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The Blue Parakeet — The Bible & Story

April 10, 2009

I hesitated to write today. It is Good Friday and I find my thoughts in places other than reviewing and reflecting on The Blue Parakeet. But then I realized (mind you, while I was reviewing) that understanding the Bible as story is vital to our understanding of Christ and deepens the reality of Good Friday – and (for that matter) Easter.

So here we are on Good Friday 2009 opening the pages of The Blue Parakeet once again. We have entered into Part 1; today we are going to take a look at two chapters: Chapter 3 “Inkblots and Puzzles” and Chapter 4 “It’s a Story with Power!” With our earlier reading as a backdrop Scot McKnight focuses us on what we are looking for when we read the Bible, “the ability to turn the two-dimensional words on paper into a three-dimensional encounter with God, so that the text takes on life and meaning and depth and perspective and gives us direction for what to do today.”[1] The “ands” do their work, don’t they? It isn’t just one thing or one thing that is more important than another; it is all of them together. I find myself realizing these “ands” are important and necessary, without them we miss the multi-dimensional aspect within the Bible.

Last year in my first year of seminary studies we began with the Old Testament. We couldn’t bring our New Testament understanding or expectations into the text. As our wise professor reminded us – trust me it took more than one “prod”—the New Testament hadn’t been written in Old Testament times. Our inductive studies kept us in the text at hand. Dr. Delamarter forced us to read the Bible as story and to stay in the story. I remember later in our first semester during our weekly on-line discussion on certain aspects of 1 & 2 Kings. I don’t remember the exact conversation but several of us brought Chronicles into the conversation. Although at first glance we might think of them as the same—both are historical books right? But no, they are different—written by different authors, written at different times, written from different perspectives, with different purposes in mind. That year of study provided a metamorphosis for me.

McKnight exposes why reading the Bible as story is crucial. And he does so by exposing our tendencies. He “got me” in the process for I have seen the Bible (and in some ways God) in each of these “shortcuts.”

· Shortcut #1: Morsels of the Law. The Bible is a collection of laws telling us what to do and not to do, what pleases God and what doesn’t please God.[2] I acknowledge that this is part of my foundational heritage as a Christian. I grew perceiving this was a rule book.

· Shortcut #2: Morsels of Blessings and Promises.[3] O.K. I confess I almost laughed out loud when I read this, after I almost choked (figuratively, of course). For many years I carried around a little pocket book that was full of one verse promises from the Bible. Don’t get me wrong and don’t get Scot wrong. They have their place. But of course if we focus on Scripture as segmented then we lose the context. We lose story. McKnight’s point is that we recognize that the blessings and promises of God emerge from real life story’s that demonstrate life itself is lived amid brokenness, unfulfilled promises and shattered dreams, as well as health, fulfillment and realized hopes. What we need to realize, McKnight reminds us, is that “the Bible tells realistic truth.”[4] This is indeed, good news!

· Shortcut #3: Mirrors and Inkblots.[5] Did you wonder, “Huh?” McKnight reminds us why psychologists use inkblots. The inkblots are not necessarily any particular image, but the one looking at the inkblot tells the observer what they see. I remember seeing a butterfly in some college course where we participated “to get” the concept. McKnight only writes two pages about this shortcut, but it is a revealing two pages. With mirrors and inkblots we see what we want to see, “reading the Bible as an inkblot is projecting onto the Bible our ideas and our desires.”[6] We see the Bible or Christ through a mirror – reflecting back the image we have, rather than what the Bible is really saying. Ouch. My wise professor knew something I hadn’t become aware of yet. Delamarter knew we had to let go of our inkblots and mirrors if we were going to realize the beauty of story. McKnight knows this too.

· Shortcut #4: Puzzling Together the Pieces to Map God’s Mind.[7] Yep, been there and done that, have you? The focus is on solving the puzzle. Once the puzzle is completed, every piece is in place, the right place and it’s done. True confession, I’m not very good at puzzles, but I have always sought to put the puzzle pieces in the Bible into their right place. McKnight stresses several things to recognize with this shortcut. This system of thought presumes we know what God is doing and we have it all figured out.[8] Secondly, this approach “ignores the parts of the puzzle that don’t fit.”[9] Third we have to realize that it is impossible to piece together all the pieces into a system.[10] Fourth, (hang in there with this one) “puzzling calls into question the Bible as we have it.”[11] Rather than see the Bible as a system (and I am beginning to understand just how much and how easily we do this) which can be known or conquered (image flash — jumping up in the air with arms outstretched doing a Rocky. Please note: Scot didn’t write that, I thought of it while I was reading). Or as Scot mentions, “mastered.” He suggests that the story of the Bible is the system. The emphasis is on “story.” With the title of the book in mind, McKnight offers, “God did not give the Bible so we could master him or it; God gave the Bible so we could live it, so we could be mastered by it.”[12]

