Book Club Discussion: The Bible as a Story


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

So last week we discussed what Scot McKnight had to say about how NOT to read the Bible. Today, as we continue our discussion on The Blue Parakeet, we will look at what he says about how we ought to read the Bible instead—primarily, as a story.

In Chapter 4, McKnight argues that: 
1.    The Bible is a Story 
2.    The Story is made up of a series of wiki-stories. 
3.    The wiki-stories are held together by the Story 
4.    The only way to make sense of the blue parakeets in the Bible is to set each in the context of the Bible’s story.

What does he mean by “wiki-story?” McKnight describes it as “the ongoing reworking of the biblical Story by new authors so they can speak the old story in new ways for their day...The Bible contains an ongoing series of midrashes, or interpretive telling, of the one Story God wants us to know and hear...None of the wiki-stories is final; none of them is comprehensive; none of them is absolute; none of them is exhaustive.” (65)

Key to dealing with blue parakeets, according to McKnight, is keeping this principle in mind: “Since God chose to communicate in language, 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...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)

The most important phrase to keep in mind when reading the Bible, according to McKnight, is this: “That was then and this is now.”  God spoke to Moses’ days in Moses’ ways. He spoke to Jeremiah’s days in Jeremiah’s ways. He spoke to Jesus’ days in Jesus’ ways. He spoke to Paul’s days in Paul’s ways.

[Rabbit Trail: This idea could be applied to our lengthy discussion on womanhood—which McKnight covers extensively at the end of the book, and to which we will return. For example, perhaps it goes too far for me to say that it is impossible to have a biblical view of womanhood. Maybe it is possible, if we remember to read Paul’s letters with this in mind: Paul spoke in Paul’s day in Paul’s way. So, as Catherine and Micah pointed out, the passage about women not wearing jewelry and fine clothes can serve as a reminder that we are to avoid materialism and make sure that class distinctions do not get in the way of loving others and sharing the gospel. I would add that perhaps Paul’s instructions that women should not teach or have authority over men (which would be a turn-off to outsiders in that culture), can serve as a reminder that women actually should be allowed to teach and have authority over men (in order to avoid our own set of turn-offs in the present culture.) We will get into more details about this later, as McKnight talks more specifically about how we apply words written thousands of years ago to today.]


Back to McKnight’s premise of the Bible as Story:

So, what is The Story? McKnight holds that all Bible writers conform to one overarching plot, although each may only reveal a small part, or element, of that plot. This plot revolves around five themes, which McKnight says holds the Bible together.  Here’s what the plot/themes look like:

- Creating Eikons* (Genesis 1-2) = Oneness 
- Cracked Eikons (Genesis 3-11) = Otherness 
- Covenant Community (Genesis 12-Malachi) = Otherness expands 
- Christ, the Perfect Eikon, redeems (Matthew-Revelation 20) = One in Christ 
- Consummation (Revelation 21-22) = Perfectly One

(*Eikon means “image, likeness of God.” )

After the Creation account, writes McKnight, “the entire rest of the Bible, aiming as it will toward Jesus Christ, is about turning Eikons bent on otherness to Eikons basking in oneness with God, with self, with others, and with the world.” (72)

Basically, this this sounds a lot like the “Creation, Fall, Redemption” plot with which many of us are already familiar. I’m not sure why, but I find myself a little skeptical about it. I suppose it has something to do with my postmodern aversion to meta-narratives. : ) What it comes down to is, I’m a little unclear about how this scheme is any different than the “puzzle” shortcut that McKnight criticizes in the previous chapter.

The puzzle shortcut, according to McKnight, involves looking for a Grand System, or “mapping the mind of God.”  It “presumes that we know what God was doing behind the Bible before the Bible was written,” he writes on page 50, “and once we have this puzzle in hand we’ve got the Bible figured out.”) How is the “Creation, Fall, Redemption” scheme any different?

Also, I’m still a little unclear of how God commanding the people of Israel to commit genocide fits into the whole “oneness with God and oneness with others” thing.

I certainly agree that the Bible is a collection of wiki-stories that play off similar themes, but I guess I’m not quite convinced that it fits so cohesively together as One Story. I’m tracking with McKnight on the wiki-stories thing, and I’m tracking with him on the whole “that was then, this is now” thing, but I’m not sure I get the “and the entire Bible can be summarized as...” thing. In other words, I feel naturally more inclined to think of Bible stories (that tell us something about God and how people have related to Him over the years) than to think of the Bible Story. I'm also not sure what I think about the idea that the authors of Scripture were aware of this over-arching story, especially the part about Christ.

And yet all the buzz right now is about the Bible as Story. Why don’t I get it? I feel totally un-cool. Y’all need to help me out.

I do, however, like Robert Webber’s description of the Bible as “the story of God’s embrace of the world told in poetic images and types.” (quoted on page 59)

Overall, I think I prefer Peter Rollins’ thoughts on the Bible, which I have written about in a previous post.

In “How (Not) to Speak of God, Rollins writes:

“The Bible itself is a dynamic text full of poetry, prose, history, law and myth all clashing together in a cacophony of voices. We are presented with a warrior God and a peacemaker, a God of territorial allegiance and a God who transcends all territorial divides, an unchanging God and a God who can be redirected…Evidently, such conflict were not judged to be problematic [by the writers and compilers of Scripture], but were accepted. Indeed, such fissures help to prevent us from forming an idolatrous image of God, ensuring that none of us can legitimately claim to understand God as God really is. Consequently, the text bars any attempt  at colonization by individuals or groups who claim to possess an insight into its true meaning.” (13)

What do you think? Do you think of the Bible as a series of stories that together tell One Story? Why don’t I get this? (And I am totally open-minded about this, so feel free to try to help me understand it better.)

