December 04, 2008

Scot McKnight, The Blue Parekeet

Scot McKnight, well known blogger and author, challenges readers to think about how they read the Bible in this great little book. The challenge McKnight lays down to readers is to think about what it means to be "biblical" in our thinking, speaking, and acting. Though we may think we mean simply "doing what the Bible says," he shows us that for almost all of us, that is clearly not the case. Through some simple examples he shows that we all pick and choose what we apply and how. The question explored throughout the rest of the book, then, is why and how do we do this. He asserts that "adopting and adapting," a more positive spin on the phenomenon, is indeed the right way to read the Bible, as we seek to discern both how God spoke in the past and how God is speaking to us in our day in our way.

McKnight proposes a three-stage process in our reading and applying the Bible: Story, Listening, Discerning. The first case he sets out to make is that the Bible is fundamentally a Story, or more properly, a variety of retellings of the one Story: Creating Eikons; Cracked Eikons; Covenant Community; Christ, the Perfect Eikon, redeems; Consummation. That, in a nutshell (and in Scot's own distinctive terminology) is the story of the Bible. The 66 books of the Bible then make up "wiki-stories," retellings in often distinctive ways, with varying emphases and language in different times and settings, of this one overarching story. And here is one of McKnight's core assertions, these "wiki-stories" are tellings of God's truth "in Moses' days in Moses' ways . . . in David's days in David's ways . . . in Jeremiah's days in Jeremiah's ways . . . in Jesus' days in Jesus' ways . . . in Paul's days in Paul's ways . . ." He concludes that we are "called to carry on that pattern in our world today" (28). The key to this movement into our own days and ways is Story, as we recognize the story and its retellings in the Bible and seek to enter into that same story in our day.

The second section of the book takes up the second stage in our reading and applying the Bible: Listening. McKnight emphasizes that we listen to the Bible because we have a relationship with the God of the Bible. That relationship forms the ground and purpose of our reading and listening. He seeks to get past abstract discussions of the Bible's authority, past having a "view" of the Bible, as legitimate as these things may be, to focus on having "a 'relationship' to the God of the Bible" (95). This understanding then shapes our listening, as we listen attentively to and for God, we are attentive in recognizing God speaking, we absorb what God says and we act on what we hear (99). This puts a helpful emphasis on the way the Bible must shape us as we listen. We aren't just mining the Bible for "truth" or theology but we are encountering God speaking to us, and must act and react accordingly.

The third stage we encounter is Discerning. After we have recognized the story in the text and have listened attentively to God speaking through his Word, we must discern our part in the story, we must discern what we are then to do. Here he argues that the "adopt and adapt" strategy that all Christians implicitly or explicitly espouse is in fact the right idea. We must recognize that "that was then and this is now." But this is not simply a personalistic anything goes reading of Scripture, but is a discerning, with (as opposed to through) tradition, in community. We need to recognize that the Bible itself points toward a strategy of discernment, and that the church has likewise passed on this legacy of a "pattern of discernment" (118). McKnight acknowledges the messiness of the process, and that it means there will be disagreements. But, he writes, "it is the attempt to foist one person's days and ways on everyone's days and ways that quenches the Holy Spirit" (143). It is because of the gospel that we strive to adapt, just as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9. We, like Paul, should be governed by what furthers the gospel the most (142). Thus, "Living out the Bible means living out the Bible in our day in our way by discerning together how God would have us live" (143, italics in original).

These three stages sketch McKnight's proposal for how we should approach and appropriate the Bible in our own day. The fourth part of the book provides an extended case study in this method, using the question of women in ministry as an example of "adopting and adapting." In this fourth part, he lays out a careful argument, beginning with what women did in the Old and New Testament times and in the Early Church, and with what the Bible says about women and ministry. He looks at how we can recognize the cultural distance between these past times and our own, but also focuses on how we can recognize the "story" in the Bible that spoke powerfully in past days and again in our own. Through this process, he makes the argument that discerning God speaking in the story of the Bible and discerning how God would have us act today, with a focus on the message of the gospel, leads to the full participation of women in the life and ministry of the church.

I thoroughly enjoyed this very readable introduction to how we read and apply the Bible. I have no doubt that almost all Christians could benefit from a book like this, as all too often we assume that we're being "biblical" without recognizing the complexities involved in our own positions. This little primer on hermeneutics is a great way for people in the pews to begin to come to terms with these important issues. But, importantly, this isn't a cause for consternation but for hope. Instead of being paralyzed by fear of the messiness of discernment, we should be energized by the gospel and our part in the story as we acknowledge the God of the Bible speaking to us even down to our own day. This book is clearly at an introductory level, as McKnight acknowledges along the way, but I think it agreeably whets the appetite for further study into these important questions. And I think it is a helpful introduction into the Bible as "Story," as we recognize the great divine drama into which we are called. I also enjoyed his case study on women in ministry. His arguments and his own personal journey make for very compelling reading. I think he shows beyond doubt that the church, at the very least, has restricted women beyond even the restrictions they faced in New Testament times, and he points toward a fuller inclusion of women in all areas of the church. While he obviously doesn't engage with the vast array of scholarship or the serious technical issues involved in the debate, his case study provides a great "egalitarian" introduction into the debate.

In all, I think McKnight's Blue Parakeet is an important guide to seeing the Bible as it really is and to recognize how we do and how we should read and apply it.

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