The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible

by Scot McKnight

Hardcover, 2008





Parakeets make delightful pets. We cage them or clip their wings to keep them where we want them. Scot McKnight contends that many, conservatives and liberals alike, attempt the same thing with the Bible. We all try to tame it. McKnight's The Blue Parakeet calls Christians to stop taming the Bible and to let it speak anew to our heart. McKnight challenges us to rethink how to read the Bible, not just to puzzle it together into some systematic belief but to see it as a Story that we're summoned to enter and to carry forward in our day.


Zondervan (2008), Edition: First Ed First Priniting, 240 pages

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½ (72 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member StephenBarkley
I grew up proud of the fact that my church didn’t follow a set liturgy—we followed the Spirit instead. I cringe at the arrogance while writing that now, but it used to be my reality. As I grew up I met a professor who explained that every church has their traditions. Some churches take special
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care to craft a liturgy that’s both theologically accurate and beautiful. Others (like my own) opened with five hymns, passed the offering plates around, and settled in for a long winter’s nap a fine sermon.

What that professor did for my view of church liturgy, McKnight did for my understanding of how we read the Bible. This is an important book that will shake, rattle, and (hopefully) spur people to rethink how they understand and apply Scripture. Here’s McKnight’s main message: We all pick and choose which parts of scripture we apply today. Let’s admit that fact, and move on. The thing that might disturb people is that we pick and choose not only Old Testament passages, but even the words of Jesus himself! (You don’t believe me? Read the book.)

Once you’ve grasped that we all pick and choose which passages to apply, McKnight offers a three step plan for proper picking:

1. Story: Understand that the Bible has an overarching plot that moves forward, and be sure to fit the passage into its proper stage in the narrative.
2. Listening: The Bible is a record—a story—of the God who loves us. We need to remember to listen to God as he speaks through his story.
3. Discerning: Biblical authors like Paul used scripture and reapplied it in new and vibrant ways in their own contexts. We can use these same methods in our application of scripture today.

The second section of the book (technically, the fourth part) is an extended case study on how to follow the pattern of story-listening-discerning. The topic he tested was the role of women in ministry. This section almost felt like its own book (indeed, many have written books on this). McKnight does a masterful job at setting the so-called problem texts of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 into the overall plot of scripture and thereby revealing what they actually mean.

I would have liked to see more than one major test-case in the book. With fiery topics like homosexual marriage and holy war on CNN daily, choosing the role of women in the church seemed like a safe choice in an otherwise daring work. That said, the test-case was well done, and it equips would-be interpreters to look at other issues on their own.

Let me close this review with four things that I really appreciated about this book:

1. Style: McKnight writes in a friendly voice that makes the book a joy to read. I suspect it will be one of those rare books that have the ability to command the attention of those who don’t read too often.
2. Realism: McKnight forces you to admit what many evangelicals are in collective denial about: the fact that we apply scripture selectively.
3. Passion: I said above that the role of women was an easy topic. It is also clearly a topic close to McKnight’s heart. He writes like he means it.
4. Bravery: This book is dangerous. After the Reformation, people had the ability to read scripture in their own tongue and interpret it for themselves. Just look at what happened! I think we have surrendered that privilege in part because interpreting scripture is hard work. We have learned to survive by snatching the crumbs that fall from our tradition’s table. Once people acknowledge their picking-and-choosing, and do it intentionally, the door will swing wide for many divergent interpretations. We will not all agree, but it will force us to go back to the story, to listen to the Spirit, and to discern what to do next.

I can hardly wait to share this with a discussion group in the future. I imagine it will free many people.
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LibraryThing member enygren
Any book that forces you to stop, think, and reevaluate what you believe is a book worth reading. Scot McKnight's new book The Blue Parakeet is that kind of book.

McKnight uses an odd encounter with an out of place bird (I won't spoil the story) to illustrate the way many people approach reading the
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Bible. In particular McKnight's concern is that Christians aren't making the effort to understand those passages in Scripture that seem somewhat out of place from the rest. McKnight suggests that there a number of these passages which are not only being ignored because of their apparent difficulty; some passages are even being silenced by Bible readers today.

It's bad enough that Christians might choose to ignore or silence teachings found in God's Word, but as McKnight argues even worse is the fact that the Church is being harmed as a result. McKnight surveys a number of these "blue parakeet" passages in his book, but focuses in on one teaching that he believes is detrimental to the Body of Christ: the role of women in the church.