So last week we discussed what Scot McKnight had to say about how NOT to read the Bible. Today, as we continue our discussion on “The Blue Parakeet,” we will look at what he says about how we ought to read the Bible instead—primarily, as a story.

In Chapter 4, McKnight argues that: 
1.    The Bible is a Story 
2.    The Story is made up of a series of wiki-stories. 
3.    The wiki-stories are held together by the Story 
4.    The only way to make sense of the blue parakeets in the Bible is to set each in the context of the Bible’s story.

What does he mean by “wiki-story?” McKnight describes it as “the ongoing reworking of the biblical Story by new authors so they can speak the old story in new ways for their day...The Bible contains an ongoing series of midrashes, or interpretive telling, of the one Story God wants us to know and hear...None of the wiki-stories is final; none of them is comprehensive; none of them is absolute; none of them is exhaustive.” (65)

Key to dealing with blue parakeets, according to McKnight, is keeping this principle in mind: “Since God chose to communicate in language, 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...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)

The most important phrase to keep in mind when reading the Bible, according to McKnight, is this: “That was then and this is now.”  God spoke to Moses’ days in Moses’ ways. He spoke to Jeremiah’s days in Jeremiah’s ways. He spoke to Jesus’ days in Jesus’ ways. He spoke to Paul’s days in Paul’s ways.

[Rabbit Trail: This idea could be applied to our lengthy discussion on womanhood—which McKnight covers extensively at the end of the book, and to which we will return. For example, perhaps it goes too far for me to say that it is impossible to have a biblical view of womanhood. Maybe it is possible, if we remember to read Paul’s letters with this in mind: Paul spoke in Paul’s day in Paul’s way. So, as Catherine and Micah pointed out, the passage about women not wearing jewelry and fine clothes can serve as a reminder that we are to avoid materialism and make sure that class distinctions do not get in the way of loving others and sharing the gospel. I would add that perhaps Paul’s instructions that women should not teach or have authority over men (which would be a turn-off to outsiders in that culture), can serve as a reminder that women actually should be allowed to teach and have authority over men (in order to avoid our own set of turn-offs in the present culture.) We will get into more details about this later, as McKnight talks more specifically about how we apply words written thousands of years ago to today.]


Back to McKnight’s premise of the Bible as Story:

So, what is The Story? McKnight holds that all Bible writers conform to one overarching plot, although each may only reveal a small part, or element, of that plot. This plot revolves around five themes, which McKnight says holds the Bible together.  Here’s what the plot/themes look like:

- Creating Eikons* (Genesis 1-2) = Oneness 
- Cracked Eikons (Genesis 3-11) = Otherness 
- Covenant Community (Genesis 12-Malachi) = Otherness expands 
- Christ, the Perfect Eikon, redeems (Matthew-Revelation 20) = One in Christ 
- Consummation (Revelation 21-22) = Perfectly One

(*Eikon means “image, likeness of God.” )

After the Creation account, writes McKnight, “the entire rest of the Bible, aiming as it will toward Jesus Christ, is about turning Eikons bent on otherness to Eikons basking in oneness with God, with self, with others, and with the world.” (72)

Basically, this this sounds a lot like the “Creation, Fall, Redemption” plot with which many of us are already familiar. I’m not sure why, but I find myself a little skeptical about it. I suppose it has something to do with my postmodern aversion to meta-narratives. : ) What it comes down to is, I’m a little unclear about how this scheme is any different than the “puzzle” shortcut that McKnight criticizes in the previous chapter.

The puzzle shortcut, according to McKnight, involves looking for a Grand System, or “mapping the mind of God.”  It “presumes that we know what God was doing behind the Bible before the Bible was written,” he writes on page 50, “and once we have this puzzle in hand we’ve got the Bible figured out.”) How is the “Creation, Fall, Redemption” scheme any different?

Also, I’m still a little unclear of how God commanding the people of Israel to commit genocide fits into the whole “oneness with God and oneness with others” thing.

I certainly agree that the Bible is a collection of wiki-stories that play off similar themes, but I guess I’m not quite convinced that it fits so cohesively together as One Story. I’m tracking with McKnight on the wiki-stories thing, and I’m tracking with him on the whole “that was then, this is now” thing, but I’m not sure I get the “and the entire Bible can be summarized as...” thing. In other words, I feel naturally more inclined to think of Bible stories (that tell us something about God and how people have related to Him over the years) than to think of the Bible Story. I'm also not sure what I think about the idea that the authors of Scripture were aware of this over-arching story, especially the part about Christ.

And yet all the buzz right now is about the Bible as Story. Why don’t I get it? I feel totally un-cool. Y’all need to help me out.

I do, however, like Robert Webber’s description of the Bible as “the story of God’s embrace of the world told in poetic images and types.” (quoted on page 59)

Overall, I think I prefer Peter Rollins’ thoughts on the Bible, which I have written about in a previous post.

In How (Not) to Speak of God, Rollins writes:

“The Bible itself is a dynamic text full of poetry, prose, history, law and myth all clashing together in a cacophony of voices. We are presented with a warrior God and a peacemaker, a God of territorial allegiance and a God who transcends all territorial divides, an unchanging God and a God who can be redirected…Evidently, such conflict were not judged to be problematic [by the writers and compilers of Scripture], but were accepted. Indeed, such fissures help to prevent us from forming an idolatrous image of God, ensuring that none of us can legitimately claim to understand God as God really is. Consequently, the text bars any attempt  at colonization by individuals or groups who claim to possess an insight into its true meaning.” (13)

What do you think? Do you think of the Bible as a series of stories that together tell One Story? Why don’t I get this? (And I am totally open-minded about this, so feel free to try to help me understand it better.)

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