Friday, January 22, 2010

The Kingdom in Parables

Joseph got me thinking about Robert F. Capon's The Parables of the Kingdom. I'd read it many years ago, but got it off my shelf and have started to revisit it. So, over the next coupla posts, I'd like to offer for your comments and reflections a paragraph/passage from Capon. Here's the first, from the first chapter "A Word About Parables":

"In the Bible, as a matter of fact, God does so many ungodly things--like not remembering our sins, erasing the quite correct handwriting against us, and becoming sin for us--that the only safe course [for studying the Bible] is to come to Scripture with as few stipulations as possible. God used his own style manual, not ours, in the promulgation of his Word.
"Openness, therefore, is the major requirement for approaching the Scriptures. And nowhere in the Bible is an un-made-up mind more called for than when reading the parables of Jesus. Indeed, if I were forced to give a short answer to the question 'What is the Bible as a whole about?' I think I would ignore all the subjects mentioned so far [it's about God, Morality, Religion, Spirituality, Salvation] and base my reply squarely on those parables. If they have a single subject at all, it is quite plainly the kingdom of God.. I would say that the Bible is about the mystery of the kingdom--a mystery that, by definition, is something well hidden and not at all likely to be grasped by plausibility-loving minds" (5).


Joseph Holbrook said...

You said (or Capon said)
"...the mystery of the kingdom--a mystery that, by definition, is something well hidden and not at all likely to be grasped by plausibility-loving minds" (5).

ain't that the truth? Mystery has become a big and growing part of my life. As Brian helped me to see when he was visting down here, the element of mystery (along with humility) is primarily what separates true faith from religious ideology.

Brian Emmet said...

Maybe we should look at reverse-monetizing our blog, i.e., we will pay our friendly lurkers to join us... c'mon, folks, don't let a few have all the fun.

The quote is Capon's. For a guy whom many would find infuriatingly liberal--his wife is an astrologer!--and others annoyingly conservative, his approach to Scripture is refreshing to me. One aspect is his insistence that every word counts. Because the Holy Spirit inspired the Holy Scriptures, we have to keep all the bits and pieces in play. The parts that we tend to see as unnecessary or redundant (or which don't fit into our systematic theologies) can't merely be swept off the table.

Joseph Holbrook said...

it is interesting that you bring up that some would view him as liberal, and yet others would consider him conservative.

As I thought about that, I was able to check off all of the major core belief's of Christianity. He believes in the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement (in a big way) and the resurrection. He obviously reveres the written word. In terms of these core values of Christianity, he is thoroughly orthodox. The only area where some Evangelicals might have a bone to pick with him is his "inclusivism" which slides uncomfortably (for some) close to universalism but not quite.

On the other hand, with social issues he probably can be view as liberal in many cases. He takes such a big and redemptive view of the work of the cross and the "catholicity" (his word) of the atonement that he does not seem to get his knickers in a knot over particular sins and the often tragic outcomes that sin produces. He certainly does not view his role as pastor as a moral policeman.

He seems to see himself rather as an encourager and healer bearing the good news of abundant forgiveness and the unstoppable kingdom of God in a way that I find much more consistent than others.

I have to say, the book lifted me out of a deep discouragement last fall, and impacted my life and thinking more than anything else I have read in several years.

Going back to inclusivism, I find it odd how some people react almost angrily to the suggestion that good natured agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims and other assorted non-religious people and non-Christians might be saved through the power and work of Christ despite their ignorance of the specifics details of Christ. To me is seems like good news .

It seems to me that we are not consistent in our declarations about the free gift of forgiveness, and divine grace. We have some kind of vested interest in controlling access to the entrance gates of heaven and we really DO believe that somehow we are earning our merit to salvation through what we intellectually affirm, adhere to, how we live our lives, etc. We say that God’s grace is unmerited and that he “so loved the world…” but we act like we know the formula for seizing that grace and we tell others “how to be saved.”

Capon is a great antidote for all of that. I found my faith in God greatly strengthened and my eyes were moved off of me, and unto Christ.

Joseph Holbrook said...

PS: sorry for talking to much (actually writing) but I hope you will go read "Pa Pa's Miracle" on Billy Long's OUT OF THE BOX blog ... Billy is a good writer, a deeply devoted thinker, and this is a great and uplifting story about the transformative power of a humble encounter with Truth and with God.

Pa Pa’s Miracle

John M. said...