As I considered McKnight's story there were a number of points he made that resonated with me, especially related to the general level of biblical ignorance that is present in our churches. The book offered some helpful discussion to help Bible readers better under the text they have. There were other times when McKnight's arguments went in directions that I found some discord with. But even in these points of disagreement, McKnight's witting style caused me to at least reconsider that which I believed to be true.

I did feel that the sections related to the topic of women in ministry tilted the balance of the book beyond what the subtitle (Rethinking How You Read the Bible) indicated the book was to be about. I do not think that the example was out of place; in fact it fit well with the other "hot button topics" McKnight pointed to in order to illustrate his point. I wonder if his passion for the subject would have been better served in a separate work. There did come a point in reading this work that I felt as if I were reading an entirely different book from what had come before.

That being said, The Blue Parakeet is definitely worth reading and will be a helpful tool for anyone who needs to shore up their own understanding of how they approach and read the Bible.
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LibraryThing member bsanner
“How, then, are we to live the Bible today?” With this question McKnight asks his readers to re-think how they understand and apply the Bible. In the ever-turning waters of theology, philosophy, and popular trends, the Bible as story (a single unified narrative expressed through the
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“wiki-stories” of each individual author) has often been forgotten or ignored. While McKnight intentionally does not provide a systematic hermeneutic, he does offer three steps towards living the Bible today: identifying the story, missional listening, and applying discernment. Following Webb’s Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals, McKnight encourages the interpreter of the Bible to consider the trajectory of an issue within scripture and it’s place in the surrounding culture of the day. In this light, McKnight concludes his work with a re-examination of women in church ministry, which he finds support for by focusing on story, listening, and discerning. Overall, McKnight offers a thoughtful and helpful work, although it is underpinned by a controversial approach to textual and cultural hermeneutics. A-
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LibraryThing member pastorjeffmyers
I've been reading a great book called The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight. Scot's a great author and has written a few commentaries that I'm fond of. In The Blue Parakeet he sets out to teach us to rethink how we read the Bible. In short, this is one of the best hermeneutics books I've ever read,
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but it's not overly academic and dry. Very approachable and enjoyable to read. It's definitely worth your time and money.
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LibraryThing member True54Blue
McKnight's hermeneutical method can be summed up in this quote: "We read the Bible with all the tools of history and language that we can muster, but a proper reading of the Bible is attended by the Spirit, who will transform us, guide us, and give us discernment to know how to live in our world."
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Unfortunately, given that anything can be explained (away) these days by appeal to history and language and guidance from the Spirit we are left with nothing but shifting sand. Our praxis is dependent on our cultural milieu. There were several places where McKnight could have appealed to the Bible to critique contemporary culture but he pulls back. He attempts to balance tradition against hyper-innovation but ends up creating a hermeneutic that is driven by our culture. Instead of asking what the Bible is saying and how we can apply it, he asks what our culture understands the Bible to be saying and how that can be scripturalised. His most dangerous statement is this "If we demand women do something so totally contrary to culture that non-Christians are offended or turned off, we should reconsider what we are doing." Replace the loaded word "women" with something more benign and you will see the danger. Men, athletes, students, employees...we are all called to live totally contrary to culture in many ways. The more wicked the culture, the more contrary we are called to live of course, but Christ said that those who follow him will be hated because he is hated. Since when are we supposed to live to please non-Christians?

There is much to be commended in this book but the implications of the hermeneutic are not thought out. It would seem to be driven by his desired conclusion rather than naturally flowing to it. If he was to spend more timing on the "boring" job of creating a solid foundation rather than entertaining us with stories involving parakeets he would have written a less interesting book but one that might lead us into new territory without threatening to undermine the role of Christ against culture.
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LibraryThing member rpdan
I’ve spent a lot of time in a lot of different theological streams. Fundamentalists, Wesleyans, Calvinists, Emergent, Mennonites, Quakers, and more. I’ve studied with them, read their works, discussed theology with them all. And while most of that time was pleasant, and while some of those
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conversations were enjoyable, all too often they’ve devolved into arguments over the issues that separate those groups.

