Sunday, July 19, 2009

THE BLUE PARAKEET [book review]

Fear not. The subtitle of Scot McKnight's book sheds a little light: "Rethinking How You Read the Bible." I won't tell you why he calls it "The Blue Parakeet." I'll make you go read it.

McKnight begins by telling the story of how he developed a love for the Scriptures. He devoured the study notes in whatever study Bible he had. His youth pastor in high school encouraged him to learn Greek. In college, he would go hang out at Eerdman's, Zondervan, and Baker Publishing. Before long, McKnight said that he came across a question that disturbed him then and does to this day. The question is actually simple on the surface: How are we to apply the Bible today [pg 12]?

The examples of tithing, Sabbath, foot washing, and spiritual gifts are used by McKnight as examples of issues that many Christians disagree on. His point is that we all read the same Bible but come to vastly different conclusions, not merely nuanced and peripheral distinctions.

On pgs 29-35, McKnight suggests that people often read the Bible through tradition or with tradition. He explains these differences. After giving several insufficient ways in which people read the Scriptures, he argues that the Bible should be read as a story. His analysis of man being made in God's image and the purpose of Genesis 1-2 is a beautiful portrayal of how the rest of the Bible should be read as story. Later on, however, I believe he betrays this correct construal of Gen 1-2.

McKnight speaks with clarity about Jesus being the redeeming apex of God's redemptive purposes for His covenant community [pgs 72-79]. His point is that the Bible's authority is not innate. God's authority is innate. The Bible, specifically the person and work of Jesus, is to usher is the relationship that was marred in Gen 3. J. P. Moreland wrote a paper a couple of years ago about how Christians are over-committed to the Bible. He called this disease Bibliolatry ["the worship of the Bible"]. I think the idea that Moreland was trying to get across is the same one that McKnight is hinting at:

Adoring a love letter from your wife over adoring your wife is stupid. The letter itself is not stupid, but it is preposterous to have equal emotions for the ink on that page and for the one who penned it.

So, what is the Bible's purpose? What is its design? McKnight goes on to talk about listening to the Bible. He cites Klyne Snodgrass: "The biggest complaint in Scripture is that people do not listen to God. Theirs is a freely chosen deafness." McKnight then gives several chapters to the "how" of listening to the Scriptures. This is where he returns to the problem of picking and choosing he raised in chapter 1. Here, McKnight raises more fragile issues such as divorce, death penalty, homosexuality, and others.

Finally, McKnight seeks to apply listening, discerning, and tradition to one of the toughest issues in western evangelicalism: women in ministry. I love the way he ends his argument on pgs 145-207. However, I feel as though he betrays some of what he has already said and some occasional textual clarity in his discussion. He ends by telling a story of his family visiting F. F. Bruce in the spring of 1981. He says that he remembers the conversation word for word:
"Professor Bruce, what do you think of women's ordination?"

"I don't think the New Testament talks about ordination."

"What about the silencing passages of Paul on women?"

"I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah."

"What do you think, then, about women in church ministries?"

"I'm for whatever God's Spirit grants women gifts to do."
The kind of honesty seen in Professor Bruce is the kind of honesty that McKnight presents in his Blue Parakeet and most of this honesty is biblically warranted. He asks questions that many conservative evangelicals are scared to ask. He asks questions that are clearly there in the text, but it is often too taboo to ask them because the weight of tradition says we shouldn't.

Do I agree with all conclusions? Not really. Do I thank God for his sincerity and scholarship? You bet. Do we both openly admit that we want to be led by the Spirit of God, the word of God, and the community of faith? Yes indeed.

Lastly, McKnight's appendices at the end of the book might just be worth the price of the book. One of them is a test he gives his students every year. The test includes a section of questions about Jesus and a section about the person taking the test. Without fail, the test proves that we often make Jesus out to be like us.

So, if you care at all about the "how" of Bible reading, go snag the Blue Parakeet. You can read it in two days. I promise you'll be challenged.

1 comment:

lilywood said...

Hmmmm . . . sounds a lot like Webb's "Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals," only a little more reader-friendly. I'll have to pick up a copy :)