Curving Straightforward

My good friend Adam Moore shared the other day about Peter Rollin’s new book (The Orthodox Heretic) and a Parable Writing Competition.

The thing that strikes me about parables is their lack of clarity.  So much of the American Church these days seems to want truth and reality handed to it with a pretty little bow; simple, clear, straightforward, unambiguous.

The clearest way we see this is when a preacher tells us that any particular scripture passage has one true meaning or correct reading.  Leftover from the Scottish Common Sense School of the 19th century, this philosophical position is the epitome of modernism.

I mean, don’t you have to wonder how every preacher who invokes such a “plain reading” of scripture always happens to be right? If we put everyone in a room together who held to such an understanding of scripture, can one really expect that they would all articulate the same understanding?  Or would we find, more likely, that widely divergent voices would each be calling his or her own understanding the one true “plain reading” of any given passage?

This is the glory of parables.  Not only is some “one true meaning” harder to claim, but the very form of parables draws you into discussion about the point (or points) of the story.

May a (renewed) interest in parables open up the world for us!

7 thoughts on “Curving Straightforward

  1. Would you say that parables, as parables, share a common illocutionary force?

    What is the relationship between the illocutionary force of a parable and its “aboutness?”

      • I suppose I need to ask a follow up question. If parables share a common illocutionary force, would say also that what illocutionary force any given parable has, that illocutionary force is indistinguishable from any other parable?

        My inclination is to say that there is no single illocutionary force that, when the parable is taken rightly, will be found to be the primary or central force as in every other parable. For that reason, while some parables are difficult to understand due to a lack of clarity, others have great clarity. Some of Jesus’ were so clear that people wanted to kill him for them.

        Of course, the notion of illocutionary force seems easier to apply to single simple utterances than to more complex utterances (like parables).

  2. My concern would revolve around the Peter Rollins book. Is this a book that you would read? A book that you might recommend? A book you have already read? Simply take a look at one who wrote a recommendation on the back of the book–Phyllis Tickle. If her associations with questionable characters don’t create any concerns (or, righteous indignation), perhaps the fact she (a professing Christian) sits on the board of the Mary Baker Eddy Library. Her affiliation with the ultra-liberal Marcus Borg. She blatantly repudiates Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). The list goes on.

    I’d be interested if you have read or intend on reading this work.

  3. Rob, let’s not crucify someone based upon who he or she associates with. After all, who was it Jesus hung out with?

    Yes, I know that comparison sounds incredibly cliche, but get real, man!

    I fully intend to read this book, as I have Rollin’s previous books. He has a lot to say that resonates with my study of scripture as well as my theological training (which is rather traditional and orthodox, in case you are concerned)

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