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The Blue Parakeet: Introduction

September 18, 2008

I just received, from Zondervan, an advance copy of Scot McKnight’s latest book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. The deal was that I would review and blog about the book, and so that’s what I plan to do as I read through it. Dr. McKnight is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University in Chicago. His blog, Jesus Creed, is a site I visit every day, and one I find to be a community practicing enlightening and gracious conversation concerning Jesus and faith in the 21st century.  I was first introduced to McKnight’s work while serving as a pastoral intern in 1996. I was asked to teach a high school bible study for a few months, and was given his commentary on Galatians to help me prepare the study. I have read some of his other books (Embracing Grace and A Community Called Atonement) and  enjoy Dr. McKnight’s writing style and theological perspectives. So when I heard he was writing a book on reading the Bible, I was very interested.

I am an Anabaptist/Mennonite pastor, and in the past few years I’ve been interested in thinking in new ways about:

  • How the Bible shapes us
  • How we read the Bible
  • How we can read it in community

The third one seems like a really easy thing to do until you try to do it 🙂 One of the difficulties I’ve found in thinking about the Bible in my context (“evangelical” Protestant congregations) centers on how we talk about the Bible. Countless times I have heard phrases like “its biblical…” and “the Bible says…” enter conversations.  And those phrases usually signal that the conversation is coming quickly to its end (or perhaps to an argument or disagreement). But who defines what’s “biblical” or what the Bible is “plainly” saying? We have a hard time realizing that there is a subjective side to our approach of reading scripture.

This is the kind of issue McKnight addresses in chapter one. He admits that all of us “pick and choose” (11) when it comes to the Bible. For each person who interacts with it, there are parts of the Bible that are accepted and practiced, and others that are adapted or ignored. He gives some prominent examples where this happens, like sabbath, footwashing, and “contentious issues” (17). And for the author this fact leads to a very important question, and a very pastoral one: “How, then, are we to live out the Bible today?” (11).

I found McKnight’s thoughts in this chapter to be very refreshing. He brings out the need to be willing to get really honest with ourselves about how we read scripture texts. There may be a particular way that we do it, and it could (and may often) differ with how another believer does it. We tend to read the Bible differently.

So a few questions:

  • Are we willing to ask some good questions about how we read the Bible?
  • Can a community approach to interpreting scripture better help us answer Scot’s question (“How, then, are we to live out the Bible today”)?
  • Can we approach more difficult portions of scripture with a willingness to work through them together?

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