The Blue Parakeet is a popular level introduction to hermeneutics – or ‘how we read the Bible to get meaning – applied and otherwise – out of it’. McKnight establishes his evangelical credentials early and simply: he tells his testimony of a heart strangely warmed, and a Spirit-given desire to devour the Scriptures. But McKnight soon perceived that evangelicals don't apply all parts of scripture with equally direct force. What about the Sabbath? Tithing? Widows and orphans? Giving away all we own to the poor?
McKnight moves swiftly to his theme question: How, then, are we to live out the Bible today?
Parts 1 to 3 of the book contain his main argument:
1. The Bible is Story, or the grand metanarrative of God’s history with His people. It is not a source book of authoritative laws or a grab-bag of promises for autonomous individuals. This section would perhaps be the most familiar and unsurprising to EFAC readers. We seem to have a strong tradition of teaching biblical theology and salvation history in Australia, so although his language and terminology is different, none of the concepts are surprising.
2. Our reading takes place in the context of a love relationship with the living God. God loves us, and we (presumably) love him, and we love by listening and obeying. It sounds like a motherhood statement, and the section is brief, but it is a point well worth making. The action of obedience to the Word closes the hermeneutical loop – reading the Bible isn’t just an intellectual curiosity!
3. The Church has always practiced discernment over which parts of the Bible to apply and how, using various forms of reasoning such as theological development, historical and scientific development, deeper or underlying principles. It’s a messy process, but implicit in this part is the idea that faithfulness to the Story is key.
Part 4 of the book then applies McKnight’s methodology to the question of women in ministry. I rather suspect that here is the driving force behind the book (it takes up 100 of its 230 plus pages). McKnight argues that reading the Bible with rather than through tradition reveals that the Story of the Bible moves us towards an egalitarian view of women in ministry. He details his wrestling with Scripture, which is substantial and well worth reading, and sets the argument in his own relational context: having taught women at a more conservative institution and then moved on.
This book raises more questions than it answers, but this is not a bad thing for evangelicals today. There are many important questions about how we live out the Bible in sexual and economic ethics, for example. It is a popular level book with a clear agenda: arguing for an egalitarian view of women’s ministry; but it also raises important issues about how we read and apply the Scriptures, the place of tradition and reason; and, chiefly, the intellectual honesty and rigour we bring to the Word.
Evangelicals tend to Pharisaism (I know my own sins) and we need reminders like this book. The Bible isn’t a grab bag of rules and regulations – it’s a love story between our Lord and His people – yes including us! I liked McKnight’s humility and wit, but I didn’t enjoy being left with more questions than my lazy mind has time to work out answers to! This is a deceptively easy book to read, but a great one to chew on over a long weekend. Irrespective of your view on Part 4, the whole book could be usefully applied to help us think through our obedience to Scripture in any number of areas. I’m praying that The Blue Parakeet results in more love for the Lord and His Word, and a greater ability on the part of evangelicals to graciously and lovingly discuss issues that divide us.
Jonathan Wei-Han Kuan is the editor of Essentials.