Parables: The Mysteries Of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through The Stories Jesus Told, by John MacArthur
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for an honest review.]
This book serves as a relatively short–200 pages including an appendix on the way that Jesus’ parables contain objective truth in their narrative stories–introduction to the study of Jesus’ parables. Although this book is not an exhaustive examination of Jesus’ parables, they do cover a representative sample and do a good job of conveying the parables and their meaning as well as their context as they would have been understood in their original context. Besides an educational purpose, though, this book serves a clear polemical purpose on several grounds. For one, it places the point at which Jesus Christ began to spoke in parables at a particularly vicious dispute that he had with the scribes and Pharisees over proper Sabbath observance, contrasting Jesus’ biblical understanding in the relationship between Sabbath and freedom and liberation with the rule and power-based approach to the Sabbath of the Pharisees, and rightly points out the parable of the sower as the key parable in that it shows the problem of the heart and the fundamental approach of the parables to provide an opportunity for people to show interest while not being bludgeoned with the truth in a harder form.
In terms of its contents, the book is divided into ten chapters and an appendix. The book begins with a lengthy introductory section that includes some of the sloppy and postmodern ideas about parables, including the mistaken view that they were designed to make the truths of the Gospel easy to understand or that their meaning was inchoate and nonspecific. In language that is direct, bold, and strongly biblical, the author affirms the graciousness of the Sabbath and its continuing importance, although he does not appear to keep the Sabbath as commanded in scripture, rejecting both false views of religion that believe that we can earn merit with God and also the antinomian hostility to God’s standards of conduct that we live as believers through His Holy Spirit bearing good fruit in our lives. The author gives chapters that include lessons about receiving the Word of God, counting the cost of discipleship, the relationship of justice and grace, neighborly love, justification by faith, faithfulness, worldly wisdom, the final judgment, and persistence in prayer. This is material that ought to both convict every reader of falling below God’s standard while also encouraging the reader that God is gracious and loving towards those who seek Him, and that we too should be gracious towards others, even those who hate us.
To be sure, this is not a perfect book. The author clearly does not understand the full repercussions of Jesus’ identity as Lord of the Sabbath or the full extent of the obligations of godly living upon believers. Likewise, the author clearly misunderstands biblical statements concerning the judgment and eternal life, making a statement concerning one parable that demonstrates a truth he does not appear to recognize. When talking about the parable of the generous landowner, the author makes the startling comment that the only way the parable’s language of the first being last and the last being first is if all the people are paid their “wages” for laboring at the same time. The author takes this to mean the afterlife, but it is even more startlingly true of the judgment, where wages and punishments are given simultaneously at the resurrections of the just and the unjust. Not everyone understands or accepts the full implications of what they write, however. Despite the author’s occasional flaws which come from a slightly defective Protestant worldview, the author clearly gets a lot right, enough right to make this an immensely worthwhile read on the subject of parables that provides technical knowledge and mostly sound interpretation, along with a clear-sighted focus towards the big picture of salvation and justification. For those who are engaging in a study of Jesus’ parables, this is a worthwhile resource from a clearly learned author who is passionate about preaching those aspects of the truth of God that he has been given to understand.