Monday, September 29, 2008

The significance of story in THE BLUE PARAKEET

After the introduction of his own journey of faith and experience of transformation through the Bible, McKnight gets down and dirty with the meat of his work in The Blue Parakeet, Nov. 2008, Zondervan. Essentially, the entire premise of this book is that we cannot read the Bible for what we want it to be, but we need to allow the Bible to inform us. In order to do this, we should be reading the Bible as a story. It is God's story. It has a plot and conclusion. It still unfolds today (though not with the authority of the Bible), and we are a part of God's story.

"What we are looking for in reading the Bible is the ability to turn two-dimensional words on paper into a three-dimensional encounter with God" (41). I think this phrase is a major key in understanding the Bible, because it is the desire we should have when reading the Bible. McKnight suggests that we have unintentionally forced the Bible into two dimensions. By trying to get something for our daily lives every time we read the Bible, we truncate its message. In other words, by reading the Bible for information, we bring our own agenda. We idolize our understanding of what it means to read the Bible, and lose part of the message. The problem with this process is that we short-change ourselves when we try to take shortcuts.

Here are five shortcuts McKnight sees us taking:
-reading the bible as a collection of laws
-reading the bible as a collection of blessings and promises
-reading the bible like a Rorsarch inckblot: see what you already believe in it
-reading the bible like a puzzle, once put together never to be encountered again
-reading the bible through the lense of an expert

While each of these shortcuts are helpful at times, they are very dangerous as well. The problem is not the shortcut (in my opinion), but what taking shortcuts reveals about us. It is another application of our fast-food, immediate, instant gratification culture.

-I hurt for those who only see laws in the Bible, who have pure motives, but like the Pharisees miss the point.

-I hurt for those who only look for the good in the Bible, so much pain is expressed in God's story, as is His anger, wrath, judgment, etc. God is so much bigger than our greed for blessings (material or not).

-I hurt for those who read the Bible to confirm what they already believe. God doesn't belong in a box.

-I hurt for those who have God figured out. I don't think I ever will, and that is truly beautiful. Just the other day I was reading Daniel and thinking "I'm not sure i'm comfortable with this view of God" and I thank God for that.

-I hurt for those who read the Bible exclusively through Paul or Jesus (the main two experts' eyes through which we read). There is so much more to God's story than one chapter.

-I hurt for myself, because I do all of these things far too often.

We need to remember to read God's story as God's story. He could have given us just law books (Leviticus), blessings, inkblots, puzzle pieces, or one expert. But he didn't. "What God chose to do was to give you and me a story of Israel and the church, and we have a series of authors who tell that story and who contribute in one way or another to that story as the plot unfolds . . . God did not give the Bible so we could master him or it; God gave the Bible so we could live it, so we could be mastered by it." (52)

Next, McKinght suggests that we need to learn to read the Bible on its own terms. He explains how we have failed, "Instead of creation and fall, exodus and exile, as well as community and redemption, the Story was flattened out." (62) and how to move forward. The big idea in this chapter is that God chose to speak in Moses' days in Moses' ways; in David's days in David's ways, in Jesus' days in Jesus ways, in Paul's days in Paul's ways, in Augustine's days in Augustine's ways, in Luther's days in Luther's ways, and is speaking in our day in our ways.

Here it gets a little postmodern, with a discussion on the importance of language (postmoderns believing that language itself is a constructive or destructive force, and that any act of communication is inherently biased). Very basically, McKnight argues, "since language is always shaped by context, and since God chose to speak to us over time through many writers, God also chose to speak to us in a variety of ways and expressions. Furthermore, I believe that because the gospel story is so deep and wide, God needed a variety of expressions to give us a fuller picture of the story" (63). So far, this has been the crux quotation for the entire book. It reflects where Mcknight has been, and where he leads us.

