Friday, October 10, 2008

The Blue Parakeet: One Reader's Review

I’ve spent a lot of time in a lot of different theological streams. Fundamentalists, Wesleyans, Calvinists, Emergent, Mennonites, Quakers, and more. I’ve studied with them, read their works, discussed theology with them all. And while most of that time was pleasant, and while some of those conversations were enjoyable, all too often they’ve devolved into arguments over the issues that separate those groups.

The thing is, swimming in so many different pools has allowed me to make an interesting observation: each group is convinced that their reading of the sacred text is the correct one, and that all others are mistaken. And so each group assumes that if they can simply out-argue the other group, their view will win out. Unless, of course, those on the other side are “hard-hearted” or “blinded by the flesh,” in which case they’ll never accept Truth. (Note: this brush I’m using obviously describes certain of those groups more than others. . .)

What I’m getting at is this: there are many groups who have read the Bible, taken specific theological positions from specific passages, and then read the Bible through that particular lens or filter. The verses that support their position get lots of attention. The verses that would undermine that position – well, let’s just say they either get ignored or explained away.

Sometimes, though, just when we think we’ve got it all figured out, along comes a verse or passage that shakes things up a bit. Just when a theological position is codified, along comes something to knock it loose. Scot McKnight calls those “Blue Parakeet” passages. And it is at that point that McKnight takes off in his newest book, called, appropriately, The Blue Parakeet.

The essence of McKnight’s thesis is that there are many ways to read the Bible, including lawbook, repository of pithy statements, and puzzle. Unfortunately, most of these all come back to the same basic idea: we read the Bible in order to get correct information out of it. McKnight challenges that notion with this idea: we read the Bible in order to get the plot of the story, and then we live out that same story in our lives today. Thus, rather than attempting to live as Moses commanded, rather than attempting to fit all of Paul’s words into 21st Century American culture, we instead watch the plot unfolding from Creation, through the fall and Christ’s work of redemption, on into the ultimate recreation in the book of Revelation.

In other words, McKnight argues that our task is not to directly import the rules and statements of Moses and Paul into our day, but to see how God was working in the days of Moses, of Jesus, and of Paul, and allow this plot line to reveal to us how God is working in the world today. And then, most importantly, to live out this story in our world. To live lives of redemption, aware that God is still working today in ways unimaginable in biblical times, drawing us still away from the curse and into the Kingdom of God.

A couple brief thoughts:

- This book will make a lot of people nervous or angry, especially if they rank inerrancy and inspiration as the Highest Biblical Truths. Because McKnight pushes us to see beyond the words on the page to the God behind those words, some might accuse him of taking too low a view of scripture. I’m sure he’s aware of that, and is ready for the heresy police to come calling.

- McKnight uses the first half of the book to make his point, and then shifts in the second half to give us an example. For that example, he addresses the issue of women in ministry. I see and understand his logic. The teacher in him is coming out. First, give the theory, then the application. Again, his use of this issue is bound to make some people uncomfortable, especially the Southern Baptists out there. But I understand his method, and I concur with both his destination and how he got there.

- My only complaint with the book (and I realize this is probably just a personal thing): McKnight writes in a very conversational style, given to a lot of asides and personal interjections and cute acronyms. Perhaps this is due to the time he spends in college classrooms, attempting to reach today’s 20-year-olds with deep theological truth. To me, it all becomes so much distraction after awhile. Too cutesy. A dumbing-down of something that ought to make us think deep and hard. If I’m being forced to rethink how I read the Word of God, I want to be challenged with powerful examples and weighty logic, not fun stories and anecdotes. In other words, for a topic as important as this, I was surprised by the light and breezy tone taken by McKnight. Then again, I’m almost twice the age of most of his students, and I read professional theological tomes all the time, so perhaps I’m not exactly his target audience. You can read it and be the judge of that.

In the end, I find his primary argument, and his work on women in ministry, to be important for the Church today. I recommend the book for all who are seeking to figure out how the Bible speaks in the 21st Century world. It’s a relatively easy read that will still cause you to think deeply about how you approach the Bible and how you apply it to your life. And being aware of how we read is probably almost as important as knowing what we read.

(Note: according to Scot McKnight's blog, The Blue Parakeet is available on Amazon as of today)


Kim said...

Great review, Dan!

Lori said...

Yeah, great food for thought.