Don Richardson has done a lot of work with Redemptive Analogies, in Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts (among other places). Redemptive Analogies are important in faith, but are also problematic.
Consider some of the redemptive analogies in the Bible. This is not a complete list.
1. The Vine. Those who are part of God are joined to Christ as a branch is part of, and dependent, on the main vine.
2. The Two Ways. People are on a path. Either they are on the narrow path to life, or on the wide path to death.
3. Redemption. We are as slaves who are up for sale to the highest bidder. We are bought by God.
4. Justified. We are on trial… clearly guilty on all charges, but God declares us innocent on all charges because of Jesus.
5. Ransomed. We are like one who is kidnapped, but Christ has paid the ransom for us.
6. Saved. We are like people in a dangerous place about to die, but we are rescued from certain death by Christ.
There are newer analogies. The most well-known one is probably the Bridge Illustration. We are on one side of a deep deep ravine while God is on the other side. Only through Jesus, the bridge, can we be united with God.
There are a few dangers with redemptive analogies.
A. Analogies always break down at some level. For example, if we see ourselves as ransomed or redeemed, the questions are Who was our kidnapper? or Who was our owner. With the two ways/two gates analogy, one can get the impression that to go from one path to another would be impossible (since real paths diverge). Taking an analogy too far can easily lead to error.
B. Related to “A”, there is a tendency to theologize analogies. Therefore, terms like justification and redemption lose the idea of being an analogy and become terms or reality. Thus analogies become truth. <This is just like the metaphor of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist become literal transformations in the doctrine of some groups.>
C. Related to “B”, analogies require commentary. It is dangerous to give an analogy without explanation. Without commentary, analogies are as likely to lead to confusion as much as enlightenment.
D. Related to “C”, it is not always clear to the extent that an analogy is useful. In Biblical times, the Christ as the Good Shepherd is useful. However, in the Philippines, very few tupa (sheep) are raised so the reference is quite obscure. In the US and Australia, sheep are raised in ways that are very different than in Biblical times. When too much time is spent trying to explain the usefulness of an analogy, it may not be useful. Biblical analogies of Jacob versus Esau or Isaac versus Ishmael requires such high level of understanding of the Biblical history, it is doubtful that it would today be useful for many.
E. Related to “D”, analogies that may be useful for one group and one time may be useless in another. Jewish believers in Biblical times would understand the Isaac versus Ishmael. However, most people today would not understand. Muslims could be deeply confused because their belief system is built around a revisionist historical view that gives preeminence to Ishmael. Many others today would might confuse the story with a sort of divine racism (problem of taking an analogy way too far). Bruce Olson in the book Bruschko, gives another example. He pointed out that the analogy/ parable given by Jesus about the wise man (building on a solid rock) and the foolish man (building on sand) would not be useful in some places. In the tribal group Olson worked with, they built using bamboo technology. For them building on rock would ensure instability while driving their bamboo frames into deep sand would provide stability. Analogies are useful (or useless or counterproductive) depending on the culture of the respondent.
Redemptive analogies are important, but they must be chosen wisely, carefully explained, and cautiously used.
<Note: This is part of my book, “Theo-Storying: Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture“>