This is the first post in a series that will engage the ideas in Scot McKnight’s new book The Blue Parakeet. As I said in my earlier review, this is an excellent piece of work destined to make a lasting contribution to the Church and is particularly useful to the seminarian immersed in the technical aspects of Bible study. Scot’s perspective is refreshingly non-academic or pedantic in the least. He writes as a fellow journeyman confronting with us what it means to read the 1st century Bible in a 21st century context. Is Christianity fossilized in that time which we must forcefully apply to modern life or is the Bible a guide to understanding how the Spirit moves today?
In the first two chapters of the book, Scot outlines the observations that led him to construct his tools for discernment. The Christian bromide ‘if the Bible says it, we do it’ is the foundation on which he begins to build his method. This, if we stop to consider it for even a moment, is nonsense. We pick and choose among the biblical mandates those that we will apply today and those we will ignore. The Sabbath, foot washing, surrender of possessions, charismatic gifts; all are dispensed with in various ways and with a variety of justifications as not applicable to today’s church. At the same time, we hold other mandates to be fixed in time and to be obeyed regardless of the times, women in ministry leadership a prime example. Scot asks how we develop the discernment to tell which is which.
McKnight outlines the three general ways in which we approach the Bible and the attitudes and actions that result from each. We may read to retrieve, meaning that we return to the times of the Bible to retrieve the ideas and practices for today. The challenge with this common approach is that we cannot live a first century life in the twenty-first century. The truth is, we shouldn’t want to do this as it ignores the work that the Spirit is moving to accomplish in our modern age. If we read carefully we find that God spoke in Moses’ days in Moses’ ways, to Paul in his days in his ways, and we should expect this pattern to continue; God will speak to us in our days in our ways. Our reading of the Bible should help us to see how God wants to move in our current time.
Reading the Bible through tradition is an important component in developing this discernment. One of the most important changes that the Reformation wrought was to put the scriptures into the hands of the believer. Everyone should read the Bible for themselves but they shouldn’t necessarily interpret it for themselves. Christians have a rich history and long held beliefs that can serve as the guard rails to our interpretation. We should respect long held beliefs, trusting that the Spirit guided those who came before us in forming those beliefs. Moving on this track helps us to roughly figure the edges of our belief while allowing the Spirit sufficient freedom to breath new insight into our faith for today.
Finally, we read with tradition, recognizing that God is forever on the move toward His conclusion. We were never meant to be stationary as history flowed around us like a stone in a creek. We were meant to be a part of it, serving out our individual purpose in the story. We should be able to read the Bible without getting stuck there. God did not freeze time in the periods of the Bible anymore than most cultures have stood still. He provided the scriptures so that we would have a guide to understanding how He wants to move today addressing the issues that we face.
McKnight challenges us to think about the way we approach the scriptures. We can try to cage it, taming the Spirit. In doing so we lose its edge, dulling the double edged sword that transforms us and the world around us. Bringing modern eyes to the Bible is not a crime, any more than it was for Paul to understand the whole of his scriptures in light of the modern revelation that he confronted. We’re not Paul but we do have to understand the way that God speaks to us in our days. I hope you’ll follow along as we read through the rest of the The Blue Parakeet, attempting to put the tools to work to hear the Spirit move today. I look forward to hearing what you think.