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New Book Examines How Christians Interpret the Bible

Scot McKnight's The Blue Parakeet

The Blue Parakeet reflects on how Christians discern scripture

CHICAGO, IL (January 8, 2009) – What do blue parakeets have in common with modern Christians? You can find the answer in Scot McKnight’s latest book. But don’t expect to read about birds. His book, The Blue Parakeet, is actually a reflection on how modern Christians discern Scripture.

“I’m concerned that most of us aren’t aware of how we read, apply, and live out the Bible,” explains McKnight, Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religion Studies at North Park University.

Most Christians, he observes, choose among scriptural admonitions like the fare in buffet line—adhering to certain passages while dismissing others as outdated or anachronistic. Christians today, for instance, don’t stone homosexuals, greet one another with a holy kiss, wash each other’s feet, or make women stay silent in the church. Many don’t observe a Sabbath.

“I was taught, ‘God says it, I believe it, that settles it,’” McKnight recalls. But that isn’t how anyone really behaves, he concedes, and we would do everyone (including ourselves) a favor to admit it. “We enter into the world of the Bible, and then we pop into our world,” he says.

McKnight came up with the name of the book after seeing a once tame blue parakeet that had escaped from its cage and taken refuge in his backyard. The sparrows didn’t know what to make of the strange intruder but eventually adapted their behavior while allowing the parakeet to be itself. The biblical texts that we easily explain away are blue parakeets, McKnight concludes.

He notes that every author in the Bible also had to go through the process of discerning what Scripture meant for his day. Each of these writers saw himself as a story within the larger narratives of Scripture, and were thus constrained and freed by the grander context. “We have to take seriously how the authors in the Bible took seriously their predecessors,” advises McKnight.

In the final chapters of the book, he takes readers themselves through the process of discernment with a case study addressing the role of women in ministry. McKnight begins, not by summarizing verses instructing women to be silent in church, but by asking, “What did women do?” in the Bible. By looking at the broader context of Scripture, the “silencing” passages are reduced as arguments against women in ministry.

McKnight deliberately avoids developing a formula for how people should interpret Scripture, which has frustrated some critics. Although he still expects some people to use his suggestions to justify their own favored views, he hopes the book will be a guide to Christians on how they can do what the Apostle Paul and other writers of Scripture did—allow themselves ultimately to be guided by the Holy Spirit rather than legalistic interpretations.