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If We Read Jesus's Parables Like Some Modern Christian Reviewers . . .

Below is a parody article I wrote. It's occurred to me, on occasion, that some published Christian critics can really rip to shreds some thoughtful Christian literature for fallacious and/or ethnocentric reasons. As we seek to become good listeners who are slow to become angry, let's always seek context and embrace the complexity that comes with every penned sentence in both Scripture and its interpretations. Otherwise, we could badly misread something really important, as did the fictional character below:

Want to learn about the Kingdom of Heaven? How about interpretation of law, or the end of the world? These are the subjects that Jesus, son of Joseph, addresses in his very popular Parables. And make no mistake, the Parables are very popular. They’ve been made into reboots, plays, films, and flannel-graphs all over the world for hundreds of years. But I, as a modern, theologically-thinking and conservative evangelical critic of books and literature, cannot endorse these stories for evangelism or discipleship in church or church-sanctioned ventures. This is for three reasons, as outlined below:

1) The stories are too obscure. Unless you’re a farmer in the Ancient Near East, or at least a longtime resident of Israel during the era known as 2nd Temple Judaism, you’d have a lot of trouble following along with all the similes that the author involves. It seems that the author really wanted to package his message for a particular demographic, but many modern pastors would argue that doing so is “dumbing/watering down the message” and that “the Gospel should speak for itself.” Perhaps the author could have been more clear with a main point for each Parable, and not try to have multiple purposes of edification in a singular parable. This brings me to my next point.

2) The stories do not follow common homiletical structure. It’s difficult for me to endorse the Parables for use in Bible studies when it doesn’t follow the common layout of a popular sermon. A sermon usually has a well-stated proposition, three points for easy memorization (e.g. this review), and a demographic-tailored application. Granted, the Parables are stories and don’t involve points. However, the propositions and applications are both hard-to-find and vague. What are we to do with the story of the Prodigal Son, for example? Increase home security so our children can’t run away? Find ways to wire money so our child doesn’t have to work on a pig farm? It seems that the Parables are lacking specific and practical applications that many modern sermons have, even if they’re shallow.

3) The stories never explicitly mention the Gospel. Most disappointingly, the Parables never mention the Penal Substitution of the Doctrine of Atonement. They don’t even make strong theological implications. If anything, the Parables could cause theological confusion due to the plethora of similes employed. It’s frequently perceived today that, according to influential conservative churches, the answer to personal righteousness, community flourishing, and eternal salvation is dominantly the intellectual submission to a certain list of theological beliefs. Such theological conversation is never visibly pursued in the Parables, much less the Gospel and the call to repent. How else did the author expect his message to get across?

In conclusion, the Parables may be more widely read than any other book in history, but some other statistics about them are a bit disconcerting. The author had no formal education in theology and would often preach to the lowly of society. More than once, the author got into heated arguments with scholars of his time and was thrown out of the temple. He was later arrested and executed for religious blasphemy and suspected anarchy. Along with these controversies of his personal life, the author’s excessive use of simile and obscurity may heavily discourage Sunday school teachers and ministry leaders from using his work to teach about the Christian life.

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