This week I got my hands on a copy of John MacArthur’s most recent volume on “Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told.” As is MacArthur’s trademark, this particular work of his is candid in style and thorough in content.
Essentially, MacArthur’s work in this volume is threefold: 1) Clearly present factions in Christ’s immediate culture that sparked His use of parables and its purpose; debunking the common notions of why Jesus used this form of teaching. 2) Show how Christ’s key parables are fleshed out in parable, explanation, purpose, point, culture and application. 3) Contend that the parables are tools with which Christ used to teach and defend the truth as a teller of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.
The above summary, in and of itself, seems difficult and complex. That’s because it is. There is nothing simple about MacArthur, in MY view. As with his preaching, like an Agatha Christi novel, if you miss a page, you may miss his point. But he does a stellar job of asking and answering: 1) What is a parable? and 2) How can we interpret the parables of Christ efficiently, effectively and correctly?
It is critical to note that MacArthur deflates the notion that Jesus used parables to make his teaching easy for all. MacArthur points out that this is not true. Jesus “tells” the story to reveal a doctrinal and eternal truth to those who received Him for Who He claimed to be; and to conceal this truth from those who would reject as an outcome of His judgment. Jesus did not, however, exalt the telling of a story at the neglect of doctrinal teaching. In Christ’s approach to communicating truth, as well as in His use of parables, He did not pit narrative against proposition or the story against doctrine, as if they were somehow mutually exclusive. It is clear, according to the author, that Christ uses this for a “telling the story” to enlighten those who have a heart of acceptance towards the truths of God, having the opposite effect on those who oppose and reject Christ. I believe MacArthur does a masterful job of underscoring that the milestone of Christ’s use of parables was fundamentally the assault against Truth. It’s culprit? The “Pharisaical Sabbath-enforcement squad” of His day. In Chapter 1, MacArthur classically communicates many insightful benchmarks in Matthew chapter 12 that ultimately spur this revolutionary and innovative approach to Christ’s preaching and His communication of the mysteries of the Kingdom.
What follows is an approach to Christ’s most prominent parables in a practical, scholarly and insightful style that is only characteristic of vintage John MacArthur.
Now, for a bit of critique. I love John MacArthur and his writings. But in this book, you sort of have to get where he’s going to get what he’s saying. As a fledgling scholar with degrees in Biblical Studies and Biblical Languages, I love him. As an honest layman with a c-average, he is hard for me to follow, on the surface. If you couldn’t tell (as could I), even my summary bordered on the realm of being difficult to understand without a church encyclopedia. That was simply me trying to break down MacArthur complexity, to no avail. Simply put, MacArthur is no Lucado or Swindoll or even (in my view) as simple to understand as a John Piper, at times. Now don’t get me wrong…if you can get beyond the scholarly highlights in chapters 2 through 10, you will find a GOLD MINE of preaching material, doctrinal nuggets and teaching points that will live and work well for teachers and students alike. That being said, this book (in my personal view) is not an easy-read; and not one you can speed-read through. I see it best as a volume one should read through slowly; develop a mental (or literal) file that can be used as a reference for future use when dealing with parables and illustrating the subjects/teachings/doctrines of [Receiving the Word, Discipleship, Justice and Grace, Neighborly Love, Justification by Faith, Faithfulness, Wisdom, Heaven and Hell, Persistence in Prayer.]
All in all, I would suggest having this book on one’s shelf as a handy reference in understanding the why, what and “aha” of Christ’s use of parables, and MacArthur walking you through the parables themselves. I give this book a 3 out of 5 stars for the layman; a 4 out of 5 for the scholar.