How recklessly should we sow the seed of God’s Word?

I was stimulated by Louis McBride’s short blog post today, and so I’m sharing the thoughts his post triggered for me. I’d better  clip in the whole of Louis’s post, since it is brief and gives you what fostered my comments.

Louis McBride’s post:

In reading Kevin Harney’s new book Reckless Faith he offers a perspective on the parable of the sower that I’ve not heard before. He writes,

 People who live day-to-day, subsistence farming (like most did in the days of Jesus), would have treated seed with great care and caution. Seed was precious and expensive. . . . What was true for farmers in the days of Jesus is still true today. Seed is valuable, often expensive, and it is not to be wasted. A good farmer does not throw seed recklessly on hard-packed trails and into beds of weeds with no apparent concern for where it lands. No sane farmer in Jesus’s day or our day would treat seed this way.

But this is not the picture we get when we watch the sower in Jesus’s parable. He is not careful. He is not meticulous. He is not cautious. He is radically and irresponsibly reckless. This guy just throws seed . . . everywhere!

He continues,

I have preached this parable may times over the years. Often I have focused on the kinds of soil. It is a powerful picture of different hearts, real people, who are open or closed to the gospel. Those were good sermons and I believe they were true to one message of the parable.

In recent years I have focused more on the sower. The reckless, irresponsible, out-of-control farmer who was throwing seed on paths, in the weeds, in shallow and deep soil . . . everywhere! This sower is beautiful, bold, fearless, and reckless. (29-31)

I thought about this for a week or so but it didn’t seem right. This is one of the few parables where Jesus does offer an interpretation and he says nothing about the character of the sower.  I read a few commentaries but no one really said anything about the sower. No surprise there. But then I looked at Klyne Snodgrass’ Stories with Intent. He wrote the following:

Does the sower sow carelessly and with abandon, possibly mirroring an indiscriminate proclamation of the message, or is his sowing realistic practice in the ancient world? More ink has been spilled on this question than it deserves, but some attention must be given here because the sower’s actions seem odd, at least from modern farming practices. . . . We do not know whether plowing preceded in this case or not, and the parable does not care. Parables do not give unnecessary details. Not is the point that the sower sows haphazardly or with abandon, even on the road where seed will not grow, and no theological conclusions should be drawn along these lines. The point is that the sower sowed and his seed had various results. The farmer does not intentionally sow seed on the road; rather some seed falls alongside the road. That some seed is sown among the thorns could mean the seed is sown among dried thorns from the preceding year that will be plowed under, or it could be merely a brief way to express that seed is sown in a plowed field where thorns will later grow.” (166-67)

In this case I think Snodgrass has the better case.

My reflections 

Snodgrass may be right, but I confess to having been drawn in by Kevin Harney’s reading as Louis quoted it. As an accessibilist, I believe that God gives everyone revelation that has the potential to elicit saving faith by the work of God’s Spirit. Thus, I see God’s own sowing as marvelously prolific – even “the heavens declare the glory of God” and there is nowhere where God’s voice is not heard.

I recall Donald McGavran arguing, in the early days of his development of “church growth” methodology, that we should identify places where the soil is good and concentrate our efforts there. But perhaps, though not a major part of the parable’s intention, there is a small (but different) point being made here for us as sowers. The simple fact is that God does not reveal to us ahead of time in which people’s hearts he has prepared the soil. There is no shortage of this seed of life, so we need not be sparing with it. We can sow it as widely as we are able, always hopeful and prayerful that some upon whose ears and hearts our seed lands will turn out to be those in which God is doing his preparatory work.

“Good soil” is much less obvious to us, as sowers of the Word, than it is to the farmer of physical seed. Our responsibility is not to be fruitful, it is to be faithful, and we can leave with God the determination of the harvest, to whom we will give all the glory when the final reaping is done. To find this in Jesus’ parable could be a tad eisegetical, but not more so than McGavran’s point, I suggest, though not by way of justification.


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

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