Infused with common sense and seasoned with candor, the latest work from McKnight (The Jesus Creed), religious studies professor at North Park College, takes a stand in controversial territory by bravely asking the question: how is it that even Christians who claim to be led by an authoritative Bible read it so differently? In response, the author asserts that believers need to take a fresh look at how they adopt and adapt Scripture before they can read the Bible in a way that renews a living relationship with the God behind the sacred text. Using the analogy of a water slide, McKnight argues that the Gospel is the slide, the Bible and church tradition the walls that both protect and liberate the believer as he or she discerns how to apply Scripture as a living document. In the last section, McKnight tackles the controversial issue of women's role in church ministry in a way that is both scholarly and confessional, documenting his own journey alongside that of the apostle Paul and other biblical characters. Enriched by folksy anecdotes, this volume could be very useful for evangelical readers and any others wanting a safe place to ask the same bold questions. (Nov.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bibleby Scot McKnight
Why Can’t I Just Be a Christian?” Parakeets make delightful pets. We cage them or clip their wings to keep them where we want them. Scot McKnight contends that many, conservatives and liberals alike, attempt the same thing with the Bible. We all try to tame it. McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet has emerged at the perfect time to cool the flames of a
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Why Can’t I Just Be a Christian?” Parakeets make delightful pets. We cage them or clip their wings to keep them where we want them. Scot McKnight contends that many, conservatives and liberals alike, attempt the same thing with the Bible. We all try to tame it. McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet has emerged at the perfect time to cool the flames of a world on fire with contention and controversy. It calls Christians to a way to read the Bible that leads beyond old debates and denominational battles. It calls Christians to stop taming the Bible and to let it speak anew for a new generation. In his books The Jesus Creed and Embracing Grace, Scot McKnight established himself as one of America’s finest Christian thinkers, an author to be reckoned with. In The Blue Parakeet, McKnight again touches the hearts and minds of today’s Christians, this time challenging them to rethink how to read the Bible, not just to puzzle it together into some systematic theology but to see it as a Story that we’re summoned to enter and to carry forward in our day. In his own inimitable style, McKnight sets traditional and liberal Christianity on its ear, leaving readers equipped, encouraged, and emboldened to be the people of faith they long to be.
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The Blue ParakeetRethinking How You Read The Bible
By Scot McKnight
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2008 Scot McKnight
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Book and I
How, Then, Are We to Live the Bible Today?
When I was in high school, I went to a Christian camp in Muscatine, Iowa, with Kris, my beautiful girlfriend (now my wife), to horse around for a week. But one morning, we were asked by our cabin leader to go spend a little time in prayer before breakfast. So I wandered out of our cabin, down a hill, alongside a basketball court, and through an open field, and then I walked over to the campfire area, climbed a short incline, and finally sat next to a tree, and prayed what my cabin leader told us to pray: "Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit." I wasn't particularly open to spiritual things, but for some reason I said that prayer as our counselor advised. The Lord to whom I prayed that prayer caught me off guard. To quote the words of John Wesley, "My heart was strangely warmed." I don't remember what I expected to happen (probably nothing), but what happened was surprising. That prayer, or I should say the answer to that prayer, changed my life. I didn't speak in tongues, I didn't "see Jesus," and I didn't "hear God." My eyes didn't twitter, and I didn't become catatonic. When I prayed, something powerful happened, and I went to breakfast a new person. Within hours I knew what I wanted to do for my life.
On that hot summer day, I unexpectedly became a Bible student with a voracious appetite to read. Prior to that prayer I had very little interest in the Bible, and when it came to routine reading, I read only what my teachers assigned and Sports Illustrated. Within a week or two I began to read the Bible through from Genesis to Revelation, four chapters a day. I finished my reading the next spring, getting ahead of schedule because there were too many days when four chapters were not enough. My habit at the time was to arise early to read at least two chapters before going off to school, and then to read two chapters or so at night before I went to bed. I read the Scofield King James Bible, and Paul's letter to the Galatians became my favorite book. The Bible was full of surprises for me, and my eyes, mind, and heart were stuck on wide-open wonder. All because I asked God's Spirit to fill me.
