Matt Edwards is one of the pastors who participated in my Insurgence Experience (IXP) Mastermind.
Since I last saw Matt, he’s written a new book called Mustard Seeds and Viral Videos.
I caught up with Matt recently to discuss his new book.
There are countless books available today. And they all compete for people’s attention. The average reader wants to know, “what in it for me”? when they consider buying a book and taking the time to read it. So my first question is, regarding your book, what’s in it for the reader? How are they going to benefit from it?
My hope for you in this book is that it causes you to fall in love the One who reigns over the kingdom of God.
There are a lot of books on the parables of Jesus—most of them written by people way smarter than me. But most of these books are dry. They explain. They dissect. They analyze. Don’t get me wrong, all of that is needed, but the power of Jesus’s parables is in their emotional punch. When you read the story, the beauty of God’s kingdom hits you in a way that propositional teaching cannot.
Jesus’s parables are all set in ancient times and foreign places, so their meaning isn’t always obvious to modern readers. So, sometimes they need to be explained. But when we explain them, we ruin them.
Think about it: If you have to explain a joke, it isn’t funny anymore. Similarly, when you explain a parable, it loses its power.
I have created “right brained” explanations of the parables that maintain the emotional punch of Jesus’s stories. My stories engage your heart and not just your head. The book is similar to what Frank has done in many of his books.
If you had to remove every chapter from the book but one, which would it be and why? Also, give us a preview of what’s in that chapter.
That’s a hard question. It’s like asking me which of my three kids I would keep if I could only keep one!
If I could only keep one, it would be “Trouble.” These stories were all sermons before they were put into a book. Some of Jesus’s parables almost got him killed. As I was writing these stories, I asked myself: What would I have to do to get that kind of emotional response from my church?
I succeeded with “Trouble”! At a couple of times in my ministry, I have had people try to get me fired. The week after I preached “Trouble” was one of them. At the same time, others came up to me that Sunday in tears telling me that the message was what they needed to hear from their church for their entire lives. They thanked me for having the courage to say it.
Frank, you always say that the mark of a good sermon is that it leads people to say, “What a sermon!” but the mark of a great sermon is that it leads people to say, “What a Christ!” The day I preached “Trouble” was definitely a “What a Christ!” moment.
Share the reasons that provoked you to write this book?
This project started as a sermon series. I was preaching on the parables of Jesus and I was working through how to explain some of the plot details that don’t come over into the modern culture. I found that the more I did this, the more boring my sermon became. This made me feel terrible! I remember thinking to myself, Jesus told this amazing story and I am going to butcher it with background information. I knew there had to be a better way.
It struck me that one of the things that I do as a preacher is make analogies. I tell stories as illustrations for the points in my sermons. I had the thought: What if the entire sermon was an illustration? Instead of taking 30 minutes to say, “This is like this and that is like that,” what if I just retold the story with different images?
That was the birth of the sermon series! When I had finished, my congregation strongly encouraged me to turn it into a book. My hope is that it helps you better appreciate Jesus’s stories.
Writing a good book usually signals that a person is an expert in what they are writing about. Tell us about the expertise behind this book.
Like I said, there are a lot of people out there who are smarter than me and have written books on the parables of Jesus. I’ve read them and many of them are great! My book is different, and I think I am the right author for it.
I have a strong background in biblical theology. I don’t have a PhD, but I am about as close as you can get without that level of expertise. I received a ThM in New Testament Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Afterward, I entered the PhD program there (also in New Testament Theology), but I withdrew about halfway through it because I felt God calling me to church ministry. I studied under Dr. Darrell Bock (among others) at DTS, and he endorsed the book.
Not only do I have a strong background in biblical theology, but I also have a DMin in semiotics from Portland Seminary. The beauty of studying semiotics is that nobody knows what it is and so telling people you have a degree in it makes you seem very smart.
Semiotics is the study of signs. Human beings communicate ideas to one another in many ways. Sometimes we use language, but other times we use music, or art, or non-verbal cues. Semiotics is similar to linguistics, only it covers all the ways in which humans communicate ideas.
I studied under Leonard Sweet at Portland Seminary and he was gracious enough to write the foreword of the book. If you know Len, you know he is an outside-the-box thinker. Studying under Len freed me to be more creative in ministry. Len taught me to be more “right brained” with the way I share God’s truth, which is exactly what this project does.
What’s the biggest risk you took with the book?
One of my favorite stories in the book is a ghost story. I got the idea from a conversation I had with Leonard Sweet and his take on one of the parables. It also just so happened that Halloween fell on a Sunday that year, and so I timed it to tell the ghost story on Halloween. When I finished reading the story, I said, “Can we take one minute to appreciate the fact that I just told you a ghost story in church on Halloween?”
I loved it!
What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve received on the book?
I received some negative feedback on this project. Not everyone appreciated my approach to preaching the story of God this way. But a lot of people loved it. My favorite comment was from a German exchange student who didn’t go to church in Germany but who’s American host family brought him to church while he stayed with them. He told me, “That was amazing. If churches in Germany did stuff like this, I would go.”
What is one thing you want your readers to know about the kingdom of God?
My favorite image of the kingdom is the great banquet. Jesus’s kingdom is a party and you are invited (stick with me introverts—maybe it’s a book club). Wherever you are right now, I hope you realize that God not only loves you, but he likes you. He would hang out with you and have fun doing so. You are a child of God and He delights in you.
What was the most challenging part of writing the book?
The toughest part of writing the stories was finding a voice for the characters, especially the ones who are very different than me. I remember when I read Family Happiness by Leo Tolstoy that I was struck by his ability to write from the perspective of a woman. I wanted to try it, but when I was done I was terrified that I got it all wrong. But I gave the story to some female readers before I preached it and they confirmed that some of the thoughts my protagonist had were thoughts they themselves had.
What would you do differently if you were to start the project over?
One thing I would do differently were I to start the project over is to make sure that every story has at least one likable character in it. One of my beta readers wrote in the margins of one chapter, “I don’t like anyone in this story.” My first thought when I read that comment was about Jesus’s story about the guy who tore down his barns to build bigger ones—he is not a likable character and yet the story works. You can tell a good story without a likable character.
On further reflection, I think the critique of my work was valid. If I were to do it again, I would try to at least have one likable character in each story, even if it wasn’t the protagonist. Keep in mind as you read that there are a couple of stories in which the protagonist’s perspective is not my perspective. Some of my characters even say things that are offensive to me! With these characters, I have tried to make you understand my perspective by rejecting the protagonist’s perspective.
Where can people get the book?
Mustard Seeds and Viral Videos: Modern Retellings of the Parables of Jesus is available just about everywhere online. I have created a website, Matthewedwards.online. If you buy it from my website, I can sign it and write a message to someone if it is a gift. Plus, you will be supporting a first-time author!