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Parables, Preaching and Toxic Waste

the parable of the sower and the seed

I have always thought in metaphor and simile. From a young age it seemed natural to me to translate a concept from one form to another, just to prove I’d grasped it. When the same thing happens to a story the result is a parable. It might be simple and charming, it might even tug at an emotion, but at first glance it appears no more than a story. The power of a parable is in that ‘ah-ha’ moment, when I realise what the story means in its own parallel universe. So because of the way that my thinking is wired it seemed inevitable that I would be drawn to writing in parables just as I was first attracted to reading them. 

Of course there was one man above any other associated with parables. Jesus was the master of the medium. In fact the Bible says that “he did not say anything to them without using a parable”(a). Now here’s a curious thing: It seemed that most of the original hearers of these parables did not understand them. Even those closest to Jesus had to come and ask what they meant!(b) What Jesus spoke to that first audience was radical and completely different from anything they had heard. So why would he choose a form of communication that the people didn’t understand? The answer is surprising, but obvious – he didn’t want them to understand; he was actually being coy about his message! I’m not conclusion-jumping here. The Animal Parables from Amazon As unexpected as this might seem, the gospel writers record Jesus as saying to his disciples, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.'”(c) This is an approach that is alien to the culture of the present day church, where clarity and directness are paramount. In current Christian culture ‘The Gospel’ is to be preached and so, of every hearer, a decision is demanded one way or another. Now both of these approaches are seen in the Bible and both produce results. For the person who is given revelation (God-given insight) the ‘ah-ha’ moment can come via either preaching or parable. But one of these approaches does have a downside.

Let me illustrate: For years I sang in a rock band, and being the lyricist too I was the natural front man. My songs had a message, but I was never under any illusion about why the people came – it wasn’t to hear a sermon but to experience the music and excitement of a live band. Having been to Christian concerts myself, if I’d heard more preaching than music it left me feeling uncomfortable, like I had been cheated. So I wasn’t going to do that to anyone else. In our concerts I offered no “come forward now” appeals. From my vantage point on the stage I could see that there were a few at the front who might respond to an invitation of faith, but I still had an eye on those at that back who might leave in disgust. I was playing to all these people; I cared about communicating to each one. I wasn’t going to shake the tree that would have loosened the fruit at the front, but left those at the back bruised from the experience. 

The Parable of The Crab from AmazonThe downside with preaching is that it turns away those who don’t respond. A parable doesn’t do this because if you don’t have revelation it’s only a story and where’s the offence in a story? The one who doesn’t get a parable may still get it another day, when he is ready to hear the deeper meaning. The one who doesn’t respond to preaching is likely to learn their lesson and steer clear in future.

Back when I first came to faith there was an accent on rallies, crusades, missions to get people to hear a famous preacher. And they worked; they reaped their harvest and many people came to faith. But at the same time many more were turned off evangelism. I believe that what I see around me in the UK is the result of this. We are left with the toxic waste of caution, cynicism and contempt for the church and its message. I don’t believe that preaching will do it for this generation. They’ve had it and they didn’t like it. They’ve had the inoculation and are now immune to it. 

Today, few people like being preached at or lectured to. So isn’t it time for some subtlety, some coyness, and the layered beauty of parables? Isn’t it time to re-discover what Jesus always understood?

(a) Matt 13:34 – (b) Matt 13:36 – (c) Luke 8:10 (& quoting Isaiah 6:9)

7 thoughts on “Parables, Preaching and Toxic Waste”

  1. This is awesome… and its an incredible revelation of how Jesus will meet us at the well of our lives and communicate with us on a level we will understand… and then we can feel comfortable to ask Him for living waters that we may never thirst again… because now… we know who He is. Awesome. Thank you for sharing God’s gift in you with us…

  2. I loved this blog! It’s packed with wisdom and understanding for things of this generation! As a speaker in the making and farely young I can agree with the points of preaching verses talking. The fasinating thing to me is when Jesus spoke to the chrowds in parables he spoke in ways that caused disruption, and moved people to a higher quality of being not doing! For instance He being Jesus said things like “Eat my flesh and Drink my blood” Calling up in a proud people the radical selling out that was needed. Jesus was and is everything that we desired in a friend, father and speaker. His motives were not to seek fame but to disrupt a world that was and has fallen under a religious fog.. All in all good job and recommend that this be read!

  3. Awesome stuff! I’m reading the book “Pagan Christianity” right now. A big part of the book is about how the practice of preaching isn’t even really biblical. It focuses on the what they call the “new-testament church” I think you are so right about this generation being tired of getting a message thrown at them. What people want to experience is real, genuine Christ, not toxic waste. I want to hear Him speak to me in my life.

    I was on the lukewarm path until Jesus came and set me on fire when I realized He was a real person and His parables made applicable sense to me.

  4. Thanks for the comments Dylan, I have the follow on book by Frank Viola ‘Reimagining Church’ but I haven’t got around to reading it yet – maybe I should.

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