Some of my former Sunday school teachers were as surprised as I was by what was happening. My youth pastor encouraged me to read serious books, and he also modeled a way to study the Bible by teaching Romans to our youth group. He also suggested I learn Greek, which, because he had a spare beginning Greek grammar book, I began. I had no idea what I was doing, but I liked languages, so I plugged away, never knowing quite what to expect. My father gave me some books to read, like John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. I devoured books. My teachers observed that I read books for class, not because I had to, but to learn and to engage in conversation.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I asked God's Spirit to fill me. I had no idea that I would go to college in Grand Rapids and become a bookaholic, buying books with money I didn't have! I hung out at Eerdmans and Zondervan and Baker and Kregel looking for bargains. I knew the sales clerks by name and they knew mine. I had no idea that I would then go on to seminary and from there for doctoral studies in England (Nottingham). I had no idea how hard it might be to find a teaching position. But I have lived a privileged life, teaching at a seminary for a dozen years and now teaching undergraduates at North Park University for nearly fifteen years. I had no idea that I would eventually get to travel to and speak in churches around the world, that I would get to write books about Jesus and Paul and Peter and the Bible, and that I would become friends with Bible scholars all around the world. I just had no idea that teaching the Bible meant these things when I asked God's Spirit to fill me. All I know is that from the time I was converted, I wanted to study the Bible. I'm sitting right now in my study, surrounded by books, books about the Bible, and I love what I do. I just had no idea.
The Discovery of a Question
Throughout this process of conversion and reading the Bible, I made discoveries that created a question that disturbed me and still does. Many of my fine Christian friends, pastors, and teachers routinely made the claim that they were Bible-believing Christians, and they were committed to the whole Bible and thatand this was one of the favorite lines"God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me!" They were saying two things and I add my response (which expresses my disturbance):
One: We believe everything the Bible says, therefore ...
Two: We practice whatever the Bible says.
Why say "hogwash," a tasty, salty word I learned from my father? Because I was reading the same Bible they were reading, and I observed that, in factemphasize that word "fact"whatever they were claiming was not in "fact" what they were doing. (Nor was I.) What I discovered is that we all pick and choose. I must confess this discovery did not discourage me as much as it disturbed me, and then it made me intensely curious (and it is why I wrote this book). The discoveries and disturbances converged onto one big question:
How, then, are we to live out the Bible today?
This question never has been and never will be adequately answered with: The Bible says it, and that settles it for me. Why? Because no one does everything the Bible says. Perhaps you expected this question: How, then, are we to apply the Bible today? That's a good question, but I think the word "apply" is a bit clinical and not as dynamic as the phrase "live out." But we will get to that later.
Here's an example of my discovery process as a young student of the Bible. When you and I read the letter of James, brother of Jesus, we hear these words:
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:26-27)
James knew what he was talking about, and, truth be told, there's nothing hard about understanding what James said. It's about as plain as the directions on a stop sign. The clarity of these words is the problem. For all kinds of reasons, and we'll get to those soon, what James said had almost nothing to do with the Christian groups I knew:
We didn't like the word "religious."
We didn't measure Christian maturity by control of the tongue (according to what I was hearing).
Pure and faultlessand that's pretty high quality, you must admitreligion, according to James, isn't measured by church attendance, Bible reading, witnessing, going to seminary, or anything else I found in our discipleship and church membership manuals.
Nope, for James, a pure Christian, the kind God approves of, was one who showed compassion to orphans and widows and avoided being polluted by sin at all costs. Frankly, we emphasized the not being polluted by sin, but we defined "polluted" in ways that had nothing to do with compassion for the marginalized and suffering. For instance, we were dead set against movies, drinking wine, and sex before marriage. In our version of reality, these three were all relatedif you drank with your girlfriend, you'd lose your senses and go to a movie and end up having sex. I'm not only making fun of my past, I'm emphasizing how distorted things gota good, solid Christian was one who didn't do specific things that were against the rules. It also had to do with what we didwhich was go to church weekly, read the Bible daily, and witness as often as we could. These aren't bad things; in fact, I learned to love the Bible because of this context. But the one thing we didn't do was follow everything James said!
As I kept looking around me, this began to disturb me. How in the world were we reading the same Bible? One thing was clear, we were all reading the Bible the same way, and that meant we had somehow learned not to follow the plain words of James.
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.)
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. We'll get to that. First, I offer some examples of picking and choosing, or "adopting and adapting."
Picking and Choosing
The Bible I read both instituted and did not appear to back down from the Sabbath. Observing the Sabbath meant not working from Friday night to Saturday night (Exodus 20:9-10), and I found numerous references in the Acts of the Apostles to the Christian observance of Sabbath. But as I was learning how to read the Bible inside a bundle of serious-minded Christians, I knew no one who really practiced the Sabbath. I quickly learned that the Christian Sunday, which focuses on fellowship and worship, is not the same as the Jewish Sabbath, which focuses on rest from labor. (You can read about this in any good Bible dictionary or on Wikipedia.) The Sabbath was described in the Bible, and it wasn't a "that settles it for me!" for anyone I knew.
What really got me going was that nobody seemed interested in this question. Yes, I did hear that some thought a passage like Colossians 2:16 maybut only mayhave given Gentiles permission not to keep Sabbath, but the issue was not crystal clear. I was learning that we sometimes, rightly or wrongly, live out the Bible by not doing something in the Bible!
The Bible I read taught tithing, but the Bible does not insist that all of the tithe must go to a local church. Truth be told, the New Testament doesn't even bring up the tithe. In the Bible the tithe is a combination of spiritual support (for the temple) and social service (for the poor). Moses says tithes are to be given not only to the Levites (roughly the temple servants) but also to the alien, to the fatherless, and to the widow (Deuteronomy 26:12). The churches I was attending had nothing to do with immigrants, did little to help orphans, and so far as I knew did little to strengthen widows.
What was more, the tithe we were hearing about was something we were to give to our local church for buildings, maintenance, pastoral salaries, missionaries, and the like. But the Bible said that Ias a titherwas to give some of my tithe to the Levite and also to those who were marginalized and suffering. This was something neither I nor anyone I knew was doing. I was learning that we sometimes live out the Bible, rightly or wrongly, by morphing one thing into another, that is, by taking a tithe for temple assistants and also for the poor and turning it into a tithe for the local church. It might be fine to read the Bible like this, but we should at least admit what we are doing: in a word, we are morphing.
Another discovery I made was that Jesus explicitly commanded foot washing in John 13:14. Widows who received benefits from the church were known as those who had washed the feet of saints (1 Timothy 5:10). St. Augustine, three and a half centuries later, writes about Christians washing the feet of the freshly baptized, so I knew that the practice continued well beyond the New Testament days. But I was surrounded by Bible believers and had never seen this happen. I learned that some Christians still practice this, but no one I knew (except a high school friend's church) was doing it. We were either ignoring what the Bible taught or morphing it into a cultural parallel like hanging up one another's coats and offering our guests something to drink. A New Testament scholar, Bill Mounce, in his exhaustive study of 1 Timothy, draws this conclusion about what Paul says of widows: "Paul is not asking if the widow followed church ritual [physically washed feet]; he is asking if she was the type of person who had done good deeds throughout her life." In other words, Paul is not speaking of something literalreal washing of feetbut of an underlying principleserving others. What I learned is that sometimes we look behind the text to grasp a timeless principle and the principle is more important than doing the actual words.
Bill Mounce might be right, but my question as a college student was this one: "How did we know Paul's words were really only describing a symptom of a person of good deeds instead of a literal requirement?" Some suggested to me to quit asking such pesky questions and just follow along, but inside I was learning to ask what for me has a been a lifelong joyous ride of exploring how we live out the Bible.
Excerpted from The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight Copyright © 2008 by Scot McKnight. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Scot McKnight (PhD, Nottingham) is the Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. He is the author of more than fifty books, including the award-winning The Jesus Creed as well as The King Jesus Gospel, A Fellowship of Differents, One.Life, The Blue Parakeet, and Kingdom Conspiracy.
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"Rethinking How You Read the Bible" is the subtitle of Scot McKnight's book THE BLUE PARAKEET. Since everyone picks and chooses, adopts and adapts from the Bible, the issue for McKnight is the how and why of what we choose from the Bible to apply to today. "How are we to live out the Bible today?" God gave us the Bible in order to transform us, and He wants us to move the biblical principles into our relationships, personal character, and actions. That process is called discernment, and it is facilitated by the Holy Spirit and our community of faith. "Until we learn to read the Bible as Story, we will not know how to get anything out of the Bible for daily living. Biblical principles are trans-cultural, but specific expressions are not," says McKnight. This concise, well-organized, and often humorous book is easy to read and understand. McKnight uses metaphors, personal examples, stories from his college students, and historical data to illustrate his points. One case study he uses throughout the book, and in a special section in the last one hundred pages, is "women in church ministries." In it, McKnight demonstrates what he means by "discernment" as he examines the critical biblical passages that deal with this controversial topic. The tone of THE BLUE PARAKEET is gentle, reasoned, and entertaining. It made me see myself as the backyard sparrow, often afraid to deal with the strange, unexpected parakeets that occasionally fly into my world, as I hide out and wish them away. I will not be so quick to silence the blue parakeets now as I try to live out the Bible, in my day, in my way.
