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The Blue Parakeet-caged or free?

March 28, 2009

One of the things I appreciate so much when I read Scot McKnight’s books is his ability to utilize illustration and metaphor to communicate Biblical truth.  And yes I will probably say that again.  In the second chapter of the book we read the story of the blue parakeet that found its way into Scot’s backyard.  From the title and the book cover (kudos to the editors and publisher for coming up with a blue parakeet sitting atop binoculars) you knew somewhere or somehow there had to be a connection. We need to know how the blue parakeet became significant in this book on how we read the Bible.

Short version—paraphrased: One summer morning when Scot was outside on his deck he noticed a blue colored bird flashing around his backyard. He also noticed that the other birds seemed to be frightened of it. At first they took off, but Scot also noticed something else that happened. After several minutes the other birds became accustomed to it and began to follow the once caged, but now free blue parakeet around. They went where it did or at least tried too, because the blue parakeet could maneuver in ways the other sparrows could not. One might think that this once caged parakeet would be tame. But as Scot observed this bird in flight he readily recognized that this blue parakeet was anything but tame. The other birds became familiar with its presence, but just like Aslan (in Narnia) it refused to be anything other than what it was. And this bird wanted to be free. [1]

Scot recognizes that we have blue parakeet passages in the Bible. These passages are not so cut and dry, they cause us to reflect and wonder. They challenge us and confront us, sometimes they do not seem to fit, they are exceptions and what do we do? Rather than try to tame these passages in Scripture, McKnight reminds us to utilize the opportunity we have to observe and learn.[2]

McKnight asks the reader (us) these questions: “How do you read the Bible?” He suggests that what happens to us when we encounter blue parakeet passages in the Bible will reveal to us how (emphasis added) we read the Bible.”[3] The three ways we might read the Bible become the focus of this chapter, “The Birds and I.”[4]

Reading to retrieve. Those of us in this mode are trying to read “in such a way that we return to the times of the Bible in order to retrieve biblical ideas and practices for today. We do this by trying to get the exact meaning of the times in which it took place and then apply it to today. Or we take only what is useful or can be “salvaged.” [5] We are trying to recover and implement. To do everything it says. At first I was taken “off guard” by Scot’s continuing logic. But I now recognize that if one determines this is how they are going to read the Bible, then at what point do you stop? Or do we recognize that some aspects of biblical times would not be correct today – such as slavery? And because we live in a different time and place, “that was then, this is now,” is a reality.[6] If you are reading along on your own, I would be interested to know what your response to this section was. How are you impacted?

The challenge is that we are called “to live twenty-first century lives in the light of the revelation God gave to us in the first century.”[7] I truthfully wish I could say that is my wisdom, but it is not. It’s Scot’s wisdom coming from years of “handling” God’s word, not trying to make it conform to him, but the Word conforming Scot. He rightfully cautions us from a pick and choose retrieval that relies on culture to dictate what is of value in Scripture.[8]

In this chapter Scot informs us about those days, those ways.[9] It is a theme that runs throughout the book. The full explanation is on page 27-28. But to give you the idea: “God spoke in Moses’ days in Moses’ ways;” “…God spoke in David’s day in David’s way;” “…God spoke in Jesus’ day in Jesus’ ways;” “…God spoke in Paul’s day in Paul’s way;” “…God spoke in Peter’s day in Peter’s way…”[10] I don’t know about you but this is something I began to realize last year in my Old Testament seminary class. This helps me to set the Bible free to be what God’s word intends to be.

Secondly, we read through Tradition. The great danger in the first way we read the Bible is that if we each read the Bible in our own way we can become far too independent of one another with each one developing an individual interpretation.[11] In several of my seminary classes this year we have reflected upon the Reformation idea to make the Bible available to everyone. This also raises the importance of theology to know if how we are reading is the right way. Tradition provided an anchor for how the Word was to be read. The downside is that you cannot ask questions. The understanding is “fixed” and known based upon tradition. McKnight reminds us that when reading the Bible through Tradition alone, the Church is not capable of renewal or adaptation.[12]

As you can see there are good and not so good points in the first two ways we read the Bible. McKnight suggests there is another way for us to read, one that affirms and respects the great Tradition of our faith and combines the best of our need to understand and retrieve for our day and time today.

Scot suggests that we read the Bible with Tradition. Obviously the key word is “with.” When we read with tradition we are not locking God or ourselves into what was then, is to be now. What is needed is “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.”[13] It is important for us to not read into this quote what is not there. Scot McKnight affirms the Bible as God’s Word. In offering this third way[14] I believe Scot is reminding us to let God’s Word out of the cage that we inadvertently have put around it.

If there is anything my seminary colleagues and I have discussed time and again it is the Church’s tendency to swing from one extreme to another when a correction is needed. Quite often these times of tension occurred during major cultural shifts and just as today these shifts reflected the convergence of multiple streams – politically, socially, culturally and religiously. So too, McKnight cautions the reader from potential dangers.

Depending upon our faith backgrounds one might be inclined to give tradition too much authority, while someone else might dismiss tradition all together. McKnight encourages us to have “profound respect for our past without giving it the final authority.”[15] Where does final authority rest? McKnight simply affirms it “should always rest with Scripture.”[16]

Perhaps you are wondering how is reading with tradition a third way? For McKnight, and I can had myself, we learn God’s ways not only through the Bible, but also through our brothers and sisters down through the centuries. We can appreciate the Church wrestling with the humanity and divinity of Christ, responding to heresies. There is a richness to be discovered as we read about the mystics, understand the reasons why our desert fathers and mothers sought out the desert, the beauty of prayer throughout the day by praying the “hours” and on and on. It is part of our heritage and we are touched by it. Scot said it better when he wrote that we “show serious respect for our past when we learn our church history, when we learn how major leaders read the Bible in the past, and when we bring their voices to the table as we learn how to read the Bible for our time.”[17]

As we go forward in The Blue Parakeet, the book devotes a section to each of these three words:

Story

Listening

Discerning[18]

As we look forward to next week, how do you read the Bible? What questions are raised for you? What are the blue parakeet passages in the Bible that you see?


[1] Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How We Read the Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008], page22-25. These pages describe the full story of blue parakeet in Scot’s yard.

[2] Ibid., page 25.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., page 22.

[5] Ibid., page 25-26.

[6] Ibid., page 26.

[7] Ibid., page 27.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., page 27-28

[11] Ibid., page 30. McKnight doesn’t mince words in raising his caution and concern. I’m glad for it; he “caught” some of my prior attitudes.

[12]Ibid., page 32.

[13] Ibid., page 34.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., page 35.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., page 37. I added italic emphasis.

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