Live From Catalyst: McKnight on Bad Bible Reading
Five common, but flawed, approaches to reading the Bible.

by Skye Jethani

Day 1 at Catalyst in Atlanta is dominated by the Labs. These smaller breakout sessions give conference attendees a more intimate setting to hear from authors, thinkers, and leaders in a more interactive environment. My first stop was Scot McKnight's lab "The Blue Parakeet" based on his new book by the same title. The book advocates a "third way" of reading the Bible. (Scot is a friend and a regular contributor to Out of Ur.)

Next week, Brandon O'Brien will be posting his review of The Blue Parakeet so you should stay tuned for a more in depth discussion of McKnight's ideas. For now, I'll just mention a snippet from his lab I found helpful.

McKnight outlined five flawed ways many people read the Bible:

1. The Morsels of Law Approach

These people search the Bible and extract ever commandment. They see Scripture as fundamentally a book of rules to be obeyed. The problem, says McKnight, is that no one really obeys - or even tries to obey - every commandment. And we're not just talking about some obscure stuff in Leviticus. Scot mentioned a number of New Testament commands that many Christians dismiss as well. We are all selective.

2. The Morsels of Blessing Approach

McKnight says publishers are always sending him daily calendars that have a different promise or blessing from the Bible printed on each day. It's a nice way to start the morning, he notes, but it gives people a skewed view of Scripture. The Bible is a lot more than warm thoughts from our Creator to carry us through our day. Finally fed up with these calendars, McKnight wrote to one of the publishers offering to write a daily calendar with nothing but passage about God's wrath.

3. The Rorschach Approach

Most people are familiar with the Rorschach Ink Blot test often used by psychologists. Patients are asked what they "see" when looking at symmetrical ink patterns. Because the blots don't really resemble anything, the patient's answer tells the therapist more about the patient than the image. Similarly, McKnight notes that many people see in Scripture what they want to see, not what's really there. For example, political conservatives see justification for capitalism. Liberals see justification for a welfare state.

4. The Systematic Theology Approach

Some folks, the particularly left-brained and anal retentive (my perception, not McKnight's), believe that God has scattered facts throughout the Bible. These snippets of truth need to be located, rather like an Easter egg hunt, and categorized into buckets. Finally, the pieces are assembled into a systematic theology without ambiguity or mystery to explain God, humanity, creation, and history. The fatal error in this approach, says McKnight, is that large portions of Scripture are never included because they refuse to fit into our neat systems.

October 08, 2008

Displaying 1–9 of 9 comments

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October 19, 2009  2:05pm

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Jacob Lange

October 21, 2008  6:16pm

Great analysis, but I feel like the story approach has its own set of shortcomings. I think we need to have a more integrative approach to reading the Bible. I agree that we must read the Bible as a story, and gain understanding of the over-arching narrative and learn as much as we can about the character of God. This is not definite, but I think that we almost necessarily have to take the "Maestro Approach," because there are certain portions of scripture that particularly resonate with out experience and encounter with the real and living God. For me, it is the Gospels - especially the sermon on the mount and Matthew 25.

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October 17, 2008  9:49pm

I'm with Todd. And so was John, as he notes. John opens his Gospel with this point of view. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." NIV. But I would add to what Todd says. John 14:16-17 says, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you." We cannot understand Scripture on our own. . . Spriritually, we can achieve nothing on our own. Without God's Spirit as our Helper, we cannot hope to "read" the living Word. From the beginning only God can light the darkness of our minds. I have a Mennonite friend whose grandmother told him that the Bible was nothing more than another book full of words. . . without the help of the Holy Spirit. Thanks, Grandmother, for reminding us!

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Ephrem Hagos

October 15, 2008  1:16am

Probably the most common but flawed approach today to reading the Bible is exemplified by the half-blind man who sees "people like trees" [or Christians who see Jesus completely different from who He is] tested by Jesus in Mark 9: 22-26 as a prelude to the star question "Who do you say I am?" asked of His disciples (Mark 9: 27-30; Matt. 16: 13-20).

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mike rucker

October 11, 2008  6:14pm

heaven help us all ... i'm almost in complete agreement with todd AND melody. some things that work in the macro view break down in the micro view. it's like one of those mosaics that are made of hundreds of little pictures: when looked at from a distance you see the face of Jesus. i enjoyed this post a lot. nice summary of views. and, again, it isn't this-one-or-that-one, but pieces of all of them.

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October 08, 2008  5:02pm

I again agree with Scot, or Skye's interpretation of Scot. We need the "whole" counsel of God. I've been reading the Bible as a complete story for over 20 years now and the more I read, the more excited I get. I think I'm falling in love with the author.

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Todd Burus

October 08, 2008  5:00pm

I agree with the 5 problems McKnight points out, but not the solution. What about Biblical theology? Instead of "read[ing] the Bible as a story. . . that we live," Biblical theology reads the Bible as a story about Jesus. This seems more appropriate to me in light of verses like John 20.31 which says "But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." It's not about you. It's about Jesus and for you.

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October 08, 2008  4:39pm

THAT was awesome. Incredibly helpful and I'll be taking it into class with me. Thanks, Skye. Really.

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October 08, 2008  4:30pm

Maybe a sixth approach should be added, The Story approach: Many folks particularly those in emerging/emergent circles believe that the bible should be experienced and we must read the Bible as a story. But it's not just a story that we read, it is a story that we live. We must let the Bible's story become our story, so that it becomes us, and we become it. I'm sure a resultant flaw is just around the corner.

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