The Storytelling God by Jared C. Wilson

The Storytelling God by Jared C. Wilson

Those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s still remember the intensity of Zack’s confronting Jessie about her popping caffeine pills,1 or the time he got drunk at a party and totalled his dad’s car. The “very special episode” of our favorite sitcoms always served to drive home a moral lesson that would have made most later Star Trek writers cringe.

Strangely, this is what we seem to do with the parables of Jesus:

  • We look at the parable of the good Samaritan and we see a moral impetus to love our neighbors…
  • We read the parable of the foolish builder and are told to always be sure to “count the cost” of our choices…
  • We hear the parable of the wise and foolish stewards and are reminded to use our gifts wisely…

…but if this is all we’re getting out of Jesus’ parables, we may need to look a little harder.

“When these oft-repeated stories from Jesus strike us as sweet, heartwarming, or inspiring in the sentimental sense rather than the Spiritual sense, we can be sure we’ve misread them,” Jared Wilson writes in his latest, The Storytelling God:

A generation of churchgoers grew up hearing the parables taught more along the lines of moralistic fables—illustrations of how to do the right things God would have us do. And they are that. But they are more than that. Some of these narratives are only a few lines long, but every parable, long or short, is fathoms deep and designed to drive us to Jesus in awe, need, faith, and worship. When we treat them as “inspiring tales,” we make superficially insipid what ought to be Spiritually incisive.

Wilson’s point throughout this book is simple: the parables are not the “very special episodes” of Jesus’ teaching ministry—instead, they are tales designed see the glory of Jesus.

Defining parables beyond morality

Our difficulty, though, begins as one of definitions—what is a parable, exactly? In a nutshell, Wilson suggests that rather than simply seeing as short stories or sketches, we should understand Jesus’ parables as “wisdom scenes,” illustrations running alongside their points and meant to “reveal them in rather immediate ways.”

Viewing the parables in this way allows us to embrace the multi-faceted approach Jesus often took in telling them, while at the same time forcing us to let go of our tendency to moralize them (or even relegate them to mere illustrations). Ultimately, this view drives home the purpose of the parables, which is to give us glimpses into what the kingdom of God (and God’s reign) looks like. And what that looks like is, for many, something wholly offensive.

Coming to the end of ourselves in Jesus’ parables

The most offensive aspect of Jesus’ parables is that, again and again, they point to Himself as the point of the story. He doesn’t simply tell the story of the Good Samaritan for us to “go and do likewise” (although this is certainly a necessary application), but to reveal to us how He is the true Good Samaritan who comes to the aid of His enemies at the cost of His own life. He tells us the parable of the prodigal son so that we might recognize the Father in the father, whose extravagant (or seemingly reckless) generosity in restoring His sons cannot be matched. He tells us of the man who sold all he had to purchase a field where he’d found a treasure because He is the treasure worth sacrificing all for.

In fact, as Wilson convincingly argues, Jesus Himself can be seen as a living parable—

He is a living parable because he is the inscrutable, eternal, ineffable God become a man, dwelling among men, tempted like men, sacrificed for men. As the parables contain the Spiritual power of awakening or deadening within stories of the human experience, Christ is the Spirit-conceived power of God undergoing the human experience.

Read that again. It makes sense, doesn’t it? At a minimum, it certainly fits with the tenor of Scripture, feeling right at home with the constant call to turn away from ourselves. It attacks our tendency (or desire) to view these stories as being about us and what we do, reorienting us to their true purpose—not to provide a moral imperative (although one can easily see those in the parables), but to point us to the Storyteller.

“Blessed are those who hear him and believe,” Wilson writes. “Condemned are those who are offended by him and disbelieve.”

No more “very special episodes” needed

If The Storytelling God succeeds at anything, it’s putting to death the parables as “very special episodes” mindset. And this is exactly what we all need to get out of our heads. We can do more all we want, trying to earn our way into the Father’s good books—but it’s not going to earn us the brownie points we’re hoping to get. What Jesus offers us in the parables is so much more valuable than “do more betterer”—He offers us the better He’s done for us in His life, death and resurrection.

He is the treasure we seek. He is the pearl of great price. He is the Shepherd who searches for His sheep and brings them home. Why would we want to settle for anything else?


Title: The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables
Author: Jared C. Wilson
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

The Pastor’s Justification by Jared C. Wilson

pastors-justification-wilson

Pastoral ministry is a strange animal. For many pastors, it’s good work—important work—but it’s easy to become discouraged. The burden seems too great and they’re ready to throw in the towel. Then there are pastors who seem to have it all together. They might’ve published a book or two that have gotten some attention, have a generous salary, research assistants, support staff and/or conference speaking gigs… and yet on the inside, they’re being crushed by the weight of their responsibilities and (real or perceived) fame.

