When we have read passages of Scripture many times, it’s possible for us to become numb to their message and lose our wonder at the glories they contain. Jared Wilson aims to break this numbness in our reading of Jesus’ parables in his new book The Storytelling God. Parables “function in Jesus’s ministry as representative stories about the kingdom of God.” (29) The announcement of the Kingdom’s arrival was central in Jesus’ ministry and Wilson defines “the gospel of the kingdom” as “the announcement that Jesus the Messiah has arrived and has begun restoring God’s will on earth in and through himself. The fulcrum upon which this restoration turns is Christ’s substitutionary work in his sinless temptation, suffering, death on the cross, and resurrection from the grave.” (19) He emphasizes this understanding of the parables against the view that they are morality tales like Aesop’s fables or the ancient forerunner to modern-day sermon illustrations.
Most of the book works through common parables of Jesus. Some parables get whole chapters while others are combined with other sharing a similar theme. Two of the later chapters approach some parables we don’t commonly think of. Wilson turns our attention to some of the parables in the Old Testament, showing how they point to Jesus and His coming Kingdom. He also unpacks the “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John, showing how they point to Jesus’ person and work.
In every one of Jared Wilson’s books there are sharp and thoughtful barbs about contemporary church thought and practice. Some have appealed to the parables as a reason to add various creative elements to the worship gathering. Others adopt a storytelling model of preaching versus an expositional approach to preaching. Most of this is done with a reference to Jesus’ stories. Wilson dismantles this reasoning in a couple of sentences. He reminds us that the parables do help illustrate and illumine the truth, but the stark reality is that most of Jesus’ original audience did not understand the point he was making in the parables. “But if the parables are really analogous to what we today call ‘sermon illustrations,’ then Jesus was a terrible teacher, because the disciples kept saying they didn’t understand them. If you have to explain your illustration—to decode it, as it were—it’s not a very good illustration. Or at least, it’s not functioning the way a sermon illustration is typically supposed to function. As we will soon see, the parables are designed to obscure as much as to clarify. This is not what preachers and teachers aim to do with illustrations.” (28)
The treatment of the individual parables in The Storytelling God involves commentary, theological summary, and application. For example, the fourth chapter covers the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son in Luke 15. He begins the chapter by addressing the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees which occasioned the parables. Then he moves into his discussion of the three parables themselves. He addresses questions like the meaning of ”ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” This leads into a discussion about the heart of our shepherd God who indicted the shepherds of Israel and promised to send the True Shepherd. He also points out misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the parables which are prevalent in our day. Just to use one example, he reminds readers that the parable of the lost son is more about the older brother than it is about the younger brother. Jesus gave few details about the sin of the younger brother while sparing no detail about the behavior of the older brother. The chapter closes with an exposition about the lavish generosity of God and an appeal to hear remember the good news of the Gospel.
Jared Wilson anchors The Storytelling God in the biblical text and the glorious riches of the Gospel it reveals. Those who give close attention to this work will walk away with a greater understand of Jesus’ Kingdom and His Gospel through His parables. In this book, Jesus is the King, God is gracious, and we are the recipients of His overwhelming love towards us. The application in The Storytelling God challenges our misconceptions about life and the Gospel while encouraging us in the Good News of who God is for us in Christ.
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(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)