Sometimes a book comes along that sweeps you off your feet with a strong breath of fresh air and forces you to rethink something that you thought you had worked out. Scot McKnight's book The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible does exactly that. I love this book!
The blue parakeet that McKnight refers to comes from an experience he had in his back yard when a pet blue parakeet flew in and disrupted the normal social life of the birds usually inhabiting the area. The blue parakeet becomes a metaphor for Bible passages that disrupt our normal habitual approaches to reading the Bible and force us to reflect on whether they are appropriate. The "blue parakeet passages" are those like texts on the Sabbath, tithing, foot washing, charismatic gifts, and surrendering possessions. Or those that are related to contentious issues like evolution, Calvinism, war, abortion, and homosexuality.
McKnight describes the way in which Christians (all Christians), despite claims to believing and practicing all that the Bible says, actually pick and choose what we really take and apply. For example, many who claim that they practice what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath don't actually stone those who disregard it. In other words, they interpret the Bible in such a way as to not require themselves to practice all that the Bible actually says on a particular subject.
For McKnight, this raises the obvious question: How, then, are we to live out the Bible today? The "blue parakeet" passages of the Bible provide an opportunity for us to explore how we actually read it. These passages
... lead us deeper into thought... When we encounter blue parakeets in the Bible or in the questions of others, whether we think of something as simple as the Sabbath or foot washing or as complex and emotional as women in church ministries or homosexuality, we have to stop and think. Is this passage for today or not? Sometimes we hope the blue parakeets will go away... Or perhaps we shoo them away. Or perhaps we try to catch them and return them to their cage....
How we respond to passages and questions will determine if we become aware of what is going on or not. When chance encounters with blue parakeet passages in the Bible happen to come our way, we are given the opportunity to observe and learn. In such cases, we really do open ourselves to the thrill of learning how to read the Bible. But ... we have to get over our fears and learn to adjust to the squawks of the Bible's blue parakeets. We dare not tame them. (pp. 24-25)
McKnight discusses three ways that we commonly read the Bible and the advantages and disadvantages of each. All of the approaches he discusses entail us, the reader, trying to tame the Bible rather than letting the Bible be what it is — a story that requires us to listen carefully and discern what it means to apply it to today. During the rest of the book, McKnight unpacks these three words:
Story Listening Discerning
For McKnight, '[t]hat's all we need to know. It's all in those three words. The next three parts look at each of these three words. First, McKnight demonstrates how the essential nature of the Bible is story. If we are to understand the Bible we must grapple with this essential nature of Scripture. We need to come to understand the overarching plot of all the individual 'wiki-stories' (as he calls the various sub-stories in all the various books of Scripture).
McKnight then moves to the nature of listening to the story arguing for a relational approach. Listening means listening to God speak via story with a missional approach. The key passages are 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and Psalm 119. The chapter on listening to Scripture is the most "theological" of the book.
Next comes the section on discerning the way in which what we hear in Scripture applies to today. For McKnight, as we examine a number of blue parakeet passages of Scripture, asking ourselves why we don't practice what the Bible actually says literally, we can uncover a pattern of discernment. The pattern of discernment is:
as we read the Bible and locate each item in its place in the Story, as we listen to God speak to us in our world through God's ancient Word, we discern — through God's Spirit and in the context of our community of faith — a pattern of how to live in our world. The church of every age is summoned by God to the Bible to listen so we can discern a pattern for living the gospel that is appropriate for our age. Discernment is part of the process we are called to live. (p. 129, emphasis in original)
This 'pattern of discernment' is at the heart of reading the Bible for McKnight. He believes that we operate on this principle most of the time but rarely make it explicit or admit that we are doing it.
In order to demonstrate how story, listening, and discernment can help us understand the application of Scripture today, the fourth part of the book explores a case study in rethinking how we read the Bible with women in ministries as the topic. And what a journey it is! Exploring this case study with McKnight is profoundly enlightening and exciting as his approach brings clarity to what is often fuzzy and confused.
For many of us, reading the Bible as Story will be new — particularly if we have been brought up in traditions that have emphasised mining the Bible for proof texts and propositions of truth out of context to build and defend our own humanly constructed systematic theologies, creeds, and statements of belief.
The Blue Parakeet is a powerful, engaging, easy-to-read, profound book that will, indeed, challenge you to rethink the way you read the Bible. I would say that it is one of the most important books you could read about reading Scripture. I agree with John Ortberg who wrote:
If you are interested in the Bible, or God, or your mind, or where these three might intersect, you will be blessed if you read this book. (back cover)
... and Phyllis Tickle, who declares this book to be
... far and away the best, gentlest, most intelligent argument [she has] ever read for the absolute necessity of embracing the Bible as story. (back cover)
The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible is one of the best books I have ever read on how to read, understand, and apply the Bible in our lives today.
Steve Parker reviews movies and books and comments on things of interest to Christians who are thoughtful about their faith on his blog, Thinking Christian, where this review was first published. He writes from Adelaide, Australia.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1609