· Shortcut #5: Maestros.[13] For a great many years I thought I “got” the gospels. Let’s focus on the meat – let’s study the Pauline epistles. McKnight mentions that he too let Paul inform his understanding of Jesus.[14]

McKnight ends his “shortcuts” with an observation worth our consideration. It is tied to our spiritual formation. “Reading the Bible through a maestro’s eyes gives us one chapter in the story of the Bible. One-chapter Bible readers develop one-chapter Christian lives.”[15]

Clearly Scot McKnight is not saying reading the Bible one chapter at a time is wrong, rather we need to see the context of that one chapter as part of a larger story. As McKnight continues in Chapter 4 he emphasizes what is for him the “secret to reading the Bible: that was then and this is now.”[16] To understand what he wrote is to understand the Bible is a story – one we are to live in.

If I am understand what McKnight is writing then it is crucial for us to grasp this, not control it, but to hold onto it in such a way that we recognize that as story God spoke within the context of the story. So when McKnight reminds us, as he does in this chapter, that “God spoke in Moses’ days in Moses’ ways, and God spoke in Jesus’ days in Jesus’ ways, and God spoke in Paul’s days in Paul’s ways.”[17] He is providing an opportunity for us to affirm that “he speaks in our days in our ways—and it is our responsibility to live out what the Bible says in our days.”[18]

I think we have to remind ourselves and others that McKnight has not written, at any time, that we then manipulate or fashion the Bible into the story we want, something akin to cultural dressing. We as readers need to remind ourselves that McKnight has done just the opposite by helping us to realize that we may have in fact done the very thing we are opposed to – remember the shortcuts! What Scot McKnight does for us in The Blue Parakeet is what my Old Testament professor did for me (and my colleagues) and that is to remind us that the Bible is God’s story and the story of God’s people.[19]

McKnight continues his train of thought (after he reminds us of the gift and sacrifice of William Tyndale) by focusing on the language of the Bible. Always present in language is the context. If you have the book and are reading the book then you know what I’m talking about, if you don’t …well we might miss something.

Today when I was reviewing Chapter 4 I was reminded that we can learn quite a bit about someone from their accent or even the words they use. Just think about it – a Canadian is recognized by certain words and tones, same with someone from Brooklyn or New Jersey. My kids went to a Christian sports camp in Missouri and when they came home they had realized that everyone else referred to soda pop by soda and in Washington we used pop. The context of language matters. It communicates.

I remember reading Judges 11 and thinking that goes to show you do not make vows, it will get you into trouble. I think I’ve even heard that mentioned in a sermon or two in my lifetime. But it wasn’t until my Old Testament class that I understood that Jephthah’s vow was part of the ritual of holy war. “In order to keep his position, he must be willing to sacrifice everything to obtain his goals.”[20] Suddenly the inclusion of Jephthah in the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11 makes a whole lot of sense.

McKnight, a wise and learned professor is teaching us by helping us to recognize and realize that God continually is reworking the biblical story, uses different methods, different authors, in different times and continues to do so, so that the old story is spoken in new ways for their day.[21] The point McKnight is making and that he invites us to understand is that the Bible is a story, that each story is held together by the whole story and (this is important and just might spin your head around), “the only way to make sense of the blue parakeets in the Bible is to set each in the context of the Bible’s story.”[22]

This too is important for us, when reading the “wiki” stories within the Bible’s larger story each one “tells a true story of that Story.”[23] Things are beginning to become clearer.

[1] Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008], page 41-42.

[2] Ibid., page 44.

[3] Ibid., page 45.

[4] Ibid., page 47.

[5] Ibid., page 48.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., page 49.

[8] Ibid., page 50.

[9] Ibid., page 51.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., page 52.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., page 53.

[15] Ibid., page 54.

[16] Ibid., page 57.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., page 58.

[20] Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, Social World of Ancient Israel: 1250-587 BCE [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 2005], page 21.

[21] McKnight, page 64. Actual quote on page 64, All I want to focus on here is one element: the ongoing reworking of the biblical Story by new authors so they can speak the old story in new ways for their day.”

[22] Ibid., page 65.

[23] Ibid.


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