The Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight (LentBooks 2010 #9)

The Blue Parakeet is a book I picked up because I’ve seen it positively reviewed and recommended many times.  Basically, it’s a non-academic, popular book written for evangelical Christians, about how we read the Bible.  McKnight’s basic premise is very simple: nobody, even people who claim to follow “the Bible and the Bible only,” is capable of reading the Bible without interpreting it.  We all read through some interpretive lens; we all “pick and choose” what we will follow out of the Bible; we all have to deal with or else ignore Bible passages that don’t fit within our framework (these are the “blue parakeets” of the title, a metaphor that I personally thought began to feel a little tired by the end of the book).

I guess there are people who will find this a shocking premise, but to me it’s pretty obvious that every Christian, everywhere, is reading the Bible through some kind of interpretive framework, and the question is not how to stop doing that — you can’t – -but rather, given that we have to interpret what we read, how should we interpret it?

This is the burden of the book.  McKnight explores some of the different ways Christians read the Bible.  Some read it to retrieve doctrine, laws, rules from the Bible and apply them to our lives today, regardless of cultural context or change.  Others read the Bible through the lens of church tradition and ignore anything that isn’t sanctioned by that tradition.  McKnight recommends instead that we read the Bible with tradition, aware of but not tied to the traditional ways in which Christians have read sacred texts, and that we read it with an awareness that God speaks in different ways for different times.  He suggests that the Bible is far more powerful and effective when we read it as Story, rather than as a law book, a puzzle, or a collection of blessings and promises.

After exploring these ideas at some length, he applies them to a particular issue: the role of women in ministry, and demonstrates how he reads the overarching story of women’s roles in God’s work throughout the Old and New Testaments, and how, with that story as a guide, he reads Paul’s texts about women keeping silent and refusing to allow a woman to teach.  It’s a good exegesis which I liked because I agreed with his conclusion, but honestly, I didn’t see anything in this section or in the entire book that would convince or change the mind of someone whose was sure that they were basing their faith on the Bible and the Bible alone, without any interpretive filters. 

Most of the people I find myself disagreeing with, especially those opposed to the ordination of women, are quite sure that they are reading the Bible “correctly” and everyone else is misinterpreting it.  I didn’t find anything in The Blue Parakeet that challenged how I read the Bible, since I pretty much read it the way Scot McKnight does, but more discouragingly, I didn’t find anything here that I thought would be convincing to anyone who didn’t already agree with him.  More and more, I find myself reading that the main interpretive filter through which most of us raed the Bible is the lens of our own preconceptions and prejudices, and we go to the Bible to find proof texts to support what we already want to believe.  Maybe there’s a way out of that trap, but for me, I didn’t find it in The Blue Parakeet.

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2 Comments

Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- general

2 responses to “The Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight (LentBooks 2010 #9)

  1. It does seem obvious to me now that people read the Bible through their own interpretive frameworks, but having come from a “Bible and Bible only” background, I was surprised by that idea when I first encountered it. I did know people who I believed were misinterpreting, but I honestly thought they just weren’t reading carefully or doing nothing more than prooftexting–never realizing that I was bringing my own biases to the text as well. And it occurs to me that McKnight’s emphasis on reading the Bible as a story is in itself an interpretive framework that may skew one’s understanding (but I say that as someone who hasn’t read the book).

    As for ways out of the trap, I’d love to figure that out! For now, the best I can do is to be aware that I have my own biases that I bring with me and also to read widely from other places and times to get a sense of how others have interpreted scripture.

  2. David Goode

    Yes I very much agree, this book didn’t give much. It was also very dry – very very boring to read.

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