How Parables Govern Our Life

by Robert Brow    (web site -

Models can be used for thousands of different purposes. They can be diagrams, pictures, organization charts, maps, model trains and planes, computer simulations, etc. But a model can also be conveyed by word descriptions.

Theological models are mostly explained in books. A model of Christian doctrine is often presented as a systematic theology. It is also possible to work at a model for a particular area of Christian doctrine or Church organization. For example among the books on this site Go Make Learners offers a model of baptism and discipleship. By far the most accessed book on this web site is Adultery : An Exploration of Love and Marriage , which offers one model for interpreting the seventh commandment.

But very few ordinary Christians read theological books. Sunday by Sunday they may receive components of the model they live by from sermons. And what will be memorable is likely to be by the way the stories are told. Which is probably why Jesus communicated most of what he brought from heaven by means of parables.

In our century C.S.Lewis has had a huge and astonishing theological influence. The book which has influenced me most is his The Great Divorce (1945), which is in the form of an extended parable. But his vision of what our loving God is like has touched the minds of millions of children and their parents through the series called The Chronicles of Narnia. These have a few theological comments, but it is their parabolic content that makes them supremely effective in changing the direction of our lives.

In a discussion of evolution logical argument makes very little impact. But many have told me that the parable short story called "The Cake" has clarified their mind. With a birthday cake mixing, baking, cooling, icing, putting on of candles, and lighting them, is inevitably a process of evolution. You have to evolve the cake from ingredients.

A parable story which has helped readers to grasp the idea of resurrection is "My Android Helen." A longer story like "Donata" attempts to suggest the idea of living by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Twenty years ago I tried to see if I could convey truth through parable poems. Some of these are collected in a book on this site. ACID contrasts a model of romantic love with promiscuous seduction. BALANCING suggests a model of making many mistakes as one learns. BALLERINA points to the freedom to enjoy the dance of life like a little child, and our embarrassment when we are afraid of being seen. BASTARD offers a model of how the fifth commandment might relate to honoring oppressive parents. BUDDHIST pictures the fact that God can welcome a person without a cerebral communication of truth. CAGE is a parable about Naturalism or Taoism, which is one of the religions which referred to in the chart in God of Many Names chapter 3.

As a preface to working at the parables of Jesus it might be useful to look through some of the other parables such as CANA, CANARY, & CARNATION, and in each case try to identify the model that seems to be suggested. Two or three parables convey a model of satanic evil. Several deal with sexual temptation.

The complex ways in which the parable-poems work or don't work might help to prepare us to tangle with Jesus' parables. In the seven mysterious parables of Matthew 13 only two are explained to the disciples. And even the explanation that Jesus gives is open to various theological interpretations (see for example the sermons on The Weeds).

Though I have read the parables of Jesus many dozens of times in four different languages, each time I come back to one I find it suddenly speaks to me in a quite different way. Jesus' parables are obviously alive with unexpected meaning. A good way to study them is to identify and write down the model which you think Jesus is suggesting to us. But be prepared for a surprise when you encounter that parable in a good sermon or in your next reading.

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