Semper Reformanda

...some days even my lucky rocketship underpants don't help.

[Saturday, June 27, 2009]

Book Review: The Blue Parakeet

First off, let me set some ground rules. I highly respect Scot McKnight and what he does to teach and write. I subscribe to his blog and read it regularly. I believe him to be a strong man of God who is honestly seeking Christ in his daily life.

That being said, when I first heard about The Blue Parakeet, I had mixed feelings. I'm not really into the more "popular" Christianity books, and it seemed this one was being marketed that way. I'd heard a lot of people really liked it and it was offering fresh perspective on stale topics. I'd also heard some negative press from some trusted sources, so after someone recommended the book to me, I thought I should see what all the fuss was about.

To start off, what is a "blue parakeet?" Simply, blue parakeets are the passages in the bible or issues that we tend to shy away from or rationalize or apply strict rules to. McKnight lists some such topics on pages 13-17:
  • Sabbath
  • Foot Washing
  • Do we conform the Bible to science, science to the Bible, or...?
  • Should women be ordained? Can they preach and teach?
  • What do we do about abortion?
McKnight's goal in this book is to get the reader to start asking questions about these topics and working them out. He also presents 3 ways to read the bible. 1.) Read and retrieve (literally applying every aspect of the biblical story onto your life), 2.) Read through tradition (follow the pattern of the church throughout history), or 3.) Read with tradition. McKnight's view expounded on in this book is the third method. As he says on page 34: "...we need to go back to the Bible so we can move forward through the church and speak God's Word in our days in our ways."

The first half of this book is devoted to laying out the framework for reading with tradition. The second half is devoted to practicing that technique on a current hot-topic: women in ministry.

The first half started off really quite nicely. He talked a lot about the bible as story, rather than just a rule book, promises, or a puzzle just to figure out. These are stories written by several different authors with different takes on the world that they lived in, yet still all tied into the grand narrative of the bible.

However, when we got out of how to read, and into how to interpret, that's where we began to part ways. On page 57, he details a bit about how it works:

In reference to Lev 25:35-38 --

You probably read this prohibition of interest the way I do: that was then, and this is now. Reading the Bible like this is reading the Bible as Story. It unfolds and propels us to live out the Bible in our day in our way.
In principle, this makes sense and I can agree with what he is saying, however where to draw the line becomes a messy ordeal. What can be considered a "blue parakeet?" I'm sure some would say Jesus Christ himself is a blue parakeet. In which case, do we say that the resurrection story is a that was then, and this is now topic? Honestly, I think a lot of my disagreement with McKnight comes from what he doesn't say versus what he does say. These statements need to be qualified... we need fences to guard against the central truths of Christianity that, if we aren't careful could be swept under a rug due to cultural differences between the biblical age and the present age.

As an example of this, check out page 120, beginning with a paragraph from an email he got from one of his blog readers:

How can we take a Bible that forbids sex outside of marriage, that was written in a time where there was little or no time that passed between sexual maturity and marriage, and apply it to today's situation? I see this as a significant challenge in ministering to the emerging generation, and I don't see it discussed much.
McKnight goes on to say that these are complicated topics, and that we need to be thinking about them more, but offers no defense for abstaining from premarital sex beyond the cultural trend of the biblical era where people married younger, so the sexual temptations single people in their 20s feel now weren't an issue then. So then, what is to stop someone from reading this, researching the passages discussed on premarital sex, decide that was then, and this is now, and engaging in premarital sex, citing that this was for cultural reasons so it doesn't apply to him/her. This is a very slippery slope.

To sum up my thoughts on the first half of the book, I did want to mention something I just thought was in poor taste, although it is his book so he can write what he wants. Chapter 8 is titled: "The Boring Chapter (on Missional Listening)." The subtitle reads: "What Does God Want to Happen to Listeners." In the first paragraph, he talks about his wife who found this chapter to be boring, more theoretical and thus, this is where the name came from. He even says that if the reader gets bored, they should skip to the next chapter. Did he just discount everything he wrote in this chapter? What is the point of the chapter if you don't even need to read it? The sheer fact that the chapter is about what the Bible calls us to do with our lives should be reason enough to read it, and deem it important.

The second half of the book was devoted to the debate of women taking leadership and teaching roles in the church. I don't really have much to say about this because I'm not sure how I feel about it. I do believe in gender roles (God creating men and women for specific purposes), however I don't think the box is closed in that their roles can be used cross-gender.

I will say, I was dissappointed in the scholarship of the book. I know that the type of book it is doesn't lend itself to having exhaustive exegesis behind it, but it was pretty darn light on biblical interpretation and exposition.

In summary, I appreciate the attempt by Scot McKnight to open up a fresh perspective on hot-topics in the church and how to approach them, however I was left wanting. I'd need to sit and talk with him personally to find out if my interpretation of what he was saying is actually what he was trying to get across. The problem is he doesn't offer any "this is what I'm NOT saying..." types of statements to belay such feelings.

I think that we should always be re-evaluating our faith and working to refine and stregthen what we believe, so I would say this book is worth reading for that. However, I would be careful who I tell to read it because of the implications for some who might not understand the context and take this to mean you can take or leave any part of the bible you want.


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