Parables [Book Review]

Storytelling is all the rage these days. Whether in the business world or the church, everyone is being encouraged to tell their story. One of the primary reasons for this trend is that storytelling, when done well, is a highly effective way to package truth in a way that conveys abstract concepts through relatable daily experiences.

In his newest book Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed in the Stories Jesus Told, John MacArthur writes about one of history’s master storytellers: Jesus of Nazareth.

Why did Jesus use stories? Early in His ministry, Jesus actually didn’t use parables that often, but as opposition to His message mounted, He made the shift to storytelling. Since parables communicate propositional truth in a narrative format, Jesus could use them to both conceal and reveal truth about Himself and His kingdom. MacArthur explains: “Jesus’ parables had a clear twofold purpose: They hid the truth from self-righteous or self-satisfied people who fancied themselves too sophisticated to learn from Him, while the same parables revealed truth to eager souls with childlike faith–those who were hungering and thirsting for righteousness.” 

In Parables, John MacArthur examines ten of Jesus’ most popular parables using this lens. MacArthur also points out that Jesus’ parables are relatively simple to understand and not the complicated interpretive puzzles that some try to make them. In fact, Jesus often gives the audience the key to interpreting the story. One of the best examples of this is in the parable of the sower where Jesus tells the parable to a general audience (Luke 8:4-8) and then He explains it’s meaning to “those with ears to hear”–His disciples (Luke 8:9-15).

Another example of Jesus helping His followers to interpret His stories is found at the end of the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18. After telling the initial parable, Jesus tacks a propositional truth onto the end: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Using this statement as the key, the reader/listener can go back to the parable and unlock the truth about God’s kingdom found in it.

John MacArthur’s Parables is a helpful book for those wanting to gain a better understanding of how Jesus used storytelling. Parables was written in response to many today who, intentionally or unintentionally, interpret Jesus’ stories as relational maxims, financial principles, or ambiguous fables. In his typical pastoral style, MacArthur makes the case, using both biblical and contextual arguments, that Jesus did have a specific interpretation in mind for each parable. Jesus told His stories with a high level of intentionality to reveal different aspects of His Kingdom: how to enter it, how to live in it, and how to relate to God and others. Only one thing is necessary to accurately grasp these truths: “Faith, prompted and enabled by the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, is the necessary prerequisite for understanding the parables.”

Lawson’s Rating: V out of V

Learn It. Love It. Live It.

More book reviews by Lawson:
Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke
The Post-Church Christian by J. Paul and Carson Nyquist
The Dude’s Guide to Manhood by Darrin Patrick
The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert
Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxes
Jesus Continued… by J.D. Greear
Rise by Trip Lee

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Notable Quotes from Parables

  • “While the parables do illustrate and clarify truth for those with ears to hear, they have precisely the opposite effect on those who oppose and reject Christ. The symbolism hides the truth from anyone without the discipline or desire to seek out Christ’s meaning. That’s why Jesus adopted that style of teaching.”
  • “By His own testimony, the main reason Jesus suddenly adopted the parabolic style had more to do with hiding the truth from hard-hearted unbelievers than explaining the truth to simple-minded disciples.” (see Matt 13:10-15)
  • “Although Jesus was presenting the parables in a way that would obscure the truth from unbelieving ears, no one was excluded against his or her will. Anyone who truly wanted to understand could have asked.”
  • “A person’s response to the Word of God is dependent on the condition of that person’s heart.”
  • “The mark of authentic faith is endurance. Temporary faith is not true faith at all.”
  • “We who believe in Christ are totally dependent on the indwelling Spirit’s work in our hearts to keep us tender, receptive, and ultimately fruitful.”
  • “The proof of true salvation is a life of loving submission to the Lord and His Word.”
  • “People who have devoted their lives to religion do sometimes seem to resent it when God reaches out and graciously redeems someone whom they deem unworthy of divine favor. What we have to bear in mind is that all people are totally unworthy. No one deserves God’s favor.”
  • “Since sinners are all unworthy, and the riches of God’s grace are inexhaustible, all believers receive an infinite and eternal share of His mercy and kindness, though no one really deserves it.”
  • “Heaven is not a reward for a long service or hard work. Some people serve Christ their entire lives, and some for a very short time. We all enter into the same eternal life. We all will receive the same spiritual blessings in heaven.”
  • “The benefits of the kingdom are the same for everyone, because we are redeemed in the first place only by God’s grace, and nothing else. That’s truly good new for you and me; we don’t have to earn our way into the kingdom. Heaven is not based on our merit.”
  • “God does not dismiss the guilt of sinner by pretending their sin never happened. He doesn’t ignore evil, sweep it aside by sheer edit, or acquit sinners capriciously on a whim. Rather, He provided a full and perfect atonement for sin the Person of His own Son. Christ also provides the perfect righteousness that is imputed to those who believe.”
  • “The gospel has nothing to say to people who are satisfied with their own righteousness. There is no truly good news for someone in that state of mind.”
  • “All who are determined to establish a righteousness of their own will fail and thus condemn themselves; but those who submit to the righteousness of God are graciously justified by Him.”
  • “True gospel ministry should point sinners to repentance. It’s not sufficient to tell sinners that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. Before the gospel can some as truly good news, the sinner must have come to grips with the bad news of the law.”
  • “The damned think they are good. The saved know they are wicked. The damned believe the kingdom of God is for those worthy of it. The saved know the kingdom of God is for those who realize how unworthy they are. The Damned believe eternal life is earned. The saved know it’s a gift. The damned seek God’s commendation. The saved seek His forgiveness.”
  • “The difference between a long time and a short time is nothing in God’s timing.”
  • “It is impossible to live the Christian life faithfully unless it is in the light of the Second Coming. Knowing the end of the story gives us confidence and stability.”


About Lawson Hembree
Serving others by building brands. Disciple || Marketer || Entrepreneur || Meatatarian Want to continue the discussion or write a guest post? Let's Connect!

One Response to Parables [Book Review]

  1. Pingback: We Cannot Be Silent [Book Review] | Lawson Hembree's Blog

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