Another important parable that Jesus Himself interprets. It is surely instructive to examine every parable of Jesus recorded in Scripture and ask oneself in all honestly, does this fit with my current understanding of the gospel and what my particular church teaches concerning it? My heart, mind and conscience affirms that the Lord’s teaching, not just in the two parables highlighted in these posts but taken as a package cannot be made to fit the concept of gospel salvation that I first embraced as a Christian nearly 50 years ago. For example, my understanding at the time was “once saved always saved”, contradicted absolutely by the parable of the sower. Those who receive the seed on the stony ground receive the gospel with joy (and so will be perceived by themselves and others to have acted upon it) but it does not last for they have no root in themselves. Likewise, those whose seed was sown amongst thorns and are distracted by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.
This is an observable reality; it is not “all of grace” or else the seed would either be in good ground or snatched away altogether. Paul might appear to be contradicting this (and himself elsewhere) in Phil1:6, but he is referring to the Church of Philippi as a whole that he was confident God would continue the work He had begun in them, not necessarily every individual. Of course, God will never forsake the individual, but the latter may depart from God as all the apostles elsewhere testify. It also needs to be pointed out that the parable concerns those who hear “the word of the Kingdom”, and a faithful rendition of it at that. In view of historical cultural and religious formation that will be the minority of people who have occupied the planet.
In terms of the gospel itself, as a young Evangelical I had understood it primarily to be a matter of “fiducial disposition” – in particular a conviction of moral impotence; an awareness and acknowledgement of my inability to do by nature anything pleasing to God, resulting in the saving act of “apprehending gospel mercy” or “closing with Christ’s offers of mercy” as my old Reformed text books would refer to the matter. To the chagrin of many it is necessary to demonstrate this to be erroneous if God’s broader providence is to be affirmed. God’s plan of loving goodness for His creation can only be perceived and underpinned from Scripture by acknowledging the reality of natural law (cf. Jn1:9; Rom2:14,15 Greek) and distinguishing between the forensic (pardoning) and participatory (spiritually empowering) benefits of the Atonement. The latter could only function within a synergistic and sacramental economy that Christians of my former ilk reject. Hence the unavoidable need for a root and branch deconstruction of the theology** I had embraced for the first 30 years of my Christian life but also the acknowledgement that the distinctive teachings of a first millennium Catholic Doctor (Augustine) and the way he interpreted Paul lay behind many of these misconceptions.
I sense from responses I have received that many would long for the kind of providence I have been outlining. Regrettably unless we are content to become scriptural liberals or mere wishful thinkers that cannot be achieved without acknowledging that all of us within our particular traditions may have got certain matters (Paul’s writings especially) substantially wrong in the past. From such an honest predisposition might the Body of Christ be healed and united so that a unified rendering of the Good News of the Kingdom can be proclaimed to the nations, whilst those who are to be its princes can be suitably tutored and equipped to provide an offering of righteousness to their Lord and Saviour at His coming.
**A theology set out in detail in “the Little Book of Providence” – free PDF available HERE