The Parables of Peanutsby Robert L. Short
First Published in 1968, This contemporary case for vigorous Christian faith profusely illustrated by Charles Schulz's delightful peanuts cartoon strips sheds more light on the Christian faith and how it is to be lived than many more "serious" theological works, with hundreds of cartoons featuring your favorite peanuts characters Charlie Brown, Lucy,… See more details below
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First Published in 1968, This contemporary case for vigorous Christian faith profusely illustrated by Charles Schulz's delightful peanuts cartoon strips sheds more light on the Christian faith and how it is to be lived than many more "serious" theological works, with hundreds of cartoons featuring your favorite peanuts characters Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, And of course, Snoopy (including the earliest red baron strips). This book's wise observations are as timeless as they are timely.
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The Church, like Charlie Brown, is not used to having somebody listen to what it says. Occasionally, again like Charlie Brown, it is surprised, but this also is unusual. This is too bad for the Church, because the Church lives in order that others might listen and hear -- really hear. This is what the Church is, the Ekklesia, those called of God to tell of God in word and deed. Everything it does -- absolutely everything -- is done for this purpose, "for edification" (Rom 15:2; 1 Cor 14:26). Then what should the Church do if only few seem to be listening? Turn up the volume? Resort to more and louder direct appeals, the "Lucy approach"? "So you don't believe me, eh, Charlie Brown?" she says to him in one cartoon. "Well, let's see...How can I put it so you do? I suppose I should make it simple, clear and direct...BELIEVE ME!!" she shouts at him at the top of her "fussbudget champion" voice. But Charlie Brown is only flipped over by the force of her shriek. He does not believe.
Why is this? Why is it that so often the message of the Church falls on deaf ears? We will want to say more about this problem later, but primarily it exists because all men show up in the world spiritually deaf. They cannot hear, even if they should want to. This is why Christ could say, even to people eager to believe in him, "Why do you not understand my language? It is because my revelation is beyond your grasp. Your father is the devil and you choose to carry out your father's desires....He who has God for his father listens to the words of God. You are not God's children; that is why you do not listen" (Jn 8:43,44, 47, NEB). This means then that it is no good trying to shout into man's spiritual ears when it is those very ears that have been closed from the beginning in the first place. "You can knock forever on a deaf man's door" (Kazantzakis). Those ears first must be opened, and always from the outside.
The natural man, man just as "human nature" originally and naturally is in this world, is what the New Testament calls a "strong man" (cf. 1 Cor 1:27). Basically, he feels he has the answer to all of life's problems; hence his "strength." Life is simply a matter of applying this answer to the various problems as they arise. And since the answer that all men originally take for granted is never the answer of Christianity, Christianity knows that this false faith we originate with must first fail us before we stand any chance of accepting Christianity's answer. One must first come around to asking a basic question before there can ever be a change in basic answers. But far too often the Church cheapens its answer by making it aggressively available for "strong men" before they are even aware that they need it. This tendency of the Church to "answer before it is asked" is what the New Testament calls "feeding your pearls to pigs: they will only trample on them, and turn and tear you to pieces" (Mt 7:6, NEB) -like this:
There is an apocryphal Peanuts cartoon that I have seen on several college campuses in which the first panel shows Schroeder holding a sign that says "Christ is the Answer!" In the final panel, Snoopy is holding a sign that says, "What is the question?" This rather stupid Schroeder-like lack of tact on the part of the Church is no small problem, because, as Kierkegaard could say, "A direct attack only strengthens a person in his illusion, and at the same time embitters him. There is nothing that requires such gentle handling as an illusion, if one wishes to dispel it."' Bonhoeffer could be even more explicit:
Every attempt to impose the gospel by force, to run after people and proselytize them, to use our own resources to arrange the salvation of other people, is both futile and dangerous. It is futile, because the swine do not recognize the pearls that are cast before them, and dangerous because it profanes the word of forgiveness.... Worse still, we shall only meet with the blind rage of hardened and darkened hearts, and that will be useless and harmful. Our easy trafficking with the word of cheap grace simply bores the world to disgust, so that in the end it turns against those who try to force on it what it does not want.
In the following cartoon, Snoopy does a good job of playing the role of this kind of "aggressive evangelist," the "mountain lion" type, which Bonhoeffer just described. We'll let Linus be "the strong man":
If then "direct attacks" on strong men produce only this kind of result, especially when those attacks are by the Church -- the community of "the weak" (1 Cor 1:27) -- how can the Church best approach them? The answer to this question has been given to the Church by Christ himself when he said: "No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house" (Mk 3:27).
Today the same question still arises that was put to Christ: "Why do you speak to them in parables?" (Mt 13:10). For, as the New Testament makes clear, "All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable" (Mt 13:34); and, "With many such parables he would give [the crowds] his message, so far as they were able to receive it. He never spoke to them except in parables; but privately to his disciples he explained everything" (Mk 4:33, 34, NEB). C. H. Dodd calls the parables "the most characteristic element in the teaching of Jesus." But why did Jesus speak to them in parables? Why did Christ choose an artistic, indirect, parabolic, generally puzzling means of expression rather than launching immediately into a forceful, no-nonsense "direct attack"? The answer is obvious: the people he spoke to were basically "strong men," men of this world, just as all men of all times basically are. And "no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man."The Parables of Peanuts. Copyright � by Robert L. Short. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
Robert L. Short has been writing and lecturing on Charles Schulz's Peanuts cartoon strips and the gospel for more than forty years. He is the author of the huge bestsellers The Gospel According to Peanuts and The Parables of Peanuts. An ordained minister and a widely traveled speaker in theology and the arts, Short was a close friend of Charles Schulz and holds graduate degrees in theology and literature from S.M.U., North Texas University, and the University of Chicago Divinity School.
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Who would have thought that our 'Peanuts' friends were orators of so many deep spiritual truths? Short's explanation of and purpose for parable alone was well worth the time invested in reading 'Parables of Peanuts'. I felt as though the author helped me walk through many puzzling Biblical truths like a man being led through a forest, hand-in-hand, by an excited child who was very familiar with the environment and enthusiastically pointing out simple beauties that my 'adult-ness' had blinded any appreciation at all. This book of 'simplified complexities' makes it a safe read to recommend to any of my friends - from the casual inquirer to those in professional ministry. Such an oxymoron can only be understood by those who appreciate a tear on the cheek of an elderly person while a congregation sings 'Jesus Loves Me, This I Know'.