Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Blue Parakeet: A Much Needed Lesson on Reading the Bible

Scot McKnight has written a new book due out in November called The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. I read an advance copy this week, and let me say this: I can't say it is Scot's best book, but it is definitely the best one that I've read.

The title of the book is a metaphor based on an actual experience that Scot had while bird-watching in his back yard. A "Blue Parakeet" is, in my own words, something that is outside one's bandwidth, outside his or her paradigm or worldview. To be specific, Scot says that there are certain biblical passages that many of us miss because they don't fit within our theological systems. Most of us either ignore them completely ("I never knew THAT was in the Bible") or we dismiss them for another reason ("that verse REALLY means..."). Scot argues that in order to be good students of scripture and faithful readers of the text, we need to examine and deal with the "Blue Parakeet" passages. This is the metaphor that drives the book.

This is such a needed indictment! How many of us claim to purely and objectively read the Bible (yeah right!), when in reality there are entire streams of faith that are clearly addressed in scripture that we do not pay attention to because they are outside of our theological spectrum? On one occasion several years ago, a colleague of mine was asked how a bigger church in our area could do so well while ignoring a certain practice that "our church" stressed. His response was "I guess they just think they can ignore that part of the Bible." It hit me like a ton of bricks. I wanted to shout "We all do that! We all ignore parts! We are just as guilty as they are!" And that is the point, isn't it? We all have blind spots in our theology. Scot's book does a great job of making us see this.

The book starts off by Scot explaining his faith background and spiritual upbringing, followed by the story behind the title (chapters 1 and 2, which serve as introductions). Both are great. He says, "I began to see that Christians read the Bible differently and I began to see that no one group seemed to get it all right." (pg 18). Next, Scot begins to unpack how Christians read the Bible, starting with the wrong ways (inkblot method, puzzle method etc.). He then moves to explaining what the Bible is (a wiki-story). This section, where he is explaining what the Bible is and is not, in my opinion, is the best part of the book. Scot is drawing on his experience of working with college students and diagnosing the inappropriate reading habits of those who read the Bible. As he says, "We need twenty-first-century Christians living out the biblical gospel in twenty-first-century ways" (pg 28).

From here, he moves on to sections titled "Listening: What Do I Do With the Bible?" and "Discerning: How Do I Benefit From the Bible?". Here Scot lays out his method for reading, interpreting, and relating to both God and the Bible. "The biblical way is the ongoing adoption of the past and adaptation to new conditions and to do this in a way that is consistent with and faithful to the Bible" (pg 29), he says. That would be, in its simplest form, Scot method: adopt and adapt. He continues later, saying, "We dare not ignore what God has said to the church through the ages...nor dare we fossilize past interpretations into traditionalism" (pg 34). The highlight for me in these sections was chapter 10 titled "Finding the Pattern of Discernment," and, specifically pages 131-144 where Scot gives a number of examples of putting the interpretation into practice, including circumcision, tongues, and divorce.

Scot finishes the book with five chapters of practical application, using the example of women in ministry as way to demonstrate how to appropriately interpret scripture. It is helpful to have this practical example at the end, with significant space alloted to it, even if you have already dealt with and come to terms with the issue he is addressing.

The Blue Parakeet is definitely one to put on your must read list. Whether you know it or not, you have blind spots, and we could all use a friendly diagnosis from Dr. Scot. But as you read, remember that all of our reading and studying is worthless if it does not lead us closer to God and help us live more like Jesus. As Scot says, "Any reading and any interpretation that does not lead to good works, both as the practical application and as the behavioral result, aborts what the Bible is designed to produce" (pg 111).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up on the book! Mine should be arriving in the next day or so for a pre-review as well. I think I am going to do a more longitudinal, perhaps even chapter-by-chapter review. I don’t want to immediately read your full review, just so I will have an unbiased look at the book. But feel free to visit my blog, and I will return to yours as well!


Rahab said...

Thanks for writing me a heads up as well-especially for a blessed lovely woman who has a wee-bit of extra time on her hands, to read a great book-written by a highly spiritual theologianal man. I yearn for these opportunities for spiritual blessings, teachings and more. If we all could only learn the gift of "the Power of Listening, while Discerning as well" we could all be classified as the Great Theologians "One t" Style. Scot McKnight seems to proceed with his Gifts of perfection, perfectly through his writings and significant bloggings for sooooo many involved--Jesus Creeders'. How fortunate we are to be called his friends....books that I've already read of his "The Real Mary" grasp you too the inner core for a closer look inside..and a genuine transforming butterfly appears--isn't she Beautiful! Hummmmmm....Onto this new one I will; perfectionistic lady Rahabs enjoy too disect every word of the Bible....yep!!! xx