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?

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