On this blog I’ve maintained a number of times that the parables of Jesus invite us to imagine another world, to imagine the kingdom of God, and they do this by creating a world, by inviting us into that world, and then — like an experience in Narnia — depositing us back in this world changed, illuminated and challenged to live out the kingdom in this world.
What is your advice for reading the parables of Jesus? What are typical mistakes?
In the book edited by Ian Paul and David Wenham, called Preaching the New Testament, Klyne Snodgrass has an article that explores how to preach the parables but his sketch is as useful for preachers as it is for anyone who wants to know how to “apply” or, better yet, live out the parables of Jesus today. Here are Klyne’s major points:
1. Use concrete and personal language. Abstractions are how we store ideas; concrete ideas are where we live. Jesus points the way: as he told concrete stories so we need to explain the parables in part by telling concrete stories. I heard this weekend a sermon on the prodigal son that began with a breathtaking story that 100% mirrored the prodigal son story. Brilliant embodiment of the parable and the point Klyne is making. Anyone who preaches the parables by converting them into abstract theology … I won’t go there.
2. Study the advantages of indirect communication. The parables exemplify indirection. Children’s sermons are memorable because they are concrete and at the same indirect (at least at first as a story is told). Parables are like the Trojan Horse. Use your own form of indirection, creating a parable that breaks numbness of the familiar, and disorient folks by probing elements of the parable less familiar.
3. Commit to seeing both the text and people. Bridge the two.
4. Keep the parables as Jesus’ parables. Preach Jesus and the kingdom, not simply the parabolized story. Cross check your reading of the parable with the teachings of Jesus.
5. Observe literary characteristics. Read the parable in context; read the parable itself as a literary text.
6. Shun allegorizing and the dogma that parables have only one point. Correspondences are not the issue in reading parables. The concern is the analogy.
7. Study parables that have the same form to see how various kinds of parables function. Klyne’s epochal book, Stories with Intent, is the place to go to see the various kinds of parables.
8. Focus on the theology of the parables. “The parables are there to give us insight into God, the kingdom, the mission of Jesus to Israel and the nature of discipleship.” [Focus on those themes and you will be miles ahead.]
9. Focus on the identity displayed or called for in the parable. Scripture tells us who we are, and parables provide identity about God, kingdom and us.
10. Do not run from the difficulties. Judgment, demand, etc… Jesus was not into making people comfortable.
11. Let the Bible be an ancient book.
12. Aim for response.