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The Parable Project

A Call to Spiritual Fiction

Jesus entered the world as a story teller; a teacher whose stories communicated vision, purpose and vivid images that kindled the imaginations of those who heard him and kindled the imaginations of those who would later write down his stories. He entered the world in a culture that was rich with stories, stories given by God himself about whom they were, how they came to be, and how God had worked among them to reveal himself and his will. Jesus entered into that world to find a culture that had tried to codify the stories, to reduce them to rules and laws that men could apply to assure by those rules that they were being obedient to their God.

But the people did not want rules. Rules killed the spirit and stole the spirit of the stories; rules allowed men to gain power over other men and distort the purpose of God. The rules supplanted the power of the story and made men’s relationship with their God lifeless, burdened and subject to the interpretation of those in power. The rules enslaved the people, rather than setting them free.

When Jesus entered and saw this twisted culture, he did not revolt, nor did he argue about the rules and their interpretations, nor he did not write a thesis or treatise on some fine points of interpretive law. For the most part, he told stories. “A king held a great banquet…”, “A man went out to sew seeds…” “The kingdom of God is like a man who found a treasure hidden in a field …”, “… One night the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat …”

Each story fired the imagination of the hearers and they were “amazed at his teaching, because it was not like that of the scribes and Pharisees.” Jesus reminded them of their story-telling heritage; reminded them of the power of the story: Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Adam … He reminded them that most of what they knew and most of what inspired them and kindled their souls for God came to them through stories.

The people listened. They went home to their families and told the stories over and over, because though they knew they did not understand them fully, they remembered them and knew that there was depth and power that transcended the law. Years later, when men, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, began to write about Jesus, they wrote stories. It was not a documentary, not a travel log, not a scholarly treatise, but simple a story: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,” “In the beginning was the word …”

The story contained the stories of Jesus. “Ten virgins were invited to a wedding …”, “The kingdom of God is like a man who built his house on the rock …” From this story, told four times over through different eyes, generations of disciples have been kindled into profound allegiance to the man of the story. Millions of books have been written, exploring the meaning of the story and the meaning of the stories in the story. Countless hours of wondrous discussions and meditations have centered on the story.

It is the story that still stirs our souls today. When we think of the Old Testament, our hearts do not immediately leap to Leviticus. Though we may study it and strive to understand it, we are inspired by the stories of Moses and Joseph, Abraham, Jacob, Daniel and the lions, Joshua and the day the sun stood still, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, about Jonathan and his armor bearer and David and Goliath—in them we see our God. In the stories we taste courage and fear, glory and power, the thrill of victory and the agony of ignominious defeat.

In our sermons, we use stories to illustrate biblical principles, some of them fiction, some from the real life inspirations that show us faith and grace in action, and it is the stories that we remember most vividly and are most able to repeat.

The power of the story to reach into the hearts and minds of men is unique. It takes the hearer aside, takes the first person out of the equation and says, “Look at how God interacts with this man—look at what this man did and how God responded. See the power, see the love, see the severity of God in his dealings with men.” The hearer walks away with the responsibility to make the analogy to himself and his life. The application to the first person comes with the realization that in this world, each man or woman is first person in their own story before God and must shoulder that responsibility themselves. He who has ears will hear the story’s application in his heart and his heart will move in response. To those who are blind to the story in the moment, there will be no offense or insult. Perhaps another story on another day will open the window into their hearts and minds.

As I see this and realize how God has worked in my life through his stories, I cannot help but wonder whether there is not a greater need for stories today. With the recent spate of articles, treatises, letters and doctrinal stances in the fellowship of the saints, the shear volume of argument and reason makes my mind spin and my heart wonder where it will all lead.

Here I offer an alternate vision: suppose one has an argument to make or a point to point at someone. Instead of stomping their literary foot with another thirty page argument, they simply wrote a story, a tale or maybe a parable that captured the essence of that point: a story that was simple and memorable, that readers could relate to and say, “Ahh, that is worth thinking about a little more”. Such stories would be retold and eagerly passed on to others to think about and ponder in their prayer times and on their way to work in their cars.

Suppose we filled the internet with stories that inspire allegiance and love, patience and kindness, personal triumph and power. Suppose we filled our web pages with parables that make doctrine relatable, that make our churches into the places where we want to be, that give fresh vision to our eyes and strength to those who are faint at heart, stories that remove the we and the them and simply stand alone to expose fresh thinking.

The Parable Project if an ambitious project to give a forum to the story tellers among us; a place to tell such stories. The project starts with a simple call to the brotherhood of believers: if one has something to say, stop for a moment and reflect on whether there is a story that could capture that thought and make it relatable and illustrate some great truth without pointing fingers or taking a stand. Is there a story that would expose clear and godly thinking in a memorable context and would give the readers or the listeners pause to reflect and share with others.

The second step is to create a forum where the stories could be promoted. The vision here is to have a website devoted to these modern day parables. It would be a site where readers could browse and read, with explicit permission given to pass the stories on to others. Readers could contribute their own writings to the site. There could be sections devoted to true parables, fictional vignettes that embody simple spiritual truths, to short stories that inspire faith, some of them true and some of them purely fictional, to spiritual poetry and to issue based fiction that demonstrates spiritual ideas in action.

This vision does not have to be complete in order to get started. If this is of interest or you wish to contribute to the project, please contact me.