The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible is encouraging, convicting, and exhilirating. Author, speaker, and scholar Scot McKnight sets aside scholarly language and tackles the issue of interpretation (hermeneutics) in a down-to-earth manner. Sometimes, he gets downright snarky.
He combines history, contemporary study, and personal experience to address how we read the Bible. His approach balances awe of the power of God's word with the earthy smells of the human authors who retell the gospel in their own words.
The title is based on an observation McKnight made one day while watching the birds in his backyard. A blue parakeet--most likely an escaped pet--startled a group of loitering sparrows. The sparrows scattered at the parakeet's odd noises and actions. Gradually, they returned and adapted to the parakeet's ways. In fact, they followed the parakeet. Every so often, the parakeet did something that startled and scattered the sparrows again. McKnight argues that there are passages in the Bible like the blue parakeet--he calls them "blue parakeet passages." We have our systems, our ways of thinking through the Bible, but the blue parakeet passages never fit. We either attempt to train them into our systems or avoid them completely. McKnight desires to see us enter into the blue parakeet passages in a way that allows them to be what they are.
He first evaluates two common approaches to reading the Bible (reading to retrieve biblical ideas and practices for today and reading through our tradition[s]), considering their strengths and weaknesses. He then proposes a third approach: reading with tradition. In this way, we give primacy to the Bible, respect for the past and tradition, and new expressions for today's culture.
But how do we know how to express the Bible today? Developing this theme of how we read the Bible, McKnight then tackles the shortcuts we use to find applications from the Bible for today's world.
Herein lies the conviction. So comprehensive are his shortcut descriptions, it's hard to escape the verdict that we use one or more of them. McKnight tells why each shortcut is dangerous then moves us toward his thesis: we ought to read the Bible as story because it was written as story (and further, as a collection of stories). "God asks us to read the Bible as the unfolding of the story of his ways to his people" (p. 59).
McKnight addresses the plot of the Bible Story, the unification of the Bible under the overarching story, and the diversity of the Story found in the stories of the various authors. Within this, McKnight develops how we can listen to the Story and discern how we live out this Story today.
In the final section, McKnight gives an extended example of using this method: the controversial issue of women. He deserves kudos for not shying away from a hard issue to illustrate his proposed method. His intention is not to evaluate every argument on women in ministry. He both exemplifies listening to and discerning from the Bible in a difficult issue and argues his belief based on this type of reading. He risks losing some of his readership by tackling this issue, but he also shows his willingness to enter into a difficult arena because of his willingness to read the text in this way. His argument is well thought through and intelligently articulated.
While not comprehensive as a hermeneutical textbook (it doesn't speak specifically to issues of genre or literary approaches and doesn't survey interpretional methods used through the history as this is not his intention), the book is an excellent introduction to interpretation. I highly recommend it as a useful tool to lay teachers and small group leaders as well as anyone serious about entering into the Bible in a order to live out the Christian life today. His language, while sometimes simplistic and unnecessarily overt (most likely because the material comes from the undergrad class he teaches), is easy to grasp without background knowledge on these same discussions going on in the scholarly realm.
Review by Heather A. Goodman