He compares the Bible to a wikipedia of sorts, a collection of essays that describe God's story in the context in which a given essay is written. God allowed multiple authors to give distinct, unique accounts of how God was working in their time. All of these essays are held together by God's big story. They all contribute to one whole, but also need to be read individually. "None of the wiki-stories is final; none of them is comprehensive; none of them is absolute; none of them is exhaustive. Each of them tells a true story of that Story. (65)"

An example of this is the fact that there are four Gospels. God chose to reveal himself through four very different accounts of the same person (Jesus). Why? Because no single perspective of Jesus is enough. He is a great teacher, fulfillment of prophecies, and king (matthew). He is the redeemer of all people (Luke). He is a miracle worker, discipler, and suffering servant (Mark). He is something totally different, light, mystic, etc. (John). We read them all together, but that is not enough. Each author had a reason for writing the way he did, to get their message, to understand their communication, we have to enter their world on their terms individually and corporately. We have to put aside our assumptions, and allow God to work in us.

Discussion questions (seriously, leave a comment):
Which of the shortcuts are you most prone to taking? I know I read the Bible as a puzzle most often. What are the dangers in our shortcuts? Is the Bible an anthology of wiki-stories? Does mcKnight take some of the divine inspiration out of the Bible by suggesting that individual authors had individual understandings of God's story?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Required reading

Everybody who has ever wondered how postmodernism and the church are interacting, have heard but don't have any clue what emerging means, or just want to stay on the edge of how the church is evolving in America should read Scot McKnight's take.  Here.  

No, I am not worshipping McKnight.  However, he is one of the few people that seem to be navigating the Christ and culture debate while avoiding the dangerous extremes of each side.  For that I respect and admire him.  Also, his book "The Jesus Creed" is excellent.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Something blue

Okey dokey folks, I have some news. In a chance encounter between luck and nerdhood, I was given the opportunity to read a pre-release version of Scot McKnight's new book, The Blue Parakeet, which comes out Nov 2008 and is published by Zondervan. One fateful morning, as I was perusing my daily list of blogs, I noticed on the Jesus Creed blog that there were some advanced copies of the book available to be read and blogged about. I promptly signed up, and a couple weeks later got my copy in the mail. Thank you Scot, Zondervan, and those who read this blog for giving me this opportunity.

I have been wondering what would be the best way to interact with the book in an online community, and have decided to review it as I read it. In other words, I will be reviewing the book on a chapter-by-chapter basis as I work my way through it. I want my response to be authentic, and to allow any surprises within the book to be reflected in my response. Without further adieu, here is my response/review of the first section. Blue sections indicate my own voice independent of the book. The book can still be changed, so these quotations (which will be minimal) are subject to changes pending the final print. For those few who read this blog, please comment on the ideas presented here. It will not be an easy trip, but it is a necessary one.

McKnight begins by describing his own personal experience with the Bible, which is a common one. Basically, after asking the Holy Spirit into his life, he had a sudden unending thirst to read the Bible. As he grew and learned from reading the Bible, he realized that we all adopt and adapt the Bible to our culture (adopt/adapt is a common motto throughout the book). Pulling from a postmodern/deconstructionist worldview (which emphasizes the idea that the reader/listener always imparts some understanding onto a communication act), McKnight's primary premise of the book seems to be: "Since we all affect our own interpretations of the text, how can we pick and choose which parts of the Bible we emphasize in a way that honors God?"

Another way to say it might be: nobody can read the Bible entirely literally. It is impossible. How, then, do we choose which parts of the Bible to live by? He goes on to give some examples of picking and choosing. I.e. sabbath as a day of rest from labor that is now interpretted as going to church; Old Testament tithing vs. evangelical tithing (tithing to priests in the temple and the poor vs tithing to an institution); foot washing (I did it once I think, but don't know many other people who have); Charismatic gifts (Jesus told us to heal the sick . . . but that was then, this is now); surrendering possessions (*cough ya right *cough); apparent contradictions; etc.

nobody, not even one, reads the Bible and literally follows it to the letter. In fact, my pants yesterday were part cotton and part linen- a direct violation of levitic law.

