Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Blue Parakeet: The Book and I

A few weeks ago I responded to an offer on Jesus Creed to receive an advance reader copy of Scot McKnight's The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Zondervan, 2008).

I'm happy to announce that the book has arrived today. As the subtitle indicates, The Blue Parakeet takes a look at how Christians have read, are reading, and perhaps should read the Bible. The first chapter, "The Book and I," takes its starting point from the most problematic of slogans: "God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me!" (p. 11), to which Scot responds, "Hogwash!" He then goes on to chronicle a number of instances in which the Bible is very clear in what it says, whether about observing the Sabbath, tithing, foot washing, and so on, but in which serious-minded, Bible-believing Christians don't seem to be very serious-minded about actually doing what the Bible is saying.

Scot writes autobiographically here:
What I learned was an uncomfortable but incredibly intriguing truth: Every one of us adopts the Bible and (at the same time) adapts the BIble to our culture. In less appreciated terms, I'll put it this way: Everyone picks and chooses. I know this sounds out of the box and off the wall for many, but no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, it's true. We pick and choose. (It's easier for us to hear "we adopt and adapt," but the two expressions amount to the same thing.) (13; my emphasis)

At this point (remember, I've only just begun reading) I find myself appreciate Scot's discussion on two levels. First, he avoids the too-easy criticism that other people are picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to observe and which to marginalize and acknowledges up front and openly that everyone picks and chooses. As he eventually says, "I knew there was plenty of picking and choosing on both sides of every question (18; original emphasis). Second, and more importantly, Scot doesn't approaching this picking-and-choosing as a problem to be corrected. Rather than asking, How can we stop picking and choosing and start observing every written letter?, Scot turns his attention to why:
I believe many of us want to know why we pick and choose. Even more importantly, many of us want to know how to do this in a way that honors God and embraces the Bible as God's Word for all times. (13; original emphases)

This is exactly right. The idea that we should treat every word of the Bible as of equal moral and ethical weight is, to re-use a word, hogwash. Is the proscription in Deut. 14.21 against boiling a young goat in its mother's milk on the same level as the injunction to love the LORD with all one's heart, soul, and might (Deut 6.5)? Of course not. Even the insistence, should one want to make it, that rather than choosing between these two commands we should observe them both does not obviate the point that the latter is weightier than the former. Scot's question — How can we pick and choose in a way that honors God and embraces the Bible as God's Word for all times? — is exactly the question with which Christians ought to be wrestling.

In all of this Scot keeps his focus on something far more important than the book's subtitle might have led us to expect: Not just how we read the Bible but how we live the Bible in today's world. But reading the Bible — and examining and challenging how we read the Bible — runs its own risks, how much greater are those challenges presented by living the Bible.

As I've said, I'm only just beginning The Blue Parakeet, and it's far too soon to say I like this book (or that I don't). But at this point I appreciate the questions Scot raises as well as his focus on living the text over merely reading it. To be honest, I suspect that "living" is what most of us mean when we say "reading," but it's good for us every now and then to remind ourselves that this is what we mean. I also appreciate the personal tone of Scot's writing. The questions asked here aren't (if I understand him rightly) about what we should think about war or homosexuality or foot washing or charismatic gifts. Rather, the questions ask what we actually think about such things on the basis of how we actualize the biblical text in our own moral and ethical decisions. These are much more serious questions, and (to be honest) I'm much less comfortable asking them.

1 comment:

jason said...

life would be SO much easier if the Bible were just laid out in easy, simple, quantitative, black and white terms. the fact that it's not makes grace that much more necessary and wonderful.

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