- The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible © 2008
- 236 pages
I grew up proud of the fact that my church didn’t follow a set liturgy—we followed the Spirit instead. I cringe at the arrogance while writing that now, but it used to be my reality. As I grew up I met a professor who explained that every church has their traditions. Some churches take special care to craft a liturgy that’s both theologically accurate and beautiful. Others (like my own) opened with five hymns, passed the offering plates around, and settled in for
a long winter’s nap a fine sermon.
What that professor did for my view of church liturgy, McKnight did for my understanding of how we read the Bible. This is an important book that will shake, rattle, and (hopefully) spur people to rethink how they understand and apply Scripture. Here’s McKnight’s main message: We all pick and choose which parts of scripture we apply today. Let’s admit that fact, and move on. The thing that might disturb people is that we pick and choose not only Old Testament passages, but even the words of Jesus himself! (You don’t believe me? Read the book.)
Once you’ve grasped that we all pick and choose which passages to apply, McKnight offers a three step plan for proper picking:
- Story: Understand that the Bible has an overarching plot that moves forward, and be sure to fit the passage into its proper stage in the narrative.
- Listening: The Bible is a record—a story—of the God who loves us. We need to remember to listen to God as he speaks through his story.
- Discerning: Biblical authors like Paul used scripture and reapplied it in new and vibrant ways in their own contexts. We can use these same methods in our application of scripture today.
The second section of the book (technically, the fourth part) is an extended case study on how to follow the pattern of story-listening-discerning. The topic he tested was the role of women in ministry. This section almost felt like its own book (indeed, many have written books on this). McKnight does a masterful job at setting the so-called problem texts of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 into the overall plot of scripture and thereby revealing what they actually mean.
I would have liked to see more than one major test-case in the book. With fiery topics like homosexual marriage and holy war on CNN daily, choosing the role of women in the church seemed like a safe choice in an otherwise daring work. That said, the test-case was well done, and it equips would-be interpreters to look at other issues on their own.
Let me close this review with four things that I really appreciated about this book:
- Style: McKnight writes in a friendly voice that makes the book a joy to read. I suspect it will be one of those rare books that have the ability to command the attention of those who don’t read too often.
- Realism: McKnight forces you to admit what many evangelicals are in collective denial about: the fact that we apply scripture selectively.
- Passion: I said above that the role of women was an easy topic. It is also clearly a topic close to McKnight’s heart. He writes like he means it.
- Bravery: This book is dangerous. After the Reformation, people had the ability to read scripture in their own tongue and interpret it for themselves. Just look at what happened! I think we have surrendered that privilege in part because interpreting scripture is hard work. We have learned to survive by snatching the crumbs that fall from our tradition’s table. Once people acknowledge their picking-and-choosing, and do it intentionally, the door will swing wide for many divergent interpretations. We will not all agree, but it will force us to go back to the story, to listen to the Spirit, and to discern what to do next.
I can hardly wait to share this with a discussion group in the future. I imagine it will free many people.