Reflections from The Blue Parakeet

I have kicked off my New Year’s reading with Scot McKnight’s very interesting book on biblical interpretation: The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking how you read the Bible. The book is built around the metaphor of McKnight seeing a blue parakeet in their back yard at the bird feeder – an escapee pet blue parakeet. McKnight uses the concept of the parakeet to apply to teachings in the Bible that don’t “fit.”

He begins by asserting all of us are inconsistent in the way we read the Bible. I love the brass tacks approach he takes – direct, yet tactful and humorous. He uses several examples of the ways we are inconsistent with our applications – “We all pick and choose” how to apply the Bible, McKnight states. Whether it’s the sabbath, tithing, foot washing, surrendering our possessions, or a host of other contentious issues (ie. abortion, war, homosexuality, etc.), we all pick and choose what we want the Bible to say. I didn’t find this statement all that earth-shattering, but he dresses his argument in a palatable way that is difficult to argue.

He asserts our inconsistency, and then provides keys for moving forward in our interpretation of the Bible. Central to his proposal is that the Bible must be understood as fundamentally a story (narrative). Contrary to what many critics have accused, reading the Bible as story is actually more involved and complicated than other options. We have become lazy in our Bible reading. Think about how much more time consuming it is to consider the entire biblical story in framing a text as opposed to taking the text as a tidbit of teaching!

McKnight outlines the narratives in what he calls “wiki-stories” (Creating eikons, cracked eikons, covenant community, Christ (the perfect Eikon) redeems, consumation). He states: “The unity of the Bible is this story. It is this story that puts the Bible together. Our grand systems do not form the unity of the Bible; the story that God tells forms and frames that unity.” p. 67. This unity and wiki-stories approach to Scripture is how I have learned to frame all of my teaching and preaching in recent years. It is, as McKnight states, much more complicated and involved, and takes deep committment to the stories.

Next, McKnight explores the relationship between the Christian and the Bible. He wants to clearly affirm that the Bible must not be equated to God. “God gave us this papered Bible to lead us to love his person. But the person and the paper are not the same.” p. 87. The Bible is a means to an end . . . and too often we have made it the end. I think McKnight really helps to ground us and remind us what the chief end of the Bible’s teaching is in the first place. “Our relationship to the GOd of the BIble is to listen to God so we can love him more deeply and love others more completely.” (p. 96).

He brings this all to bear in our every day application of the Bible in the final section addressing interpretion entitled “Discernment.” In this section he addresses the matter of consistency and knowing how to “apply” teaching and how to “disregard” teaching. He’s not so interested in the specifics invovled at this point, but in the process we go through in determining this. I believe this is the most overlooked step in our churches today. We just right in to the “issues” (women’s place, homosexuality, worship battles, ethical quandries, etc.) and we fail to realize that these issues are not the issue. The real issue is discernment. How do we do with the teachings that are there. McKnight goes on to address the matter of women in ministry and leadership for the last third of the book. I have seen some reviewers critical of the amount of time he spends on that issue, but I believe it provides a good case study and makes practical the matters he’s laid out in the first sections of the book.

One of McKnight’s main points throughout the book is that God has always communicated with people in their ways and in thier days. This requires great discernment and process in bridging the gap between their days and our days and their ways and our ways. I think the following statement is a good summary of what McKnight is working towards:

“What is good for Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Ezra, Jesus, Peter and Paul is also good for us. But, the precise expression of the gospel or the manner of living of Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Ezra, Jesus, Peter, and Paul may not b e our expression or our manner of lving. Living our the Bible means living out the Bible in our day in our way by discerning together God would have us live.” p. 143.

For what it’s worth, I think McKnight is right on in this book. He provides a way forward in a time when we are quickly nearing an impasse in our churches as our hermeneutics prove insufficient for today’s cultural challenges and vicissitudes (I like to throw that word in there whenever I can – thanks to Mr. Johnson my high school American history teacher). What he states about women in ministry I believe will be pivotal for churches to understand. It is something that many churches wish to ignore arguing – that’s just the way that it is. However, we must begin asking what God is communicating to us today in our way.

McKnight’s thesis in this book reminds me of a more evangelical clothed approach that Luke Timothy Johnson sets forth in Scripture and Discernment (I don’t think McKnight ever references the work), and Johnson uses as his case study the more difficult issue, for many Christians, of homosexuality. Discernment is not easy and diversity is difficult, however, I hope that Christians will only become more willing to listen to one another and understand one another instead of demonizing and hating one another. The Emergent Village has gone a long way in increasing everyone’s presence at the theological table. As the table becomes larger, those sitting there now will be faced with difficult choices and interesting discussions will abound. I believe we are on the cusp of a revival . . . but it will be a revival that looks much differently than previous ones.

I will be beginning a series of posts next week that will be especially challenging for most to grasp. I am preparing a paper for a conference this summer, and in preparation for it, I will be reading several books on the matters of nationalism and the intersection of faith and politics. If you have read much here, you probably have sensed that I have a strong pacifist leaning towards political invovlement coming partly from my tradition (David Lipscomb, Lee Camp) and also some of the ideology I have been exposed to in recent years (Stanley Hauerwas, J.H. Yoder, et al.) This will be a particularly difficult discussion for many to participate in, and even for some to stomach the reading. I won’t focus on this topic exclusively, but that will be a major focus of mine through the next several months. [As a side note, I missed the recent video from the Truth Project entitled “The American Project” and from all that I have heard about it, strikes fundamentally against what I will be affirming in my upcoming project. I find it extremely unfortunate that so many Christians have so easily bowed to the idol of nationalism.] I hope you will give me the benefit of the doubt, that you will hear me out, and that you will allow the discernment process to take place, because much of what I will set forth will probably be new to many of your thinking. I hope you find it beneficial and will be prompted to pariticipation. I’ll work on not being so verbose in these things . . . I just type . . . type . . . type my little heart out. That’s enough. God bless you.

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