Monday, March 20, 2006

Should We Always Preach in Parables?

Mark Batterson's blog is highlighting his 10 "buzz commandments." The 6th Buzz Commandement says "Thou Shalt Preach in Parables". I disagree. But I have a commandment for my readers: thou shalt read his post completely. I'd rather you get the full sense of what he's saying before you listen to any thoughts I have on it.
Now, I want to post a short disclaimer, lest I be misunderstood. This post is not intended to rebut everything that Mr. Batterson wrote. My intent is to show only that:
  • Jesus did not use parables to truly teach the crowds, but used them to cause the crowds to misunderstand.
  • Jesus does not intend for us to use parables as the primary preaching method to reach the crowds of our day.
Also, before going further, I want to thank Mr. Batterson for his passion for God, for his desire to see technology and media used to reach many people with the gospel, for his intense creativity, and for his commitment to planting churches. I would recommend reading his blog regularly just to keep your juices flowing on creative ways to do church. (Mark, if you're reading, I hope you hear that these are thoughts from a friend, not a critic.)
Should we preach in parables? Jesus regularly did. Mr. Batterson wrote:
What if Jesus were a teaching pastor at a 21st century American church? Would he preach the same way he did in the gospels? I think he would.
I disagree.

Many people, including Mr. Batterson, claim that Jesus spoke in parables because that was the most effective way to get his message across to the largely agrarian culture that surrounded him. Their conclusion is that we should follow Jesus' example and speak in the language of our culture, telling stories that are metaphors for the truth of the gospel.

But why did Jesus say he taught in parables?

This is from Matthew 13:10-17.
"Then the disciples came and said to him, 'Why do you speak to them in parables?' And he answered them, 'To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand."
And this is from Mark 4:10-12.
"And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, 'To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that

"they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven."'"
And one more from Luke 8:9-10.
"And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, 'To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that "seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand."'"
Jesus spoke in parables in order to ensure that those who heard him did not understand what he really meant. He spoke privately and clearly about the "secrets of the kingdom of heaven" to his disciples and more committed followers, those whom he did want to understand.

Shouldn't we still follow Jesus' example, even if the message isn't perfectly clear or could be misunderstood? Isn't he a model communicator? Note what Jesus commanded his disciples as he prepared for them to go out and preach on their own. He said in Matthew 10:27:
"What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops."
My conclusion: Jesus, using parables in his public preaching, reserved clear teaching for private times with his close disciples. However, he didn't intend for the preaching of his gospel to continue that way throughout history. He wanted his disciples to preach the "secrets of the kingdom" clearly and plainly, in public, from the housetops, to the most people possible.

Some more topics for future discussion, then, might be:
  1. Why did Jesus teach differently than he wants us to teach now?
  2. If Jesus wants us to preach clearly and plainly, does metaphor have a legitimate use in Biblical preaching?
  3. If so, what is the best use of metaphor in preaching?
  4. And what do we do with pure storytelling media to most effectively use them for the proclamation of the gospel?


Jim Bublitz said...


This is excellent work, regarding the parables. Mark Batterson and those like-minded in the Church Growth Movement, frequently try to use "Jesus told parables" as license for extensive story-telling. As was demonstrated, it's used in subtle ways to challenge expository preaching. But truth be told, pastors are called to explain the Word of God to their flock and help make the bible's meanings known.

Thanks again for your article,

Anonymous said...


Thank you for this post. You have treated the Word of God with honesty and integrity. It is also very refreshing to see the dialogue you have created with Mark Batterson, namely the way in which you have displayed that individuals with opposing viewpoints can maturely and peacefully discuss their differences for the sake of the pursuit of Truth.

I personally can remember how much grief Jesus' explanations of His parables brought me before God graciously helped me understand the beauty of the "doctrines of grace." And yet, throughout that time (and until now) I always sensed that something was lacking when I would sit and listen to an extended-metaphor-sermon that avoided truly wrestling with biblical texts and deciphering their meanings, authorial intent, real application, etc. That said, I think you posed a great question at the end of your post. What role does figurative speech play in the sermon?


Anonymous said...

In answer to your fourth question,

"4. And what do we do with pure storytelling media to most effectively use them for the proclamation of the gospel?"

Go to and watch "Found". It is a modern retelling of the "Parable of the Lost Coin". My company, 36 Parables is giving you a very real chance to put your theories in practice. Let me know if the "pure storytelling media" of short films, particulary ours, are effective in proclaiming the gospel. The DVD, "Yellow", has three modern parables.

"The Lost Coin" is titled "Found"
"The Good Samaritan" is titled "Buen Vecino"
"The Ten Talents" is titled "Buried Talent"

I am very interested in hearing what you have to say in response to these modern parables.

Dave Wilcox said...

Hi, Stewart.

I ended up posting a evaluation of Found as its own entry. Please let me know what you think.


Anonymous said...

You haven't the foggiest.

Unknown said...

I just took a class on parables with a brilliant theologian, Dr. T. David Gordon, and I believe you are hitting it well. I think that many people today assume a revelatory understanding of parables and simply ignore the fact that they arnt used outside of the gospels. Perhaps, we should begin the discussion by understanding Jesus' distinct prophetic office, and see that many of Jesus' parables were meant to judge and conceal, not to teach and reveal.

Dave Wilcox said...

Thanks, coop.