Book Reviews

Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Zondervan, 2008)

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.

EFAC NSW Annual Lecture: The Scot and the Anglicans

EFAC NSW was delighted to welcome the Rev Dr William Phillip as its guest speaker for the Annual Lecture held as part of the CMS Summer School at Katoomba in January this year. William (“Oor Wullie”) was present in Australia to give the Bible studies at the Summer School. He presented a very moving, engaging and faithful exposition of the events leading up to the death of our Lord as recorded in the Passion narratives of Matthew’s gospel, entitled “The Cross and Eternity”.

So it was with great delight that 250 or so EFAC members and friends gathered on the Wednesday afternoon to hear William speak about the impact and present state of evangelicalism in the Church of Scotland. For those who, like me, were largely ignorant of that Church, it was both intriguing and encouraging to hear of the ways in which strong evangelical leadership has been exercised in that denomination in the period that William spoke about, that is, from the Second World War on. By the way, the Church of Scotland is not the Church of England in a kilt. The established Church, it is Presbyterian in polity. The Church of England has its counterpart in Scotland as the Episcopal Church.

William’s father, James Phillip, a Bible commentator and preacher, was persuaded by the Rev William Still along with several others to form a group whose activities during the late 1940s and ‘50s and ‘60s would shape the Church of Scotland in a far more evangelical direction. Deliberately encouraging young men to consider parish ministry as their calling in life and giving them support and encouragement along the way resulted in a flood of new evangelical ministers into parish churches. (Sound familiar?) One of the vehicles of encouragement was the formation of what is called the Crieff Fellowship, a group, from what we could gather, much like EFAC, which is still active to this day.

Himself a product of this movement, William was able to give an objective assessment of its successes and failures. It did indeed fill Church of Scotland pulpits with Bible teaching ministers. So from the cities like Glasgow where William is the minister of St George’s-Tron, (right in the middle of the main street of Glasgow, literally), to the far-flung parishes of the Hebrides and the remote Scottish farmlands, the gospel has been faithfully proclaimed.

William, however, felt that there have been some unforeseen problems that have arisen. Ministers had not been trained to train the laity, and the result has been that, while an evangelical call sounds from the pulpit, many congregation members are far from evangelical in commitment and belief. He observed that the inroads of liberal theology have been quite substantial amongst congregation members. Indeed, during the Summer School William alerted us to the fact that on the evening before he gave his lecture his presbytery (like an area deanery) had voted to accept the appointment of an openly homosexual Minister who would live with his partner in the Manse. This is a first for Scotland, and even though a challenge has been brought against it which will be heard in the General Assembly in May, evangelicals will have to organise and fight hard to persuade the laity of the wickedness of this decision.

Before coming to Glasgow about two or three years ago, William had worked for five years under David Jackman with the Proclamation Trust in London. He has come back to Scotland at the ripe old age of 41 with a determination not only to help train up the next generations of Bible teachers but to provide ministers and churches with the tools for ministry and for equipping God’s people for ministry.

EFAC (NSW) is very grateful to Dr Phillip for his stimulating and cautionary lecture and CMS for again allowing us to use their venue to host this event.

Deryck Howell, Archdeacon of South Sydney and a long time EFAC member.

Integrity: Leading without God watching

Integrity: Leading without God watching. Jonathan Lamb IVP, 2007

This book is a tonic for the Christian leader's soul. Like some tonics, it may be regarded as medicine, best taken with food and inevitably swallowed reluctantly but dutifully, knowing that it is good for you. Very good for you.

So many books on Christian leadership pay lip service to the Scriptures and hurry on to pragmatic issue Save s of "how to do X or Y", hanging whole chapters on convenient pegs of scripture along the way. But not this book. Integrity is effectively a discourse on leadership based on Lamb's study of 2 Corinthians and themes arising from that epistle. It is material that has been shaped by various speaking engagements in his role as Director of Langham Preaching (a part of Langham Partnership International) including a Ridley Melbourne ministry conference in 2005. I have to confess that I attended that conference and found his presentation solid, but almost too solid and full-on for my poor first-year-out curate's brain!

Book Review: Growing Women Leaders

Review: ‘Growing Women Leaders’, Rosie Ward, CPAS 2009

Ward’s book ‘Growing Women Leaders’ argues for women gifted as leaders to take their place alongside men as equal partners in the Gospel. Ward is clear that her conviction of argument is primarily founded in biblical support rather than in ideas of justice and equality.

Ward launches first into a brief summary of the theological issues hindering women’s leadership in the church. The overall thrust of this survey is that the trajectory of Scripture is one that encourages both men and women to recognise and use their gifts of leadership and to work alongside one another to lead God’s church.

There is a brief survey of issues of translation and interpretation of biblical passages before Ward advances to examples of women in leadership positions throughout church history. Ward concludes from these examples of women answering their calls from God to lead that women have been constrained by man-made rules. The flavour of these chapters then seeps into Ward’s intention to explore the nature of leadership and whether men and women lead differently, concluding with the practical issues that women face in leadership within the church.

Book Review: Why Men Hate Going to Church

Book Review: Why Men Hate Going to Church

David Murrow, Nelson Books, 2005

I happened on this publication in the men's literature section of my local Christian bookstore, which many of you will know is very small compared with the women's section of the bookshelves. The title sounds a bit provocative and the contents challenge many of our notions of "Church". Nevertheless it's a valuable document if you're looking to connect with men in and around your church.

David Murrow has the advantage of a layman's perspective and he claims to have worshipped in congregations of "every stripe". His broad observations and pointers square with many of my own experiences in working among men in the church context over 25 years or more. His observations start with the obvious, i.e. churches have a male attendance averaging only 35%. In other words women outnumber men almost two to one. This is in line with the Anglican community in the Melbourne Diocese according to the 2006 National Church Life Survey.