangelism training mistake of saying pretty much nothing about follow-up, and what it does say almost seems to imply that follow-up is undesirable.

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