I recently volunteered to review Scot McKnight's latest offering, the Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. I must say, so far Mr. Mcknight hasn't disappointed yet!
We all, to one degree or another, pick and choose when it comes to biblical interpretation and application; that is to say that we all approach the text with a bias and and list of presuppositions that we believe about any given text or even the Bible as a whole. The problem, McKnight suggests, is that we don't often understand why we do it, or even that we do it. He cites in his opening introduction the pithy statement that I too share a great disdain for and yet it appears on many a car's rear bumper as it chugs down the highway [often at speeds exceeding the local speed limits]: "God said it, I believe it, that settles it!" To be sure, we may have our own rationale for approaching the text like we do, but it often simply reinforces our own biases.
McKnight lets us in on his primordial journey into the Christian faith as along the way he encountered people who "said" that they "believed" that the Bible should be taken literally. The problem was for McKNight, and for many of us, that many people who hold this stand don't back it up with how they live their lives. Simply the fruit wasn't ever brought to bear upon their belief.
McKinght cites example after example of how we approach the Bible with certain assumptions about what we believe is applicable and why.
For Mcknight, the solution is twofold: 1. Admit our biases and accept them for what they are. 2. As the deeper question of how it is that we should live out the Bible today.
I would call this endeavor a movement towards a authentic and consistent hermeneutic.
In the second part of the intro, McKnight unpacks for us the metaphor for the book's title: his backyard encounter with a once tame but now wild blue Parakeet that is reeking havoc on its unsuspecting species-mates the sparrows. For McKnight, this blue Parakeet at first is an anomaly and then becomes an influence that changes the dynamic of the entire pecking order around the bird feeder [pardon the pun]. Foe becomes friend, but only forever under a cloud of anxious suspicion as the sparrows are never quiet sure they can trust their new found friend. Yet the parakeet is allowed to be true to who he [or she] is.
While there are numerous ways to read the Scriptures, McKinght suggests that there are three that servve as a good starting point to begin discussion. He suggests that we as readers might: Read to Retrieve; Read Through Tradition; Read With Tradition. Let me explain.
Read to Retrieve:
McKnight states on page 25: "Some of us have been taught to read the Bible in such as way that we return to the times of the Bible in order to retrieve biblical ideas and practices for today" He goes on to suggest that we do this as a whole or in select parts that we the reader believe to be important.
I liken this to doing an autopsy on a living being. We strip mine the Scriptures to find the "essence" of a given text simply so that we can take it and attempt to make it fit into our day, time, and culture.
Reading Through Tradition:
McKnight states on page 29 that they Reading Through Tradition folks feel that, "ordinary people need to learn to read the Bible through tradition or they will misread the Bible and create schisms in the church." The caution he suggests is that we need to make sure that we are not simply reading the Bible with a "whatever I believe the text says is what it says" mentality.
Biblical interpretation is not done in a vacuum and we need to make sure that we test our hypothesis with the history of ecclesilogical interpretation. But the other danger is that we can make one tradition "truer" than another. Tradition therefore trumps interpretation and we end up reading the Scriptures solely through the lens of our tradition which leads to what McKnight calls traditionalism: "the inflexible, don't-ask-questions-do-it-the way-it-has-always-been-done approach to bible reading." [p.31]
Reading With Tradition:
Again, McKnight: "We dare not ignore what God has said to the church through the ages, nor dare we fossilize past interpretation into traditionalism. Instead we need to go back to the Bible so we can move forward through the church and speak God's Word in our days in our ways." [p. 34]
For McKnight, although the Bible is written within the context of a given culture and time period, it is not bound and limited. That is to say that although we need some element of reading to retrieve and some element of reading through tradition to grasp the full bodied meaning of the Scriptures, we must allow the Bible the freedom to speak to our day and time in a way that is authentic, true, consistent, and yet fresh.
Rob Bell, in my opinion has said something similar in his book Velvet Elvis when he uses the metaphor of doctrine [read tradition] as "springs" or "bricks." One is dynamic and the other static. How we interpret those two will say a lot about how we interpret Scripture. Does the past great tradition of the church serve to propel us forward like springs. Or does it serve as firm unmovable fossilized traditions that don't have the flexibility for us to build upon them.
Make no mistake, McKnight, in my opinion, is not one who takes a low view of the Scriptures at all. In fact like most orthodox [small on the "o"] followers of Jesus, the Scriptures are for him still awarded primacy in all things. Yet there is a sense in which we must approach them with a freshness and humility if we are to do justice to what the Scriptures actually say.
Well, those are some thoughts. More to come as I move through the chapters.