I almost cut and pasted Joseph's last two paragraphs here, so much did they resonate with the development of my thinking over the past few years. If you're reading this post, go back right now and read Joseph's closing paragrphs about incusivism and our desire to control the gates of salvation and the Kingdom like locks in a river, so that only the "worthy" in our eyes i.e. the ones who believe the proper postulates, say the proper words, pray the proper prayer(s), and live the peoper mandates actually qualify (again in our eyes) for eternal salvation. Obviously I've added my own metaphor and embellishments to Joseph's thoughts, but the idea conveyed is the same.

Perhaps we should meditate on the parable of the "prodical son". Maybe it is more than a story of the "ungodly", extravagant, unmerited, unconditional love and mercy of the Father. Maybe it is also prophetic of how some Christians will be offended and angry at Father for letting all those dirty rebellious prodicals into the house and being so effusively exicted that he doesn't do it quietly, but makes a big hoop-tee-do about it.

Just how powerful and far-reaching is the atonement, birthed in the heart of Father and provided by the death of the Son?

Joseph Holbrook said...

good points John. After reading your comments, I browsed through the early part of Capon's book to see where he speaks to this most clearly. Check out the lower left paragraph on page 26 about trusting Jesus before anything else ...

oops ... it won't let me embed it in a comment, I'll have to embed it into a new post ...

John M. said...

I don't have the book. I need to get it and add it to my "pile", or at least put it in my Amazon wish list. Lately, I've been letting that be my pile because I have so many really good, unread books and am running out of shelf space.

I have actually been an "inclusivist" for several years without knowing what to call it. I am closer to being a universalist than ever before.

I began to reconsider my hard, "no one will be saved unless they jump through the standard evangelical hoops of hearing, understanding, believing, and praying the sinners prayer", approach to a softer approach when I fielded students' questions in class.

Every year I get asked the standard questions about those who've never heard, those who commit suicide, certain Bible characters etc. Over the years I found my answers beginning to deviate from the standard, they're going to hell to, "I'm going to let God make those calls. He knows their heart. He knows whether or not they are seeking to know him... That's still pretty much my public classroom answer.

But wihtout spelling it out I imply that if someone is moving toward God in their heart that he will honor that faith and hunger when they stand before him.

More recently, I am entertaining kind of a "reverse predestination". Calvinism, as I understand it, says that God predestines some to salvation and some to damnation -- that Jesus' death provided salvation only for the "elect". I have always believed in a universal atonement, but limited to those who heard, believed and received. Now, my thinking runs, that that also seems to be limiting the atonement to human conditions. What if Jesus' sacrifice, death, poured-out blood and victorious resurrection was so powerful that it will ultimately save every human in a way that remains a mystery? I know there are verses that can be quoted to counter that and support a conservative view. But I'm also finding a lot of verses that seem to imply a universal salvation beyond "just" a universal atonement. I'm not ready to cast all that in concrete, but I have to be honest about the thoughts and internal stirrings that I'm having. I definitely "want" to believe in universal salvation. But I also know that it doesn't depend on me. So, I can peacefully say, I'm leaving it to God.

He will decide mercifully and justly. He won't make any mistakes. And I can trust him totally no matter what the outcome. So, just as I've been a "pan-millenialist" for a long time, I'm also becomeing a "pan-salvationist" -- it will all "pan out" according to God's pla; no matter what I believe! That relieves a lot of stress, and takes a lot of weight off my shoulders.

Now I can just enjoy God, serve Him, love Him, try to demonstrate His unconditional love and leave all the heavy lifting to him! What a deal!

John M. said...

Sorry for the length. I didn't realize my comments were so long until I posted them.

But I'm glad we have this topic on the table. I have been wanting to bring it up for awhile, but have been "chiken" to do it. So, Joseph, I'm glad you did. Thanks for "outing" me on the subject.

What do some of the rest of you think? Surely you lurkers have some sort of response. Is this heresy? Is it allowable on the spectrem of Biblical faith? Have any of you had similar thoughts, questions, musings? Go ahead, shoot me down.

Bob Johnson said...

I own a set of Capon's "Parable" books... I'm in the process of re-reading them. I remember several years ago feeling like someone (Capon)had finally explained what was meant in various parables. Some were an about face to my dug in mindset. Great books, great author --- will enjoy picking them back up again...Sorry Joseph - I feel totally unqualified to comment in detail until I've re-read them!! Dow Robinson actually gave me the set of 3 Capon books..

Billy Long said...

Hey, guys. I have been so busy during the day and after finishing my reports at night, too tired to contribute. I am at work right now and not able to really participate adequately. But I do want to thank Joseph for the kind word about my "Pa Pa's Miracle" article on my blog.
Bless you all. I'll try to jump in when I can.
Billy Long