Who’s Explaining Away Blue Parakeets? -- By: Thomas R. Schreiner
JBMW 14:1 (Spring 2009) p. 60
Who’s Explaining Away Blue Parakeets?
A Review of Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.
James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Survey Of The Book
The title of Scot McKnight’s new book is intriguing and beckons the reader to its contents. What does a blue parakeet have to do with interpreting the Bible? McKnight tells the story of the surprising arrival of a blue parakeet to his yard, and compares its unexpected presence to texts in the scriptures that confound our conventional explanations of what the Bible says. None of us, says McKnight, really does everything that the Bible says. We are selective in applying the Bible, and so we pick and choose what parts of scripture to practice. For instance, no one, claims McKnight, actually practices the Sabbath as it is set forth in the Old Testament. Most of us don’t practice footwashing, even though Jesus explicitly commanded us to do so. Indeed, Jesus commanded his disciples to give up all their possessions, but very few, if any, do this either.
How should we respond to the fact that we don’t do everything the Bible says? McKnight says that we could try to put ourselves back into the world of the Bible and literally do all that it commands. Those who do so are to be commended for their sincerity, but it is impossible for twenty-first century people to try to live in accord with a first-century culture. Indeed, “it is undesirable and unbiblical to retrieve it all” (26). We need to apply the teaching of the scriptures in a fresh and powerful way to our time instead. Others read the Bible in accord with tradition, and McKnight applauds the desire to read the scriptures in accord with “the Great Tradition.” Still, we must beware of “traditionalism,” which hardens the tradition in such a way that a fresh word of scripture can never dent the tradition. McKnight proposes instead that we must read the Bible “with the Great Tradition” (34), so that the Bible rather than tradition functions as our final authority, even though we are informed by the tradition. Otherwise, we will fall into the danger of losing the wonder of seeing the blue parakeets in scripture.
So, how should we read the Bible? McKnight emphasizes throughout the book that the Bible must be read as story, as part of a grand narrative. McKnight identifies five wrong ways to read the Bible: (1) reading the Bible as a collection of laws without considering their place in the overall story; (2) isolating texts of scripture so that we take verses out o...
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