Thursday, March 14, 2013

Preaching the Parables

I am getting ready to teach my course on Parables in the spring term. One of the text books I use is Klyne Snodgrass Stories with Intent (Eerdmans: 2008). I have found it to be one of the best introductions to reading and interpreting the parables.

Scot McKnight has altered me to an article Snodgras has on Preaching the Parables in  Preaching the New Testament. Here are twelve points he offers.

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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Kiss of Judas and the Shape Shifting Jesus

Photo of the recently translated Codex
Ever wonder why Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with a kiss? Well you are not alone. In fact, many others through the ages have asked that same question. And one of the answers offered in a Coptic work by an author identified as Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem is that Jesus kept changing shape and color. Here is the story.

"Then the Jews said to Judas: How shall we arrest him (Jesus), for he does not have a single shape but his appearance changes. Sometimes he is ruddy, sometimes he is white, sometimes he is red, sometimes he is wheat coloured, sometimes he is pallid like ascetics, sometimes he is a youth, sometimes an old man ..." This leads Judas to suggest using a kiss as a means to identify him. If Judas had given the arresters a description of Jesus he could have changed shape. By kissing Jesus, Judas tells the people exactly who he is. 

The story comes from a recent translation of the 1,200 year old work of Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem. The work was translated by Roelof van den Broek of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. The Judas story is one of several expansions that appear in the Coptic work. Others include Pilate serving Jesus dinner and offering to substitute his own son in place of Jesus. These stories are not new. Through the ages some Christian authors sought ways to redeem Pilate and the Romans and cast blame on the Jews for the crucifixion. The work of Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem contains some of the more elaborate expansions

To read a review of the new translation and some of the expansions go to science page on NBCNEWS

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In the Mail: Bible, Gender and Sexuality:Reframing the Church's Debate on Same-Sex Relationships

I want to thank the kind people at Eerdmans for sending me a copy of James Brownson's Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church's Debate on Same-Sex Relationships (Eerdmans, 2013). Here's the blurb.

In Bible, Gender, Sexuality James Brownson argues that Christians should reconsider whether or not the biblical strictures against same-sex relations as defined in the ancient world should apply to contemporary, committed same-sex relationships. Presenting two sides in the debate -- "traditionalist" and "revisionist" -- Brownson carefully analyzes each of the seven main texts that appear to address intimate same-sex relations. In the process, he explores key concepts that inform our understanding of the biblical texts, including patriarchy, complementarity, purity and impurity, honor and shame. Central to his argument is the need to uncover the moral logic behind the biblical text. Written in order to serve and inform the ongoing debate in many denominations over the questions of homosexuality, Brownson's in-depth study will prove a useful resource for Christians who want to form a considered opinion on this important issue.

 This is a book in which the author wants to try and hear both sides of the debate and say something to those on both sides as well. I began reading the book this past weekend and although I am only a hundred pages into it I have found it both challenging and thought provoking. In particular, the way he frames the creation story and how we interpret it is helpful. Brownson argues that the "one flesh" statement is not about how male and female join to "compliment" the genders, but to form a kinship bond. I am in currently reading his section on patriarchy in the New Testament. 

While I plan to give a fuller review of Brownson's work at a later date, I do commend him for his approach. Rather than jump into the contested texts that may or may not talk about same-sex relationships, he begins by laying the ground work for how we should understand the entire witness of scripture and then examines those passages. I have already, of course, found points where I disagree, wish he would go further or think that his argument is lacking if not unconvincing. Nonetheless, I think the spirit behind the book is one that needs to be encouraged and I hope it fosters a discussion about same-sex relationships that is not stuck on the same old arguments.