THE BLUE PARAKEET
Scot McKnight is an American New Testament scholar, historian of early Christianity, a theologian, and his most recent publication is The Second Testament (IV Press, 2023). He is currently Professor of New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lisle, IL.
In his book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking how you read the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), McKnight observes that people pick and choose what they want from the Bible and adapt it to their own culture. Some examples are our interpretations of the Bible’s information on the Sabbath, tithing, foot washing, charismatic gifts, and surrendering our possessions, but the author’s main issue is how Christians interpret the role of women in our churches.
The “Blue Parakeet” is a caged pet bird that escapes its confinement, only to find that neither it nor the birds it encounters know how to interact with each other. The Blue Parakeet is unsure of how to use its freedom and the peer birds are afraid of the new visitor. They want to tame the intruder.
The Blue Parakeet is a metaphor for those parts of the Bible that need freedom of interpretation. McKnight claims that in reading the Bible we should not tame the verses that intrude upon our culturally accepted way of doing things. We can read the Bible through tradition or read it with tradition. In the first instance, we fossilize our reading by the traditions that we follow; in the latter we read the Bible so that we can live it out in our culture. McKnight suggests that the three key words to reading the Bible are in terms of (1) story, (2) listening and (3) discerning.
For some readers (and scholars) the Bible is a collection of laws; others see it as a series of blessings and promises; still others see the Bible as their own story. There are also people who regard the Bible as a giant puzzle and decipher it in terms of a particular individual or writer, such as Paul. McKnight, however, concludes that we should read the Bible as a story, in fact several “wiki-stories” that change according to their contexts in the whole story. In other words, the unity of the Bible is the “Story.”
Therefore, the way to teach the Bible is by relating it to the needs of the listener because God communicates with listening people. We learn about the doctrines of the Bible but don’t necessarily do what the Bible says because we do have not a conversation with God about his story. We should listen to (and for) God in the Bible, being attentive enough to recognize his voice, absorbing what he says and then acting upon what we have heard.
McKnight exhorts the reader to have “missional listening,” by reading the Bible with tradition, rather than through it. An example is Paul talking to Timothy (as recorded in 2 Timothy 3: 14-15), where Timothy knows what is in the Scriptures because of those who taught him. In such cases, there is a “mission” in listening to the Bible—the story tells us to be involved and instructs us to act. The process involves information, rebuke, restoration. and instruction in righteousness.
McKnight outlines ten commands from the Bible that “we mostly don’t keep” and asks us to think about why we don’t keep them. Typical answers are that the instructions are from a bygone era, from the Old Testament (namely Leviticus), or follow ceremonial codes (not moral codes), so they don’t apply to us today. The natural question follows, “Why do we not follow these commands (and others) in the Bible”? The answer is context: consider the matters of divorce and remarriage, circumcision, how women dress in church, cosmology (the concept of the universe at the time of the OT), the death penalty, speaking in tongues or women in church ministries. Various denominational theologies and philosophies treat these issues differently, but the Biblical contexts provide the clues to a satisfactory and present-day interpretation.
In regard, to women’s ministry, McKnight asks, “What did women do” in Biblical times? Consider the stories of Miriam, Deborah and Huldah in the Old Testament? Or the stories of Mary, Priscilla, and Phoebe in the New Testament?
It seems, at first glance, that Paul has chosen to “silence the Blue Parakeet” (p. 186) and keep women from exercising gifts of leadership and prophecy in the churches. However, an examination of the context of Paul’s discussion shows that It was the Roman women, in particular, who were causing problems and to whom Paul addresses his concerns. McKnight aptly summarizes the problem with a probing question and answer:
“Do you think Paul would have put women “behind the pulpit’ if it would have been advantageous “for the sake of the gospel”? I believe Paul would exhort us to open the cages and let the blue parakeets fly and let them sing” (p. 205).
We read the Bible as Story, with confidence that God’s Spirit provides the discernment to correctly interpret and apply it. Two “discernment quizzes” in Appendix 1 and 2 (pp. 215-223) help us see how we read the Bible in present contexts.
McKnight’s study is a “culturally relevant” one for today and one that any Christian can read with profit.