Interestingly, whether they’re on one extreme or the other, many pastors share the same problem: they may be seeking their justification in something other the work of Christ.

“The pastoral fraternity is an interesting one,” writes Jared C. Wilson in The Pastor’s Justification. “We’re a motley bunch of fools. Different personalities and tribes, different methodologies and styles…denominations and traditions and, of course, theologies. But there is something [all] have in common … a profound sense of insecurity for which the only antidote is the gospel” (17).

It’s this “antidote” that The Pastor’s Justification is really all about, covered in two parts: “The Pastor’s Heart,” an exposition of 1 Peter 5:1-11, and “The Pastor’s Glory,” an examination of the five solas of the Reformation.

Solving pastoral problems starts with the pastor’s character

One thing should be abundantly clear reading this book: this isn’t another “how to be a better pastor” book. Wilson is far less concerned about techniques and best practices than he is about the heart of the pastor. And he wants pastors to recognize something critical they may too often forget and something rarely talked about in leadership conferences:

“The primary problem in pastoral ministry, brother pastor, is not them. It’s you. You are your biggest problem” (29). When a pastor sees people as problems to be solved, or the congregation he’s leading as being less appealing than the one he imagines leading in his daydreams, or he’s slipped away from shepherding to domineering… the problem lies with the pastor’s heart, not with the people. Which is really just another way of saying it’s all about the pastor’s character.

This is the reason Wilson spends so much time on the pastor’s heart. If he just said, “Here’s how you deal with situation ABC,” it wouldn’t be even remotely helpful if the pastor’s a train wreck. [Read more...]

Looking Ahead: Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2011

Looking at the books I enjoyed over 2010 made me think about the ones I’m really looking forward to in 2011. Here are a few:

Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living through the Rediscovery of Abba Father edited by Dan Cruver, with contributions from John Piper, Richard D. Phillips, Scotty Smith, Jason Kovacs, and Dan Cruver (Cruciform Press, January 2011)

One of the ambitious dreams that Reclaiming Adoption and its authors share with the Apostle Paul is that when Christians hear the word adoption, they will think first about their adoption by God. As it now stands, Christians usually think first about the adoption of children. Reclaiming Adoption sets out to change this situation by providing breathtaking views of God’s love for and delight in His children — views that will free you to live boldly in this world from God’s acceptance, not in order to gain it…

Dan Cruver and his co-authors are convinced that if Christians learn to first think about their adoption by God, and only then about the adoption of children, they will enjoy deeper communion with the God who is love, and experience greater missional engagement with the pain and suffering of this world. That’s what this book is about. What the orphan, the stranger, and the marginalized in our world need most is churches that are filled with Christians who live daily in the reality of God’s delight in them. Reclaiming Adoption can transform the way you view and live in this world for the glory of God and the good of our world’s most needy.

Order this book | Read a sample

Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault by Justin & Lindsey Holcomb (Crossway, January 2011)

The statistics are jarring. One in four women and one in six men have been sexually assaulted. But as sobering as these statistics are, they can’t begin to speak to the darkness and grief experienced by the victims. The church needs compassionate and wise resources to care for those living in the wake of this evil. Other books attempt to address the journey from shame to healing for victims of sexual abuse, but few are from a Christian perspective and written for both child and adult victims. In Rid of My Disgrace, a couple experienced in counseling and care for victims of sexual assault present the gospel in its power to heal the broken and restore the disgraced.

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb present a clear definition of sexual assault and outline a biblical approach for moving from destruction to redemption. Rid of My Disgrace applies a theology of redemption to the grief, shame, and sense of defilement victims experience. This book is primarily written for them, but can also equip pastors, ministry staff, and others to respond compassionately to those who have been assaulted.

Pre-order this book | Read a sample

Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson (Crossway, October 2011)

We may know the gospel. We may believe it—even proclaim it. But we also may assume the gospel and become lethargic. In this book Jared Wilson seeks to answer the central question, how do we experience and present the gospel in a fresh, non-routine way in order to prevent ourselves and others from becoming numb? His answer may be surprising: “by routinely presenting the unchanging gospel in a way that does justice to its earth-shaking announcement.” We don’t excite and awaken people to the glorious truths of the gospel by spicing up our worship services or through cutting-edge, dramatic rhetoric, but by passionately and faithfully proclaiming the same truths we have already been given in Scripture.

Wilson’s book will stir churches to live out the power of the gospel with a fervent, genuine zeal. After an explanation of the term “gospel wakefulness,” Wilson unpacks implications for worship, hyper-spirituality, godly habits, and sanctification, as well as other aspects of church life. Pastors, church leaders, and all in ministry, especially those who are tired or discouraged, will be uplifted, emboldened, and empowered by this book.

(Not yet available for pre-order) [Read more...]