Berean cogitations

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Did Jesus use parables to entertain?

I've often heard people assert that Jesus used parables to entertain the crowds, and that we must likewise strive to entertain the congregations. Is this true, though?Jesus himself answered this question. He used parables in order to confuse non-believers. As Matthew 13:10-15 says,
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:

‘ Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see
and not perceive;
For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears
are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see
with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with
their hearts and turn So that I should heal them.’

Some would say, "But Jesus used parables to entertain! He knew that he had to entertain in order to draw a crowd!" That's not what the Bible says, though. Moreover, his parables were illustrative, but hardly entertaining. There's very little entertainment value in hearing about a woman who loses a coin, for example, only to find it again. Calling this "entertainment" is a huge stretch.

Besides, Jesus himself used parables sparingly. He occasionally told these stories, but he did not rely on them for all of his teaching. Jesus did not treat his listeners like idiots. He did not assume that they were so addled as to require an illustrative story for every teaching.

Moreover, there's a huge difference between using parables -- short, illustrative stories -- and acting these stories out before a crowd. Did Jesus instruct his Apostles to construct a stage and act out the Parable of the Good Samaritan, for example? Certainly not! It would not have been wrong to do so, but Jesus did not feel that his listeners required the constant use of dramatic reenactments.

Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with using parables to entertain, just as drama is not inherently wrong. Ultimately though, dramatic skits appeal to one's emotions, rather than one's mind. There is a time and place for emotional appeals, but this provides a poor foundation for doctrinal understanding. How does one use a dramatic skit to convey Trinitarian doctrine, for example? Or to illustrate end-times theology? Or to discern whether speaking in tongues is valid for today? Emotions can help motivate people, but when it comes to grasping doctrine, they are ultimately a hindrance rather than a help.

Besides, do you really need a dramatic enactment in order to illustrate that homosexuality is wrong? Or dishonesty? Or adultery? If a church truly needs such tactics in order to comprehend these simple, fundamental truths, then the pastor has not done a proper job of teaching his flock. Moreover, beliefs that are rooted in emotional appeals lack any firm foundation. What happens when a movie like Brokeback Mountain or The Bridges of Madison County comes along -- movies that portray the glories of homosexuality and adultery? If we rely on drama and emotional appeal to instill one's beliefs, then those beliefs can be readily led away by dramas that convey the opposite worldview.