The thing is, swimming in so many different pools has allowed me to make an interesting observation: each group is convinced that their reading of the sacred text is the correct one, and that all others are mistaken. And so each group assumes that if they can simply out-argue the other group, their view will win out. Unless, of course, those on the other side are “hard-hearted” or “blinded by the flesh,” in which case they’ll never accept Truth. (Note: this brush I’m using obviously describes certain of those groups more than others. . .)

What I’m getting at is this: there are many groups who have read the Bible, taken specific theological positions from specific passages, and then read the Bible through that particular lens or filter. The verses that support their position get lots of attention. The verses that would undermine that position – well, let’s just say they either get ignored or explained away.

Sometimes, though, just when we think we’ve got it all figured out, along comes a verse or passage that shakes things up a bit. Just when a theological position is codified, along comes something to knock it loose. Scot McKnight calls those “Blue Parakeet” passages. And it is at that point that McKnight takes off in his newest book, called, appropriately, The Blue Parakeet.

The essence of McKnight’s thesis is that there are many ways to read the Bible, including lawbook, repository of pithy statements, and puzzle. Unfortunately, most of these all come back to the same basic idea: we read the Bible in order to get correct information out of it. McKnight challenges that notion with this idea: we read the Bible in order to get the plot of the story, and then we live out that same story in our lives today. Thus, rather than attempting to live as Moses commanded, rather than attempting to fit all of Paul’s words into 21st Century American culture, we instead watch the plot unfolding from Creation, through the fall and Christ’s work of redemption, on into the ultimate recreation in the book of Revelation.

In other words, McKnight argues that our task is not to directly import the rules and statements of Moses and Paul into our day, but to see how God was working in the days of Moses, of Jesus, and of Paul, and allow this plot line to reveal to us how God is working in the world today. And then, most importantly, to live out this story in our world. To live lives of redemption, aware that God is still working today in ways unimaginable in biblical times, drawing us still away from the curse and into the Kingdom of God.

A couple brief thoughts:

- This book will make a lot of people nervous or angry, especially if they rank inerrancy and inspiration as the Highest Biblical Truths. Because McKnight pushes us to see beyond the words on the page to the God behind those words, some might accuse him of taking too low a view of scripture. I’m sure he’s aware of that, and is ready for the heresy police to come calling.

- McKnight uses the first half of the book to make his point, and then shifts in the second half to give us an example. For that example, he addresses the issue of women in ministry. I see and understand his logic. The teacher in him is coming out. First, give the theory, then the application. Again, his use of this issue is bound to make some people uncomfortable, especially the Southern Baptists out there. But I understand his method, and I concur with both his destination and how he got there.

- My only complaint with the book (and I realize this is probably just a personal thing): McKnight writes in a very conversational style, given to a lot of asides and personal interjections and cute acronyms. Perhaps this is due to the time he spends in college classrooms, attempting to reach today’s 20-year-olds with deep theological truth. To me, it all becomes so much distraction after awhile. Too cutesy. A dumbing-down of something that ought to make us think deep and hard. If I’m being forced to rethink how I read the Word of God, I want to be challenged with powerful examples and weighty logic, not fun stories and anecdotes. In other words, for a topic as important as this, I was surprised by the light and breezy tone taken by McKnight. Then again, I’m almost twice the age of most of his students, and I read professional theological tomes all the time, so perhaps I’m not exactly his target audience. You can read it and be the judge of that.

In the end, I find his primary argument, and his work on women in ministry, to be important for the Church today. I recommend the book for all who are seeking to figure out how the Bible speaks in the 21st Century world. It’s a relatively easy read that will still cause you to think deeply about how you approach the Bible and how you apply it to your life. And being aware of how we read is probably almost as important as knowing what we read.
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LibraryThing member Jared_Runck
In this book, McKnight tackles the difficult issues of contextual reading and spiritual discernment in a way meant to make these difficult concepts understandable for the average reader without specialized training in or familiarity with the discipline of biblical hermeneutics. He succeeds
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admirably, I think, in making the book accessible to a wide range of readers, though those of a more scholarly bent might find some of his explanations and/or examples a bit simplistic.

I agree with McKnight that it is important to properly qualify our claims of "literal" application and obedience to Scripture; we are often more selective in this than we would care to admit. However, even some of McKnight's readings, especially of the rules related to modest clothing and hairstyles on women in II Timothy 2 reflect the very subjectivity that he is critiquing. (He reads these texts with no acknowledgement of how they have been read and understood within the Holiness and Mennonite strands of the Christian tradition.)