McKnight begins by observing we all want to know what the Bible says on a variety of issues such as homosexuality, charismatic gifts, and women in ministry. But the truth is, when it comes to the answers, we all pick and choose what portions of the Bible to follow. Most of us, to some degree or another, give lip service to the Bible¿s teachings in favor of convenience, political correctness, or social sensibility.
The book is divided up into four parts. The first deals with answering the question ¿what is the Bible.¿ Here McKnight argues we are to read the Bible ¿through¿ tradition. That is, we understand how the Bible has been historically read but we do not allow ourselves to be boxed in to the past. Part two is an encouragement to interact with the person who wrote the Bible, not the pages it¿s written on. In part three, McKnight writes about the need for discernment as we ¿pick and choose¿ which portions of Scripture are directly applicable to our 21st century lives. And finally, part four gives an example of discernment by investigating the role of women in the church.
The book will make you think. Many of the best points in the book force you to take stock of how you interpret (or ignore) certain portions of the Bible. I do not agree with all of McKnight¿s conclusions, but I appreciate his honesty when it comes to interpretation. In the end, the book serves as a reminder of the needed humility and grace when it comes to following what the Bible says.
Our Sunday School is using this book to challenge our way of thinking about reading the Bible. It has led to new ways of considering things that we thought we were familiar with, and much interesting discussion.
This book gives you a different look at reading the bible. I thought it was very interesting.
A good book for helping you take a new look at how you read the Bible
Should women be ordained? My own standard answer to that, which is supremely practical, is this: If you believe they should be, then attend a church that ordains women. Unfortunately, evangelical churches still have a cadre of loud complainers who refuse that sensible advice, preferring to stay in churches that don’t ordain women. Apparently they won’t be happy until EVERY church ordains women. On their side are people like this Scot McKnight. He begins the book with his big “discovery”: “we all pick and choose” (p 11) what parts of the Bible to obey. “No one does everything the Bible says” (p 12). True – the New Testament itself makes it clear that the first Christians were freed from the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. Jesus and the apostles make it clear that the MORAL laws of the Old Testament still apply—notably the Ten Commandments. But the author claims we don’t even follow those—we don’t keep the Sabbath holy. “I found numerous references in the Acts of the Apostles to the Christian observance of the Sabbath” (p 14). No, he didn’t—there are none. The only mentions of the Sabbath in Acts are Paul going to the synagogues on the Sabbath because that’s where the Jews and God-fearers gathered. There is NO mention of Christians observing the Sabbath – none. In all Paul’s letters, the only time he mentions the Sabbath is in Colossians 2:16: “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” None of the other New Testament epistles mention Sabbath-keeping. Clearly the Gentile converts were NOT told to observe the Sabbath. “The pick-and-choose method is an exercise in hypocrisy or worse” (p 19). Why? Isn’t it obvious to anyone with a brain that “You shall not murder” is more important than tithing? What he calls “picking and choosing” could be called “distinguishing between major and minor.” “If Paul says women should be silent, our women should be silent. If Exodus says the death penalty is proper, then it is proper today (even for adulterers)” (p 26). Again, this is a familiar tactic of liberals: we obviously do NOT abide by every verse of the Bible, so we’re all hypocrites. It’s disturbing to read something like this in a Christian book, for this idea has been used for many years by the enemies of Christianity. I don’t think any Christian with a functioning brain can be convinced that, since we don’t stone adulterers today, let’s don’t follow the teachings of Peter and Paul either. Having supposedly convinced the reader that NO Christians really live by the whole Bible, he launches into his main subject: “Why do some churches ordain women and let them preach while other churches have folks who get up and walk out when a woman opens her Bible for some teaching in front of men?” (p 18). Lots of books refer to “men walking out,” but no one ever cites an actual case where it happened. It is typical in books like this to accuse conservative Christians of loutish behavior.
Greatly enjoyed the work. Would have enjoyed more depth on the issue of discernment as that seems to be the key to the entire work. Want to avoid complete subjectivity when exercising discernment. Great insight and spot on the issue of women in ministry.
I'm just gonna say I'm pregnant and leave it at that.