Snodgrass Practices, and Publishes, What He Preaches
CHICAGO, IL (June 10, 2008) - Klyne Snodgrass says his newly published opus, Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, was written for selfish reasons.
“I wrote this for myself,” says the longtime North Park Theological Seminary professor of New Testament studies. “This is what I want when I teach or preach.”
Biblical scholars are predicting the book will become the premier work on the parables. Graham Stanton, professor of New Testament studies at the University of Cambridge, writes, “This books is simply a stunning achievement.… [It] has no rival: it will be the book on the parables for the next decade and beyond.”
Methodist bishop and renowned preacher William H. Willimon writes, “Here in one volume is the latest and best interpretation of the parables of Jesus.”
“This book … ends the need for a dozen or so other books on your shelves,” claims North Park University professor Scot McKnight.
Some liken it to a crowning achievement, but Snodgrass wants to take issue with that statement. “I hope it’s not the crowning achievement,” he says, laughing. “I have other projects I want to do.”
The book runs more than 800 pages, nearly 200 of which are endnotes. “I didn’t want it to be this long,” Snodgrass says. “It took way longer than I thought. The process takes on its own life.”
Stories with Intent is the culmination of decades of study—and frustration. Snodgrass has taught a class on the parables every other year for thirty-five years, but says, “There was never anything I felt good about using as a text that really did the job.”
After a relatively brief introduction, the book discusses all thirty-five of Jesus’s parables. Each chapter is broken into sections that focus on the type of parable; issues requiring attention; excerpts from primary material, including early Jewish and Christian writings; textual features; cultural information; explanations for each of the issues raised earlier; and ways of adapting the parable for the modern hearer.
Snodgrass hopes the book will help others move beyond many of the common misconceptions and poor preaching on the parables. “The title is a protest because so often people manipulate the text to say other than what Jesus was saying as a prophet,” he says.
He gives extensive attention to the contexts in which the parables were told because, “context is the only determiner of meaning.” Interpreters are walking on dangerous ground without that understanding.
Snodgrass’s view of parables has changed dramatically over the years. “I grew up in a Baptist church with sermons that were three points and a poem,” he recalls. “I actually had a reaction against story. It took awhile of working with parables to bring me back around and deal with story as a terribly powerful media.”
Like other scholars, Snodgrass notes how relatively ordinary the stories are. The only parable in which God actually appears is the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21). However, “there are enough allusions in the others that anyone in first-century Judaism would know what was being talked about,” he says.
The parables are so powerful precisely because they are stories, Snodgrass says. “Story is a place where a different world can be created. A narrator can control what happens—what the motives are, what the outcome is. Within that, you can make a theological point.”
Snodgrass says much of history has been an exercise in missing the message: “Time after time after time, people have taken the parables and done whatever they want. Some interpretations are just weird.”
He notes that early church interpreters tended to allegorize even the minutiae of a parable, a practice that led to fanciful interpretations. Other misinterpretations have arisen from a later argument—popular until only recently—that parables could only have one point. But, Snodgrass contends, “these are prophetic stories written to Israel to confront and enlighten them, and in the process, to confront and enlighten us.”
“The things that became quite clear to me over and over and over, is that parables are about three things: they’re trying to make you listen, they want to enable you to see, and they want to make you act. The parables are pushing for obedience.”
Ultimately, the parables call followers to live out their identity. “If you don’t show mercy and compassion, you can’t be following Jesus,” Snodgrass says.
The stories Jesus told stories most often point to what happens if followers fail to act accordingly. “The parables are not primarily about grace; they are more likely to be about judgment,” Snodgrass says. “What prophet ever came that did not talk about judgment? Jesus is a prophet. He is telling the nation how they have failed God and what the consequences are.”
Snodgrass says that judgment is an unpopular word in many theological circles and all too popular in others. “Some people say let’s not talk about judgment because it makes people feel bad or suggests the wrong kind of God,” Snodgrass says. “Then you have other people who are mad at everybody else and all they want to talk about is judgment.”
To not discuss judgment at all, however, is to deny God’s love, Snodgrass says. “There’s too much evil in the world. If God is not going to judge evil, then what kind of God is he? If you don’t have judgment, you don’t have grace. You don’t have salvation.”