I’m so excited about our book club selection for the moth of January that I decided to go ahead and get started on it this week. My copy of The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight was a Christmas present, and despite battling a severe cold and the constant temptation to play guitar hero, I managed to finish it within a few days.
The Blue Parakeet is perfect for the blog because it asks a lot of intriguing questions about how we read the Bible and calls for a new approach that transcend the old traditional vs. liberal approach to hermeneutics. Also, it is published by the greatest, most merciful publisher on earth—Zondervan. (I’m on a tight deadline with my own book right now, so I think a little sucking up is warrented...just in case.)
Many of you are probably familiar with Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog. If you aren’t, I highly recommend you visit. Over the past few years, I’ve come to really appreciate McKnight’s humility and gentleness, especially when dealing with controversial issues, and my impressions of The Blue Parakeet were no doubt influenced by my respect for its author.
So, let’s get to it.
Picking and Choosing
One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone says to me, (usually in response to some statement I’ve made about the role of women in the church or Christians and politics or some other wildly inappropriate subject for dinner conversation), “well I don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing which parts of the Bible I take seriously.” The implication is that my position ignores certain parts of the Bible while their position does not. “I prefer to take the Bible at its word,” they say. I hear this all the time, and it makes me want to scream, “Really? Well, then why haven’t you sold all of your possessions as Jesus commanded in Luke 14:33?” or “Why don’t you tell your wife to take off that nice necklace and cover her head?” (At which point they could appropriately ask me why I have chosen to ignore James’ command to “be slow to speak and slow to anger,” after which I could remind them of Jesus’ words about judging...and before you know it, we would be flinging food and Bible verses at one another at will.)
So you can imagine my delight when McKnight writes the following in Chapter 1 of the Blue Parakeet:
“Many of my fine Christian friends, pastors, and teachers routinely made the claim that they were Bible-believing Christians, and they were committed to the whole Bible and that—and this was one of my favorite lines—‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me!’... What I discovered is that we all pick and choose...No one does everything the Bible says.” (11-12)
The point of the book is to explore why we pick and choose, and “how to do this in a way that honors God and embraces the Bible as God’s Word for all times.” (13)
In other words, the first step is to admit that we all do it. We all pick and choose. The second step is to examine why, and the third is to explore how to do it right.
When it comes to picking and choosing, McKnight uses as an example James 1:26-27, in which James writes that “those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless,” noting that, in his church, “we didn’t measure Christian maturity by control of the tongue.” (12) He’s right. Many of you have probably witnessed a young girl be “disciplined” at church for getting pregnant, or seen a man or woman forced to leave the church for committing adultery. But how many of you have seen a person disciplined for being a gossip?
Other examples of picking and choosing that McKnight cites include observing the Sabbath, tithing, foot-washing, charismatic gifts, and surrendering of possessions. He also points out that many Christians appeal to Paul’s use of the word “nature” in Romans 1:26 when the apostle writes, “even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones,” while ignoring his use of the word “nature” in I Corinthians 11:14 in which he asks, “does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair it is her glory?”
McKnight asks, “Why is it that one group thinks the charismatic gifts are dead and gone while other groups vibrate with tongue-speaking and words of prophecy? Why is that two of us can sit down with the same Bible with the same question—Should Christians participate in war?—and come away with two different answers? One can appeal to Joshua and Judges and the other can appeal to Jesus’ statement to love your enemies and to turn the other cheek. Why do some churches ordain women and let them preach while other churches have folks who get up and walk out when a woman opens her bile for some teaching in front of men?” (18)
According to McKnight, there is plenty of picking and choosing on both sides. We just don’t like to admit it.
It’s easy enough to go along pretending not to notice, to sweep such inconsistencies under the rug, he says, until a verse or passage suddenly jumps out at us, challenging our old assumptions. McKnight calls these Blue Parakeets.
Writes McKnight, “Blue parakeet passages are oddities in the Bible that we prefer to cage and silence rather than to permit into our sacred mental gardens. If we are honest, blue parakeet passages often threaten us, call into question our traditional way of reading the Bible, and summon us back to the Bible to rethink how we read the Bible.” (208)
Blue parakeets may be “as simple as the Sabbath or foot washing or as complex and emotional as women in church ministries or homosexuality.” The point is that they make us stop and think.
- According to McKnight, we tend to use shortcuts when reading the Bible, and we rely on these shortcuts to silence or ignore blue parakeets. These shortcuts include:
- Treating the Bible as a collection of laws (legalism)
- Treating the Bible as a collection of blessings and promises, filled with little morsels of truth taken out of context (he uses the example of inspirational calendars that predictably use Jeremiah 31:31 as a promise to all people at all times)
- Treating the Bible as a Rohrsschach inkblot onto which we can project our own ideas (I think that we all do this to an extent, don’t you?)
- Treating the Bible as a giant puzzle that we are to puzzle together (I think he’s referring to systematic theology)
- Treating one of the Bible author’s as a Maestro (basically, filtering everything else in the Bible through the grid of Paul or the book Romans or the Gospels or whatever.)
(The parentheses are mine)
I don't know about you, but my personal experience has been with shortcuts 4 and 5. Heavily influenced by theology all of my life, I’ve always sought to systematize the Bible. When I went through a (very brief) Reformed phase, I ignored the many passages of Scripture that contradicted Calvin. When I went through my (still lingering) Arminian stage, I skipped over the passages that spoke of predestination. Raised with the Romans road, I used to take Paul more seriously than Jesus. In fact, it used to bother me that Jesus wasn’t more clear about justification by faith alone.
McKnight claims that a better option is to read the Bible as Story...and we’ll talk about that next time.
What do you think?
Reflecting on McKnight’s first two chapters, a few questions jump out:
1) Do you agree that all Christians pick and choose when it comes to interpreting and applying Scripture, and can you think of some other examples? 2) What are some of YOUR blue parakeets—passages that bother your or challenge you to re-think your position on certain issues? and 3) Which shortcuts to you tend to use when reading the Bible? Which shortcuts did you grow up with?
P.S. Please excuse any typos, grammatical errors, or crazy talk about food fights over hermeneutics. I'm a little high on Nyquil right now.