Dec 9 2011

How the Parables of Jesus Taught Me How to Read Theological Training

A ParabolaIt’s the other way around, isn’t it? A school of theology should teach the aspiring biblical scholar how to read the parables of Jesus with the correct exegetical tools and provide the necessary skills for aptitude in interpretation. While this has been the case for me via a number of exegesis courses at Candler School of Theology, I would also like to use this space to illustrate in broad strokes how my experience with New Testament parabolic literature has trained me to read (perceive, examine, and indeed, exegete) the form, function, and nature of my seminary/theological training.

If the reader will forgive some generalizations, I’ll begin by commenting on a few things that characterize Jesus’ parables before demonstrating their application to my experience at CST. I have gleaned much of this from Steven Kraftchick’s Parables of Jesus course during this semester. First of all, parables are perhaps the best locus for seeing one of the foundational elements of language, namely metaphor. As is indicated in the term itself, a parable casts one (imagined or innovated) reality alongside another. In the case of Jesus’ parables, metaphoricity creates, via fictive (and often extended) analogy, another way of seeing a present reality like the Kingdom of God. Parables also often take the form of a narrative. A story is constructed with particular narrative dynamics, grounded in modes of being and thinking not unfamiliar to the intended audience, and with certain parameters that act to focus attention on one thing or another. An effective parable will meet the requisite cognitive and affective conditions so that the reader/hearer will at first find herself comfortable in the world constructed by the narrative analogy. It will then, either in the body or conclusion, shift typical cultural evaluations of meaning, most often by proffering unanticipated behavior by one or several of the parable’s characters. This shift allows (or perhaps forces) the audience to rethink their present reality in light of the slanted perspective of the parable. This is similar to Kierkegaard’s notion of “wounding from behind.”

The aforementioned characteristics of Jesus’ parables and my meditation on them in and outside of Dr. Kraftchick’s course have helped me to rethink precisely what I am doing and, more importantly, what is happening to me at CST. I have come to see that my training here is more than a 2-year data acquisition program. My relationships here, the coursework, the reading assignments, the papers and projects all cast alongside my vision of life an alternative and fictive account of reality. Furthermore, it is cast in the structure of a narrative. I don’t think in binary. Rather, I recount and contemplate my experiences in the form of story. My participation in Timothy Jackson’s Christian Ethics course begins with a relative feeling of ease concerning my certainty about morality, the ethics of war, Christian character, etc. But it is not long before I find myself “thinking it slant,” being cognitively coerced into reformulating the ethical boundaries of the Christian life. The conversations I have with friends after a day of class take me to the liminal spaces of my theological imagination and I am given a glimpse of an alternative world, wherein the life-destroying and oppressive systems of violent domination have lost their dominion. In short, reading parables has taught me how to read my time at Candler School of Theology and, for that, I am indeed grateful.

- Justin Rose

Justin is a 2nd year MTS student from Florida and a Student Ambassador.