Review: The Blue Parakeet, Part 1
Scot McKnight rethinks how we read the Bible

While the majority of academics won't - or can't - write for a popular audience, Scot McKnight is willing and able. And in The Blue Parakeet (Zondervan, 2008), he opens the complex issue of biblical interpretation to the uninitiated with a great deal of grace.

Because the issue is complex, I'm going to tackle this review in two parts. In this one, I'll just describe the book. Next time I'll identify what I consider its key strengths and weaknesses.

I'll let the author tell you how the blue parakeet became his metaphor for exegesis. For now, suffice it to say that the bird represents biblical passages (and even personal experiences) that "make us think all over again about how we are reading the Bible." For example, evangelicals tend to be fairly lax about resting on the Sabbath (whether we observe the right day is another question). Yet right in the Decalogue God says, "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy." Our task as Bible readers is to decide whether this is a valid command for today or a context-specific regulation that we can more or less ignore. How you answer that question says a lot about your understanding of biblical interpretation.

And that appears to be the primary objective of McKnight's book: to help the reader recognize that all of us pick and choose which of the Bible's commands apply to us and which ones do not. In other words, the book is not a how-to manual for exegesis. Instead, it offers insights into three foundational principles of biblical interpretation.

In the first section, McKnight identifies five approaches or shortcuts that cause Christians to misread the Bible. (Skye described these ably in his post on McKnight from Catalyst) McKnight's solution is reading the Bible as story. By this he means that the Bible as a whole, from Genesis to Revelation, tells a single story. Each of the 66 books in the middle serves as a wiki-story - an individual, unique retelling of this main story. Reading the Bible this way reminds us that God's revelation is dynamic; he spoke "in Moses' day in Moses' way," and "in Jesus' day in Jesus' way," and "in Paul's day in Paul's way." This is a key principle for McKnight, because it helps us understand why some commands apply for all time and others don't (this becomes clearer in the example below).

In his second section, McKnight explores what it means to "listen" to the Bible. He begins by making the excellent point that Christians must have a relationship with the person of God, not with the Bible itself:

October 23, 2008

Displaying 1–7 of 7 comments

Drew

October 24, 2008  5:20pm

Todd, we probably agree on a lot more than we realize. We are in desperate need for an increase in biblical theology. And we need to stop looking at the Bible as a self-help manual. I agree heartily with all of this. My earlier post simply tried to point out that the McKnight quote was used to highlight the need to move head to hands. When looking at O'Brien's full paragraph, it is clear that he is not arguing for a works-justify-the-heart methodology. The quote simply backed up the need to live out our faith. If behavior does not act accordingly, there is no faith. If no works, then no true belief. If our Bible-reading does not move us to action, then we truly are not reading it the way it was intended. If this wasn't O'Brien's purpose, it certainly was mine. But this is something you only pick up on by looking at the full context of the review, rather than just the McKnight soundbite.

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Todd Burus

October 24, 2008  12:58pm

Drew, First, I don't think that framing the book quote inside of the larger article quote does anything to assuage my criticism. There are a lot of "good behaviors" that can come from a methodology that simply misses the point. Why do you think it was that the Pharisees were so skilled at righteousness but so blind to see God's plan of salvation? As for Ephesians 2.10, Matthew 25, and 1 John 3.18, 23, I don't think that anyone here was arguing for a free grace theology which doesn't ask for good works or sanctification, but what we were saying is that the idea that orthopraxy leads to orthodoxy is not a fail proof (or particularly advisable) method. Besides, what I was and have been advocating (you can look back to Skye's post a few weeks ago) is not systematic theology but Biblical theology. Read the Bible as a story for sure, but not as a story about you (anthropocentric) but as a story about Jesus (Christ-centered). The problem is that we want to treat the Bible as a self-help manual, albeit in possibly new and "super-cool" ways, instead of reading it as a revelation of God's glory to his creation.

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Drew

October 24, 2008  10:15am

Though this doesn't look like something I'm going to rush out and buy, it does look like an interesting read with some insightful perspective, or as O'Brien sums up, "a great introduction to the challenges and pitfalls of Bible interpretation." That was exactly my take away. A good basic introduction. Though for many, such an "introduction" may not seem so basic. This is seen in Todd and Kurt's shared critique, which if you read the quoted quote in the review's context you find this: "The short and long of it is this: the goal of listening is RIGHT LIVING. Our BEHAVIOR is EVIDENCE of our METHODOLOGY. Or as the author says it, 'If you are doing good works...'" (CAPS mine) The purpose of the quote is showing the need for Bible reading to be more than mind-cud. It is to manifest itself in how we life. If we are not doing good works (as a result of our salvation), then we ARE NOT LIVING THE BIBLE. And for those tripped up on this idea of good works not being heresy, read the verse immediately following Eph 2:8-9. Or Mt 25. Or 1Jn 3:18,23. Or Hebrews. Or ... we can read the Bible instead of just relying on our systematic theology. Maybe McKight's book isn't so basic and "introductory" after all.

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Ranger

October 23, 2008  7:37pm

Kurt and Todd, Don't critique a short clip from a review. The review makes a few points that are clearly non-anthropocentric. For instance, in section one the reader is encouraged to read the bible as one developing story of God's acts, and how he reveals himself. In the second section we are encouraged to understand that the Bible is not God (ala the Jonah story). That quote sounds like McKnight's trying to get people to encounter God. Your interpretation of the review might be that O'Brien presents McKnight's book as anthropocentric. I disagree, and think the review contains some references that are clearly not man-centered. But really, why quibble over a quote here or there or how a reviewer presents a book? I agree with Todd that we shoud all just read the book (the d'oh! made me laugh) and see where that gets us.

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Steve Cuss

October 23, 2008  4:41pm

Todd and Kurt, I would think a quick trip over to jesuscreed.org will help assuage any concerns you have about Scot McKnight. I agree that the comment you reference doesn't sit well, and context is king. Scot is highly regarded as a first class theologian and a gift to the church and I'm excited to read this book

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Kurt

October 23, 2008  3:37pm

I agree with anthropocentric. We can't avoid subjectivity, on some level, but based on this review, I'm not encouraged to read this book either, for most of the same reasons as the review above.

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Todd Burus

October 23, 2008  11:23am

Or as the author says it, "If you are doing good works, you are reading the Bible aright. If you are not doing good works, you are not reading the Bible aright" I would really hope for more context on this statement (which I guess means I should read the book, d'oh!)) because as it sits this looks very dangerous. The danger here is part of the overarching fear I have about the whole of McKnight's interpretation strategy, that being that it seems too anthropocentric. It's not just about us judging if we're doing good works, or for that matter, doing "good works" does not necessarily mean we are reading the Bible aright. Think about it this way, I might be doing good works day and night, but if I think those good works earn my salvation then I am certainly not reading the Bible aright! How does he rectify that? Maybe the context will clear this up, I'll have to see.

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