Most concerning of all to me though, was this statement on pg. 143 related to the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15: "Was the Jerusalem council messy? Yes, it was. Did they discern what to do for that time? Yes, they did. Was it permanent, for all time, for everyone, always, everywhere? No." I wonder if that means McKnight feels there will ever be a contemporary context in which Christians SHOULD become Jewish proselytes in order to be a part of the Church... I would hope not, but that statement seems to leave that as a logical possibility at least.

I think that illustrates both the importance and the challenge of addressing the "contextual" nature of Scriptural interpretation. There is a constant tension between discerning what is "universal" and what is "particular." And I couldn't agree with McKnight more that it is this interpretive tension that necessitates an active role of the Spirit in our reading of Scripture.

Finally, McKnight spends several chapters addressing the perennial issue of the role of women in church ministry as his kind of "test case" or "working example" of the kind of contextually-sensitive/discernment-oriented hermeneutic he is promoting. Though he doesn't break much new interpretive ground in his work on the so-called "silence passages" (1 Cor. 14:34; 2 Tim. 2:9-15), he does nicely pull together a coherent and compelling response to the traditional prohibition of women holding roles of spiritual and/or teaching authority within the church. (Having already been convinced of a strongly egalitarian view, McKnight only confirmed what I already thought.) Just this section alone might be worth the price of the book.

McKnight's book is really most valuable in that it is such an easy read. He keeps the tone conversational rather than didactic, and peppers the book with enough personal observations and stories to maintain the reader's attention. I think the book has value as a way to introduce some of the thornier questions of hermeneutics to beginners. There is much more than can (and must!) be said than what McKnight says here, but at the very least, he provides a book that helpfully frames some of the most important questions we as followers of Christ will ever have to answer.
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LibraryThing member nicholasjjordan
I'm a pastor on the lookout for books to recommend to parishioners on reading the Bible. This one, while far better than Reading the Bible for All It's Worth, is not the book I'm looking for. At best, Blue Parakeet might have eaten the book I'm looking for, and added to it acronyms (WDWD? = What
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Did Women Do?); clunky slang (the book's title; Biblical stories as "wiki-stories of the Story) that already feels dated (at only 8 years old); and a long case-study section on women in ministry which is basically a different book. Also, McKnight's exegetical methods never allow him to even discuss the question of Pauline authorship (even in 1 Timothy) or how McKnight's take on reading "with Tradition" could lend itself to an LGBT-inclusive church. I don't know if that was to not lose part of the intended evangelical audience, but that's my best guess.
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LibraryThing member Bill.Bradford
One of the main beliefs of most churches is that we can read the Bible and understand it ourselves. However, reading the Bible is not always easy. How do best read the Bible? This is a great book to start sharpening your skills in reading the Bible.
As a birdwatcher, McKnight once found that a blue
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parakeet had joined the other birds in his backyard. Although the other birds were originally uncomfortable with this stranger, they soon adjusted. As McKnight says, “They let the blue parakeet be a blue parakeet.” He uses this as an analogy – the Bible has “Blue parakeet” passages that make us uncomfortable or leave us scratching our heads. How do we let these “be blue parakeets”? To explain this, McKnight (who is a professor of New Testament) explains that She believes we should read the Bible as story. When we read this way, we can see how the parts we don’t understand fir into the bigger picture.
Reading the Bible is not always easy, and if we are going to be faithful and really grow in our relationship with God, we need to explore and understand how to read the Bible. You will have a better grasp on understanding what God wants for you once you finish (and start applying) this book.

This book is relatively easy to read and would be a great book to discuss in a group. Note: While generally a book on how to read the Bible, the major example used – women in ministry – can be controversial. If you are not comfortable with being challenged on this issue you will probably want to skip this book
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LibraryThing member LDVoorberg
Excellent resource for challenging you to be more intentional when reading the Bible. It helps you understand what you're supposed to be doing when you read, what you're supposed to bring to and take from your reading.

Also an excellent discussion about women in leadership in the church.

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criticism: those willing to pick up this book are probably already willing to accept its thesis; those who need to hear this thesis probably won't be interested in this sort of book (ie, it preaches to the choir -- though the choir does still need to hear this sermon!)
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