‘The Blue Parakeet – rethinking how you read the bible‘ is the latest book from NT scholar Scot McKnight.
He uses two key metaphors round which to hang his thesis. The first provides the book with its title, and derives from a personal story of a blue parakeet which appeared among the more regular birds in his garden. It represents those passages of scripture that we’d rather ignore or avoid or simply try and squeeze into a pre-existing interpretive framework.
The second metaphor is of a water slide. The slide has two sides, a fast flow of water and a purpose, to deliver us safely into the water at the end. The intent of the metaphor is to illustrate how, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the tradition of the church and the bible itself are there to guide the believer where she or he is meant to go. The book moves to and fro between these metaphors offering us a way of reading the bible and living it out.
He describes the bible as a series of wiki-stories, to which we are called to add our own, guided by the Spirit and in concert with the history and tradition of the church. Our relationship to the God of the bible is critical, according to McKnight, and he encourages us to read the bible in the context of the grand overarching story. Reading within this story, (essentially that of creation, fall, redemption and consummation), also frees us to interact WITH the tradition of church as we seek to interpret the story in and for our day rather than reading THROUGH the tradition of the church. We are called therefore to discern how to live out the Word for today rather than apply the law.
McKnight he makes a firm and definitive statement,
“Here is a sad fact: many of those who teach us how to read the bible teach us how to gather information and find the right path from A to B. They teach us about words and paragraphs and book outlines, and they point us to sources and resources for understanding the historical context. Each of these is important. But what the Bible study books don’t focus on is church and personal transformation. Any method of Bible study that doesn’t lead to transformation abandons the missional path of God and leaves us stranded.” p105
This is no easy or straightforward task and requires of us some effort to read the text in our own time and context. To illustrate the complexity and messiness of discernment the author tantalises us on the issue of premarital sex. Interesting.
Finally, there is a fairly detailed consideration of the thorny issue of women in ministries of the church. Once again, really interesting, illustrating how the developing story of the bible and the tradition of the church are critical to a proper understanding of and living out of the text.
1. The book is immensely readable but the flipside of readability is that we are expected to take an awful lot on trust because there just isn’t much space or time to evidence the conclusions and approaches. So for instance, the ‘chapter’ headings of the overarching bible story are not defended, simply presented to us. Nevertheless given the importance of the overall attitude to the bible that is presented, I would be prepared to go along for the ride in order to critique our pre-eminent models of interpretation. But this also provides an easy exit route for those less prepared to make the leap or more desirous of evidence.
2. Some may be concerned with the shift away from the authority relationship with scripture, and the dangerous act of faith required to read WITH tradition will be too much for some. A less than careful reading of McKnight’s book will appear to support a situational approach to the reading of the bible, i.e. the context of interpretation will determine the application and thus nothing is held as an irreducible truth.
Not for one minute do I think McKnight is advocating this. Indeed he stresses the importance of careful reading and of course he points out the controlling aspect of the trajectory of the big story. He also encourages us to face up to our habit of ‘picking and choosing’ our interpretations and pleads for an honest conversation of the principles we apply. Putting listening and discernment centre stage means there is a certain necessary fuzziness to the interpretation process. Some will always look for a systematic approach which will deliver an answer. This book doesn’t offer any such approach. And rightfully so, in my opinion.
3. I think this is an important and popular treatment of the practice of hermeneutics. Not the final word but certainly a useful contribution to the debate for anyone who is seeking an intellectually honest approach.
I intend to buy a copy for each of the men in our local breakfast bible study which we can read and discuss together. Our community reading of the bible is another important dimension of the process of discernment which helps us face our parakeets. (as an aside; I still haven’t warmed to the metaphor of the parakeet. Perhaps it’s just because I find it an ugly and awkward word).
4. I wonder did Scot ever consider doing the closing analysis on the issue of sexuality rather than women in ministries of the church?