There are a few keys to answering this question: Who are we? Who is God? What is the Bible? We must approach the Bible in humility and allow it to transform us


The title of the book reflects an experience Scot had while watching birds. He was sitting on his porch, observing sparrows, when a blue parakeet flew into the area. The sparrows were afraid of the bird at first, eventually became accustomed to it, and even became familiar with it. They did not tame it.

Certain sections of the Bible are blue parakeets. They shock us to our core. For me, any of the accounts in the OT when the loving father God I know destroyed entire communities are blue parakeets. I cannot tame God any more than a sparrow could tame a blue parakeet. There are other Blue Parakeets in the Bible as well. How many there are largely depend on how open we are to allowing the text to speak to us.

McKnight suggests that there are three primary ways of approaching the Bible, two of which have been around forever, and the third is his attempt at allowing the Bible to be the Bible. The first is Reading to Retrieve. Here, the Bible essentially becomes a textbook of information. The reader gleans what he/she can from the text and attempts to follow it literally. A more technical term for this type of reading might be a "literalist approach". The problem with this view is that it is easy to not be faithful to the text considering we live in a radically different culture. There can also be too little adoption (27). These readers do not consider the idea that God created the Bible to transcend culture. It is applicable to every time, season, culture, generation, empire, etc. Scot puts it succinctly: "What we most need is not a return to the first or fourth or sixteenth or eighteenth century but a fresh blowing of God's Spirit on our culture" (28). This is predicated on the idea that even throughout Scripture God progressively reveals himself. That is, Abraham had a different view of God than did the disciples because God showed more of himself as his people grew. "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" (29).

Secondly, Mcknight explains another approach to the Bible as reading through tradition. In the Evangelical world, we have made the Bible more approachable than it ever has been. This has made it possible for anyone to interpret the Bible in any way they see fit. This is a problem. In reading through tradition, the individual appeals to the great authors/thinkers/speakers of the past . Understanding how the Bible came about reveals more about the content of the Bible. Seeing the genius of Augustine, Luther, the Nicene Fathers, etc. will help us see a broader perspective of the Bible than a 21st century adaptation to understanding it. The church is a community, and the Bible should be read through community, past and present. The danger with this approach is that it can lead to traditionalism, where the ways we have always done it become the framework in which me must always read and interpret the Bible. Faith becomes stagnant. Tradition becomes and idol.

Is there a better way then? Perhaps incorporating both reading through tradition and reading to retrieve? McKnight suggests a thrid way, reading with tradition.

"God was on the move; God is on the move; and God will always be on the move. . . Reading the Bible so we can live it out today means being on the move-- always." (33). In other words, we cannot neglect what the church has said throughout the ages, but we must remember that those were cultural expressions for their times. The Reformation was great . . . for that time. It was reactionary (probably too much so), but needed. It was a new breath of air that the Holy Spirit breathed into the church. The same with evangelicalism (19th-20th cent), the emerging church (21st cent assuming we allow God to continue moving in this context), catholocism (first 1000 years of the church), eastern orthodox, etc. We need to worship the God of the Bible. Not the Bible. Not the church. Not our interpretations. The Bible is a living book, that will transform our lives if we allow God to speak to us through it. Tradition is an excellent tool with which to hear God. Pulling lifestyle choices out of the Bible is wise. But above all, we must remember whom we are worshipping, and allow him to transform rather than simply inform us.

Looks like this is going to be another great book. Even the first couple chapters have reminded me how important it is to read the Bible for leisure, for spiritual formation, for communication, for relationship with God. In the midst of my busy seminary schedule, it is easy to neglect God's primary communication act for me. I need to recapture the wonder I know dwells deep within this calloused heart, which allows God to speak to me. But if I continue in this vein of thought . . . I might just end up going on a diatribe about some of the dangers of seminary :), which is not what this post is about.

Comment questions for your consideration:
Which ways are you most prone to reading the Bible? Are they good or bad? Do they bring you closer to God or further? Which way is the right way? Can we even know a right way?