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Scot McKnight’s “The Blue Parakeet” – a review

Blue Parakeet coverWhen Zondervan offered up free early copies of Dr. Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet for bloggers to review, I knew I wanted to get in on the action. I’ve enjoyed reading Scot’s (he won’t mind if I use his first name here, I think) blog for some time now, and while I knew he typically inhabits a spectrum of belief a little more emergent than I find myself, I looked forward to reading his thoughts on the Bible, or, as the subtitle of the book says, “Rethinking How You Read the Bible”. (Dr. McKnight is a professor of religious studies at North Park College in Chicago. He also wrote a volume on Galatians in the NIV Application Commentary series.)

Scot lays out his question in the first chapter: “how, then, are we to live the Bible today?” Sure, there are those folks who say that we follow all of it, but really, he says, we “pick and choose” what we live out. He knows that phrase will make us uncomfortable, but he does that to a purpose. We are so used to our denomination’s (or our own) interpretations of Scripture, which help us know which parts we follow and which parts we don’t, that we’ve often stopped thinking about how we go about that interpretation in the first place.

McKnight asks us to look at the Bible and first understand the whole sweep of history – from creation to the fall to redemption to the end. Within that sweep, then, we can start to see how the individual pieces fit. Just as we shouldn’t take a single verse out of context in a chapter, we shouldn’t take a single chapter (or a single book!) out of context of the greater whole. He also encourages us to distinguish between God and the Bible. The Bible is one way God has chosen to reveal Himself to us, but the Bible isn’t God. We don’t worship the Bible. We worship God. (This whole distinction is a useful reminder for those of us who have been in churches where precise, “literal” adherence to the Scripture (at least, the passages deemed “important”) has been given overly-high priority.)

I really enjoyed, appreciated, and agreed with the first two-thirds of The Blue Parakeet. Then Dr. McKnight, in a move he fully admits will not sit well with some, uses his principles of Biblical interpretation to argue for the acceptance of women in pastoral (teaching/leadership) roles in the church. And here is where I lose him. I know that this is one of his pet causes, but it just doesn’t work for me, I’m not convinced.

A few weeks ago on his blog, Dr. McKnight talked about his interpretation of 1 Timothy 3 (a passage that doesn’t get touched on in The Blue Parakeet), and argues it this way:

However, it is an inference to claim that only males can be elders or that all elders must be males. Why do I say this? Here’s why: Paul does not say “Elders must be males.” He assumes the elders to whom he writes are males, but he does not explicitly require that elders be males. Again: he assumes they are males, he says things that apply to males, but Paul does not explicitly say that elders must be males. [Emphasis in the original.]

And that just isn’t a convincing argument to me. You have to assume and read just as much into the passage to come up with his interpretation as you do to come up with the traditional interpretation, and, with McKnight’s position, you further have to ignore 2000 years of the church’s historical understanding of the passage. Furthermore, he argues that the list of qualifications in 1 Tim 3 shouldn’t be considered “rules for” or “qualifications of” elders – rather, that it should be considered “symptoms of virtues expected of leaders for Christians in the 1st Century”. And why? Because, first of all, the lists of 1 Tim 3 and Titus are different, and second, because “we know that many pastors/elders/deacons have children who don’t believe and who are rebellious, some are quarrelsome, some are not hospitable, and not all have a good reputation with outsiders”. In other words, because some who have held the role of elder in the church have failed to meet these standards, therefore they must not be “standards”. Begging your pardon, Dr. McKnight, but isn’t that like saying that since people break the speed limit that the speed limit must just be a “symptom of a virtue expected for drivers in the 21st century”? But I digress.

All in all, I’d recommend Dr. McKnight’s book for a good fresh look at how we interpret Scripture. The degree of “groundbreakingness” (surely that’s not a word, is it?) you feel when reading it will, in large measure, depend on what Biblical tradition you have grown up in and/or studied. Be cautious, though, when you reach the portion that’s interpretation; the quest for “rethinking” needs to continue to be guided by wisdom and historical perspective.

The Blue Parakeet will be released on November 1, 2008, and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.

9 thoughts on “Scot McKnight’s “The Blue Parakeet” – a review

  1. Way over yonder …

    Fair enough. I don’t expect everyone to be convinced of how I use Story in the example of women in ministry, but I tried to explain it as I see it. I have only one little grump about this post: that elder stuff is about a blog I posted and not about the book. My contention, of course, is WDWD and whether or not churches are letting women do now what they did then. That, to me, is an argument we need to ponder.

    On the “begging your pardon” … nice little touch. Yes, I can see how some might take my argument that way, but my point — isn’t it? — that the Church has not read those statements as rules, and Paul himself didn’t give the same list twice. So, it’s not just that folks don’t meet those items but that we — the Church — has not treated them that way. Maybe the church has been wrong all along? I consider that an option.

    Anyway, I appreciate your fair review. I wish all could review books with your spirit.

  2. Scot,

    Wow, nothing shakes up the blog like a quick comment from the book’s author. I’m honored to have you drop by.

    I’ll admit, I wrestled with whether or not to pull in the blog post, but I wanted to be able to grapple a bit with the thinking on women in leadership – a place where we obviously see things a bit differently. Sorry if that came across as unfair to the book. There is definitely can be a tension between the “what did women do?” (WDWD, as you term it) that we see in the NT and the 1 Tim and Titus passages. We’ve come down on different sides of that tension right now, but that’s OK.

    If you ask my opinion on the elder “characteristics” vs. “rules”, I would fall on the side of the Church typically having gotten it wrong… but I’ll chew on it some more.

    Thanks again for a helpful, thoughtful, book!

  3. Tony, in this particular case Dr. McKnight posted about the opportunity on his blog, and I followed up there. I haven’t heard anything further from Zondervan about blog review opportunities.

    That being said, I am on a blog review list run by the Mulnomah and WaterBrook labels of Random House, and could forward one of those invites on to you if you’re interested.

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