02 October 2008

the blue parakeet

Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, forthcoming).

Much thanks to Scot McKnight for his advance reader copy of his latest book.

The main objective of The Blue Parakeet is to answer the question(s) of reading the Bible in a manner which is both faithful to the biblical text while being meaningful to the modern world.  McKnight illustrates this in his opening chapter by raising some questions of how to read various parts of Scripture, highlighting the fact that Christians have long taken certain portions of the Bible to faithful practice while ignoring other parts (sometimes side-by-side passages!).  This is a situation which is prevalent in the church and seeks an answer.  McKnight has made a solid step forward in this discussion.

The book is well-written, being both accessible to a wide variety of readers while also reflecting a solid base of academic rigor and scholarship.  One can easily tell that McKnight has spent much time interacting with undergraduate students, as he is constantly mindful of showing relevance to the theoretical by including various illustrations to help in the learning process.  The book itself is divided into four parts, three of which carry the weight of the book's main idea: that the Bible can be accessible and living for us, if we can teach ourselves how to read it.

Section One: Story
The primary quest of this section is to find an approach which will ". . .turn the two-dimensional words on paper into a three dimensional encounter with God. . ." (41).  McKnight thus explores the notion that Scripture contains a story, beginning with his view of various "shortcuts" to a full and proper reading of the text.  Against these approaches he suggests a reading which will encompass the biblical perspective, and embrace the story which is on these pages.  This requires a reading which allows the story to emerge within each writer's own perspective - allowing Paul to be Paul, Peter to be Peter, and Jesus to be Jesus for example.  In explaining this McKnight uses the notion of a "wiki-story" (63ff.), the notion that while different authors and stories exist (and give their own version of the bigger story), they are held together by the larger narrative.  These are the blue parakeets which are loose in the biblical text.

Section Two: Listening
In setting forth an answer to how one should read the Bible, McKnight proposes a relational approach - that through these pages we are summoned to a relationship with God.  There is an authority in the text, but one which works through the relationship of reader/church, the text itself, and God.  The question thus becomes, "What is our relationship to the God who speaks to us in the Bible?" (which is specifically addressed in Chapter 7).  Such approach demands that we learn to listen in order to grasp what the story holds.  McKnight offers an approach to "missional listening" in Chapter 8.  This idea is simply that the story in the Bible is intended to make an impact into the world - we must listen within the context of being missional.

Section Three: Discerning
The final section navigates the difficult task of figuring out which of the biblical commands and ideals are to be kept, and which ones we are allowed to ignore (at least, practically speaking).  After demonstrating that this is a more difficult endeavor than might be initially realized, McKnight suggests finding the "pattern of discernment" which is visible in the tradition of the church and is available through the work of the Spirit.  By understanding some of the 'wiki-stories' which are in Scripture, we might find our way of living out our (wiki-)faith into our world.  The latter half of Chapter 10 includes six areas where such decisions have been made, and continue to be raised.

Section Four: Women in Church Ministries Today
At first glance, I disappointingly expected this section to be disjointed appendix to an otherwise interesting book.  Evidently I did not immediately see this issue as a simple hermeneutical-method problem.  And, having labored through my share of texts on the debate, I hope that I will not be faulted for being less than enthusiastic about the topic.

However, I must say that these final five chapters are of the most well-written, thoughtful, and biblical perspectives I have encountered regarding the debate over women in church ministry.  McKnight approaches the topic clearly and straightforwardly, but does not lose sight of the reality of either the mission of the church or the real-life impact of women engaged in ministry.

Overall, McKnight comes out as a proponent of women working alongside men in the church (under, over, all that good stuff).  There is a strong commitment in this book to hear the whole of Scripture and not only those parts which are deemed 'pertinent' to the debate.  This is likened here with that of teaching on marriage by looking only at those few passages which speak about divorce.  When we discuss the role of women in ministry we must be, McKnight contends, willing to hear the whole of the story.  And there is abundantly more positive than negative when viewing the entirety.

It would be interesting to consider how using this book in an introduction to biblical interpretation course would go.  So much of the material is good and necessary for the church (especially young interpreters) to hear and understand, although McKnight does not go in and out of various types and styles of the literature employed.  Rather, he is content to see the story as a whole and to watch it move through its various incarnations within the text - and into the world today.  This one comes highly recommended.

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