The Parables: Jesus’s Friendly Subversive Speech

Some books I’m just glad to have in my library.

The Parables: Jesus’s Friendly Subversive Speech by Douglas D. Webster definitely fits that category. This is a good book.

The basic concept is that Jesus used parables to get past the defenses of the Jews of his day. They were programmed to resist radical teachings like Jesus’s. But who can resist an entertaining story? “Through the medium of story he was able to communicate to the crowds without giving his enemies a clear target. … He was able to keep the crowd with him, frustrate his enemies, and invite his disciples to embrace the meaning of the gospel.” (p. 10)

One of my favorite aspects of this book is how Webster ties the parables back to the Old Testament. It seems a lot of what I read about the parables doesn’t closely examine the religious filter through which the original hearers would have understood Jesus’s teaching. Webster does an excellent job examining that filter, explaining that “the way we preach Jesus’s parables ought to be embedded in the great drama of the Bible.” (p. 341)

He also does an excellent job viewing the parables as a teaching vehicle for the contemporary preacher. There is even an appendix on Preaching the Parables. By looking for the way Jesus slanted his stories, we can gain insight in how to slant them for our audience as well.

If I had a nit to pick with Webster, it would probably be his aversion to dramatic teaching. He stresses that the parables are stories, not the performance of an actor. “There is no fanfare, no wild gestures… The medium of Jesus’s parable is a conversation, not a performance.” (p. 344) While his point here is more about pomposity and arrogance, it reflects what seemed to me to be an aversion to the kind of teaching we frequently see in Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and even Jesus. (How about I write in the sand or curse a fig tree to make an unforgettable point?)

But like I said, that’s a nit pick by a pastor who likes to be a little dramatic and excitable in his preaching. This is an excellent book and I’ll be placing it on a prominent shelf where I can easily grab it next time I’m teaching on one of Jesus’s friendly, subversive stories.

Note: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Which this is. I really do like the book.

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