Scot McKnight’s newest book is about how we should read the Bible. In The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible(Zondervan, 2008), Scot makes some bold assertions intended to challenge our assumptions.
Here’s one that will get you thinking: we all pick and choose what we’re to obey in the Bible and how we’re to obey it. (11) The more polite way to put it is to say we “adopt” and “adapt,” but Scot prefers the more edgy view that we really do pick and choose.
After seeking to demonstrate the truthfulness of his claim that we all pick and choose, Scot lays down some ground rules that help us understand why we pick and choose, and how we should pick and choose biblically – in “a way that honors God and embraces the Bible as God’s Word for all time.” (13)
Let me start out by giving Scot some credit. In this book, he faces head-on a problem that needs to be addressed, not dismissed. He exposes the hypocrisy of Christians who say they believe in the Bible without doing what it says. What good is inerrancy if you don’t do what God says? How many of us know doctrine of about the BIble but don’t do what the God of the Bible says? Good questions. So Scot challenges us to figure out how we know what in the Bible is applicable today and what is not.
Scot uses a story of a blue parakeet as the central metaphor for the book. A blue parakeet once came into Scot’s peaceful backyard. The mere presence of the parakeet terrorized the sparrows. Eventually, the sparrows lost their fear of the strange bird and instead began to imitate the parakeet.
Scot thinks that we have tended to cage and silence the “blue parakeet” passages in the Bible – those passages and commands that make us uncomfortable or challenge our current notions. (By the end of the book, the “blue parakeet” is referring not to Bible passages, but to women who desire to be in ministry. More on that momentarily.)
Scot believes that if our interpetation of the Bible does not lead to good works, we have aborted what the Bible is designed to produce. “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.” (112)
I like the challenge to apply the Bible that comes from this statement. But I don’t believe it’s quite as simple as that. After all, who does enough good works? Who follows Scripture perfectly? The implication is that no one is completely right, and therefore, no one can read the Bible rightly. So does that mean we’re all just groping in the darkness when it comes to Bible interpretation?
Some readers may wonder where Tradition fits into Scot’s hermeneutic. Scot believes we need to read the Bible with tradition, not through tradition. We give profound respect to tradition, but save the final authority (sola scriptura) for Scripture alone.
In order to live out the message of the Bible, we have to see it as a Story, not a puzzle or a random collection of laws. The Bible tells a story into which we are called to enter.
The Story motif leads Scot to see the secret to reading the Bible as this: “That was then and this is now.” We have to read the Story and realize that times have changed. God has spoken in the Old Testament in certain ways, in the New Testament in certain ways, and now, God speaks in our days in our ways (57). Whether this means Scot is affirming some sort of continuing revelation is never made clear. He says that the secret to reading the Bible is understanding that God speaks in our days in our ways. But how this idea corresponds to God’s past revelation and whether or not this establishes ongoing revelation or authority outside of Scripture is never fully explored.
The major problem I see in Scot’s emphasis on the Bible as Story and his dismissal of systematic theology is that he himself is not able to live up to his own dichotomy. It is interesting to note that Scot tells the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, and then says this:
“God wanted The Adam to enjoy what the Trinity had eternally enjoyed and what the Trinity continues to enjoy: perfect communion and mutuality with an equal.”
Okay… to get from the Story of the Garden to this statement, you have to do some systematizing somewhere. Scot takes the Story and reduces it to a proposition that expresses God’s intention. I’m fine with him doing so. I only point out that the emphasis on Story he establishes with one hand, he takes away with the other. I am weary of those who would call us to pit Story and Systematization against one another (whether the call is coming from the Reformed camp that is afraid of “Story” or the Emerging camp that is afraid of “Systematics”).
Nowhere does Scot enter into issues of New Covenant and Old Covenant and how things have changed in the different eras of salvation history. Perhaps Scot avoids this discussion because it inevitably leads to categories are systematic, but surely these distinctions can be helpful. By not entering into these discussions, he runs the risk of leaving too much on the table up for grabs.
Another drawback in Scot’s emphasis on Story is his quick dismissal of the debates over evolution. He believes these debates distract us from the Story that is told in Genesis 1-2. I agree that a Bible lesson from Genesis 1-2 that focuses only on the evolution/creation debate (or the old earth / young earth controversy) does indeed miss the point of the passage.
But I am surprised that Scot, despite his insistence on the Story, sees the fight over evolution as relatively unimportant. Most people engaged in this debate realize that a Story – a narrative of the world – is at stake. After all, if evolution is true, then we have a naturalistic world. If creationism is true, then we have a Creator God to whom we are responsible. This debate leads to two opposing worldviews (or narratives). The fight over evolution and creation is, at a fundamental level, a fight for a Story.
But my biggest hesitation regarding The Blue Parakeet is the way that “authority” is described as an inferior “framing principle” for the way we look at the Bible. Scot believes that speaking of the Bible primarily in terms of authority fosters a relationship with a book instead of a relationship with the Author (84).
I agree that framing the Bible merely in terms of authority and submission might not be personal enough. I recognize the need to incorporate a more relational approach. Scot is trying to help people avoid treating the Bible as a rulebook in order to help them see it as God’s story that invites us into relationship with God.
But I believe Scot’s aversion to authority is not nuanced enough. He writes as if authority is opposed to love, trust and conversation. His view of authority is clearly negative, and therefore, he writes as if these different principles cannot coexist. My question is this: Why can’t love come through authority? For all of Scot’s (right) emphasis on the kingdom, where is God’s kingly rule?
The final quarter of the book is about women in ministry. When looking at the Old Testament, Scot makes a disturbing admission: history is written by men and “he who writes the story controls the glory.” Yes, the Bible is written from a male perspective. But as Scot himself says, these are God’s words, not just men’s words.
Scot takes a different approach to arguing for women in church ministries. He doesn’t take the “justice” or “equality” route. That smacks of Americanism. Scot’s view is one of Spirit-endowed gifts. He believes it is a hermeneutical fallacy to gravitate to Eph. 5 and 1 Tim. 2 before looking at all the women in the New Testament who clearly exercised certain gifts.
Scot emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in discerning these issues of women in ministry. I have a hard time believing that the Holy Spirit did not inspire and illuminate 2000 years of church fathers on this issue, and chose instead to wait until the 20th century when the culture began moving in a feminist direction.
I will give credit to Scot for starting out with general teaching about women before going to the “silence” passages that he deals with next. Interpreting the specific in light of the general is ultimately the right way to go about it. But when I take the same road as Scot, I still disagree. It is clear to me that Genesis 1-2 describes distinctive gender roles and hierarchy as part of the creation order and not the fall. (Why else would Paul return to creation to make his argument?)
Perhaps the most revealing insight to me is Scot’s admission that certain Asian or Muslim contexts should perhaps proceed slowly with women in ministry, so as not to endanger the church’s witness or credibility (204). Notice that in the final instance, Culture makes the decision. Indeed “that was then and this is now” could also be interpreted as “that is over there and this is over here.” If it is right for women to be in church ministry, I would assume that it is right everywhere for everyone. I fear that Scot’s principles for biblical interpretation open the door for relativism regarding any aspect of Scripture that does not sit well with contemporary culture.
I appreciate much of what Scot McKnight has to say. I have long benefited from his books. But the direction that The Blue Parakeet takes is troubling to me. The questions that Scot raises are good. But for the most part, Scot’s answers do little to clarify how we should proceed in our interpretation of the Bible.