October 19, 2019

Recommendation and Review by Ryan Cordle: The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

Trevin Wax doesn’t like the book very much.

I’d like to welcome Ryan Cordle as guest blogger today with this review of Scot McKnight’s new book. In addition to his recent graduation from Ohio Christian University and joining the faculty where I teach as an English teacher, Ryan is my son-in-law. He’s a fine writer and communicator. Hopefully, you’ll be reading him more in the future. Welcome Ryan.

Faithful readers of Michael Spencer’s “dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness” will likely have read one of his finest essays, “A Conversation in God’s Kitchen.” In this essay, Michael lays out how he has learned to read the Bible as one great conversation in which human authors share unique literary contributions about God, and what he is doing with his creation. We can correctly identify the Biblical conversation as inspired, because Christ is present in the millennia-long dialogue, and ultimately the conversation is about him. It is not a “magic book,” with answers to questions about pet grooming, basket weaving, and what kind of Halloween candy to give, but something profoundly more interesting, namely Jesus. In his new book, The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight (The Jesus Creed) argues that readers of the Bible should stop and listen to this compelling conversation, so that they can live out its story in their contexts.

The author is a master of translating thoughtful, sometimes dreadfully academic arguments into personal and enjoyable anecdotes and illustrations. Throughout this relatively short read (229 pages including the very helpful appendices), McKnight uses several metaphors to support his explorations of how one might become a faithful listener to the Biblical conversation. The central metaphor of the book is that of the blue parakeet. For McKnight a blue parakeet is a passage, or sometimes a person, that can be considered “oddities…that we prefer to cage and silence rather than to permit into our sacred mental gardens” (208). These are the passages that challenge our Bible reading, for, as McKnight loves to point out, no Christian has ever obeyed every command and suggestion of the Bible. Instead, depending on how one chooses to read the Bible, every reader picks and chooses which parts to consider as authoritative to the contemporary church. Reading the Bible as conversation then allows Christians to let the blue parakeets be blue parakeets, instead of trying to explain them away. How do Christians answer the “hard questions” of the Bible like the violence in Judges, or the impossible imperatives of Jesus? They don’t.

McKnight’s oft-repeated “… “In Paul’s day God spoke in Paul’s way, and in our day, God speaks in our way,” answers the “so what?” question of the hermeneutic. God may have had to get Israel’s attention through violent action in Judges, but this doesn’t mean that we are still supposed to mail body parts across country. Instead, we speak today in our own way. It’s all about how the Holy Spirit carries on the conversation to us today. As a lengthy case study, McKnight examines the role of women in the church and in ministry, asking, “WDWD- What Did Women Do?” He unashamedly concludes that women had an important role in the early church’s ministry, and should continue to do so today. The Pauline texts, which seem to exclude women from pastoral ministries, are essentially Paul having to speak in his own day in his own way. If the Spirit is today leading women to important ecclesiastical things, who are we to get in the way?

Unfortunately, the people who most need to read The Blue Parakeet will label McKnight as a liberal and move on. For self confessed post-evangelicals, McKnight’s new book will be seen as a refreshing articulation of what we should be doing when we read the Bible. These same readers will undoubtedly hear undertones of Robert Webber when McKnight admonishes his readers to read Scripture “with tradition” instead of “through tradition.” In this way, the Church will read like the earliest Christians who listened to the conversation, and then sought to apply the conversation in their own day. In this way, McKnight offers an enjoyable and engaging approach to a good (post-evangelical) hermeneutic.

Comments

  1. This is the second review of Blue Parakeet that I have read, and it makes me really want to buy the book. I don’t have the money right now and I have enough other books that I haven’t read, but I think that Scot is a great writer and he has some good ideas.

    But like you said, he is kinda preaching to the choir. I already know that people have a lens when the read scripture. How do we help people who don’t realize they have a lens?

  2. Good and helpful review Ryan, thank you!

    Your statement that: “The Pauline texts, which seem to exclude women from pastoral ministries, are essentially Paul having to speak in his own day in his own way.” I hope is not his major argument, because it creates a hermeneutical loophole that I could drive a truck through.

    Your review makes me want to read the book, and overall, I appreciate McKnight’s work.

  3. Danny, I don’t think McKnight is preaching to the choir that much. While Ryan may be correct that the people who most need it will ignore it, there are plenty of people like me who will read it, but aren’t in the choir (at least yet).

    Bob, “Hermeneutical Loophole” would be an awesome name for a rock band.

  4. Ryan,

    It seems rather ironic that the point of the book is to “let the blue parakeets be blue parakeets, instead of trying to explain them away” while at the same time claiming that “The Pauline texts, which seem to exclude women from pastoral ministries, are essentially Paul having to speak in his own day in his own way”. It seems that, apparently, what counts as “explaining them away” is entirely subjective. One man’s “explaining them away” is another man’s “interpreting”.

    And when you ask, “If the Spirit is today leading women to important ecclesiastical things, who are we to get in the way?”, I’m left wondering how exactly you know that it is the [Holy] Spirit doing these things, and not merely the spirit of our times. In other words, if it were not the Holy Spirit, but merely the spirit of our times doing these things, how would it be different? How would you know?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. IOWs, let’s turn this into a Catholic – Protestant discussion of authority asap.

  6. Ryan Cordle says

    Every time a comment thread turns into a RCC-Prot debate a puppy dies. As a great respecter of puppies, I will just say that my above review was exactly that, namely me trying to write a review in close to 600 words. This isn’t a well-written defense of McKnight’s views; it’s just me trying to do a little bit of justice to a book. Thanks.

  7. Ohhhh geee. I really needed another debate, Ryan. Puhleeze!

  8. Ryan,

    I understand justice to be giving a thing its due. And if McKnight’s position leaves a hermeneutical loophole that you can drive a truck through, then pointing out such a problem is precisely part of what it is to do justice to his book.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan