Home. Quotes Piquantes. Personal. Shorter Writings. My Books.

Book Review

A realistic approach to reading the Bible

‘The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it.’ This motto doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny, because, as this delightfully honest book admits, the fact is that we all pick and choose which bits of the Bible we really obey. The book is The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight (Zondervan, 2008, ISBN 978-0-310-29237-1).

Never mind that what the author calls a parakeet is what we in Britain call a budgie. He spotted an escaped one in his garden one day, out of place among the common garden birds, and realised that it was a good picture of those Bible passages that don’t fit comfortably into our own theological system: ‘Blue parakeet passages are oddities in the Bible that we prefer to cage and silence rather than to permit into our sacred mental gardens.’

He examines the way we pick and choose how we apply Bible passages and, far from condemning us for it, assures us it is not only inevitable but also right and proper. He then goes on to give an extended example of the principles he has identified by examining what the Bible says about the role of women in home and church and how we should apply it today. I think he reaches the right conclusion!

I believe there is an inner logic to our picking and choosing, but I believe we need to become aware of what it is.  (p18)

If we sit down and think about it, it is impossible to live a first-century life in a twenty-first-century world... “That was then, but this is now" is bedrock reality. Furthermore, it is undesirable and unbiblical to retrieve it all. Paul didn't even do that. What about the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19 -23, where Paul says his strategy is one of constant adaptation? Paul's strategy was to be Jewish with Jews and to be like a Gentile with Gentiles. lf Paul was already adapting first-century Jewish ideas to first-century Gentile situations, can we expect to do anything else? Can we imagine Paul wanting to back up in time to Moses' day? To quote Paul, "By no means!"  (p26)

What we've got in the pages of the New Testament are first-century expressions of the gospel and church life, not permanent, timeless expressions. They are timely expressions; they are Spirit-inspired expressions; but they were and remain first-century expressions. We aren’t called to live first-century lives in the twenty-first century, but twenty-first-century lives as we walk in the light of the revelation God gave to us in the first century. (p26)

Paul and Peter could preach and preach and hardly quote a word of Jesus. It wasn't because they didn't know the words of Jesus. No, it was because they knew them so well they could renew Jesus' message in their day in their own ways—as God's Spirit prompted them.  (p33)

I believe those seven words are the secret to reading the Bible: "That was then and this is now." They reveal that we have learned to read the Bible as Story, even though most of us never give this a minute's thought. We need to.  (p57)

Unless we read the Bible as Story, we might be tempted to make "that was then" into "it's also now." But it isn't. Times have changed. God spoke in Moses' days in Moses' ways (about interest), and he spoke in Jesus’ days in Jesus' ways, and he spoke in Paul's days in Paul’s ways. And he speaks in our days in our ways—and it is our responsibility to live out what the Bible says in our days. We do this by going back so we can come forward.  (p57)

I grew up with what might be called the “authority approach" to the Bible. Simply put, it works with these words: God, revelation, inspiration, inerrancy, authority, and submission…  Deep inside I knew there was something wrong with framing our view of the Bible like this. It took me years to put my finger on it. Perhaps I can say it like this: When I read my Bible, the words "authority" and “submission" don't describe the dynamic I experience. lt is not that I think these words are wrong, but I know there is far more to reading the Bible than submitting to authority.  (p84)

Any reading and any interpretation that does not lead to good works, both as the practical application and as the behavioural result, aborts what the Bible is designed to produce.  (p111)

We apply some of what Jesus says and we choose not to apply other things Jesus has said. In other words, there is some adopting and adapting involved even with the sayings of Jesus. If there are two choices—totally literal or discerning a pattern—most of us will choose the latter every time. (p127)

The pattern of discernment is simply this: as we read the Bible and locate each item in its place in the Story, as we listen to God speak to us in our world through God's ancient Word, we discern—through God's Spirit and in the context of our community of faith—a pattern of how to live in our world.  (p129)

The guidance of the Spirit is promised us as we pray, as we study Scripture, and as we join in the conversation with church tradition. It would be much easier for God to have given us rules and regulations for everything. But God, in his wisdom, has chosen not to do that. Discernment is an element of what it means to walk by faith.  (p132)

Adaptability and development are woven into the very fabric of the Bible. From beginning to end there is a pattern of adopting and adapting. It is the attempt to foist one person's days and ways on everyone's days and ways that quenches the Holy Spirit. (p143)

We should read the Bible…as a culturally conditioned revelation of God’s Word that needs to be worked out in a modern context. (p149)

We must say something not often admitted by Bible-reading, God-loving Christians: He who writes the story controls the glory. What's the point? The Bible was written by men, and the Bible tells stories from the angle of men. We admit this because we admit that God spoke in those days in those ways, and those days and those ways were male days and male ways.  (p157)

What Paul states in 1 Corinthians 9 forms the core of how we have to learn to read the Bible. Paul himself adapted the gospel to every situation he encountered: a Jewish expression for Jews, a Gentile expression for Gentiles, and a philosopher's approach when on the Areopagus (Acts 17). What Paul did is simple: he knew the Story and the Plot, he listened to God and was open to the Spirit, and he discerned how to live out that gospel and speak that gospel into each cultural setting. Paul’s mode was renewing and always renewing. (p205)

Previous. Next. The Blue Parakeet

Buy hard copy

Buy for Kindle

Go to top of page for Twitter and Facebook buttons >>>