Friday, April 16, 2010

re-framing the prodigal in regard to fresh expressions and established church

Ben Edson has re-written the parable of the Prodigal son/Waiting Father/Faithful son/absent prodigal daughter (choose your title with care, because each character opens up a different interpretive lens).

There was a mother who had two sons. The youngest one said to his mother, mother thanks for the years that you’ve looked after me, thanks for all that you’ve give me, but I think that you’ve got it wrong. I’m going to take all that I have inherited from you and go off to country foreign to you and experiment.

After being away for sometime the younger son started to recognise that he had been foolish and needed the love and support of the mother. He decided to go home back to the mother. He would say to her: I am sorry that I left you, your resources are so diverse, I miss you and I want to be part of your family.

The first part is here. The conclusion, offering 3 alternative endings

  • the institutional church’s slow grinding to death of innovation
  • the arrogance of fresh expressions
  • an embrace between margin and centre

is here. It’s a wonderful example of re-framing and re-creating, and a fascinating use of Scripture.

Initially I loved it, the creativity, the multiplicity of endings. But now I’m not at all sure. When I have the words to name my unease, I’ll try to complete this post by explaining why …

At 11:31 am: I think it’s to do with the framing of home, which in the parable is static and stable. It seems in contrast to the church as pilgrim, following a pilgrim God. I would rather that no-one, neither fresh expression nor established, felt a need to remain connected to a historic static, stable home.

This has bugged me in relation to all the Parables in Luke 15. In the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd brings the sheep home. I reckon that churches then hear that as the pastor does the mission, goes looking for the lost, and when they are successful, bring it back to the (attractional) church, who have been waiting. Mission is not for the whole people of God, but for the shepherd. Church is static, stable, waiting. (To make this point, see my re-missionalising of the parable of the lost sheep here.)

It seems too easy, in Ben’s creative re-reading, for church to be seen not as among the pig scraps, but as part of the institution, waiting for the fresh expression. Church is a static, waiting home.

At 1:56 pm. At the same time, there’s something in the fact that we live in post-Christendom times in the West. Whether we like it or not, the Christian story is polluted by the actions of history. We are not in brand new mission terrain where the local folk are hearing the story for the first time. So the younger son needs to stop dreaming of “fresh”, and focus on home, which is polluted and muddied. So in that sense Ben’s use of the parable has real strength.

Posted by steve at 11:27 AM


  1. Yes Steve, I agree. When the son regrets his decision he returns to a home that is far from perfect: broken, but loving father, jealous & angry brother, servants watching from the edges. The parable with its open ending suggests more healing, forgiving and home making to be done. Church, far from perfect, but broken people on a journey. ‘The Parable of the broken home’ – no neat answers or familial bliss.

    Comment by Chris McLeod — April 16, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

  2. or are we reading too much into the parables, which are about God’s love for people, not one expression of church or another?

    and in response to Chris’s comment – it takes a lot of imagination to extend the story to assume that the child returns from the journey and implements the learning by helping the home to become vital and alive once more, which would be the hope of the fresh expressions churches — but then again, you’d want the home to be alive enough to actually give life to the fresh expressions – i return to my original thought that the parable has been taken too far here …

    Comment by Sarah — April 16, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

  3. the reinterpretation is problematic on many levels, i.e the church is static, but interestingly in the parable of the prodigal son so is God. God always remains at home…that’s missiologically problematic.

    Buf it it opens our mind to question and reflect, then I’m more than happy.

    Comment by Ben Edson — April 17, 2010 @ 1:18 am

  4. I think all texts carry a surplus of meaning and thats’ what we’re talking about here, trying to wonder how that surplus might stimulate our imagination in our current contexts. I love the way Ben is using the parable to invite us to consider relationships, which I think are at the heart of this parable. What I find problematic, and this is an ongoing problem I have with the way God and church are narrated in Luke 15, is that they are static.


    Comment by steve — April 17, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  5. “or are we reading too much into the parables, which are about God’s love for people, not one expression of church or another?”
    I agree wholeheartedly that this Parable indeed illustrates God’s love for people, but I would also argue the case that love, by its very nature, is active. I guess that is what we see in the final decision of the younger Son; when he comes to he finds that his choice to spurn his home lead him into his predicament. The very picture of the Father running headlong to the Son heading toward him, certainly captures the active spirit of this love (did I just write that it was not the Father who was static, but the home?)
    Steve, to be honest I never saw the notion of ‘stasis’ in this Parable until reading your post and the links provided. Would it be fair to say that the notion of this ‘stasis’ is a product of the Greco-Roman influence handed down over the years, as opposed to the Hebraic view of God as active in the world He has made?

    Comment by Ryan — April 18, 2010 @ 8:10 am

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