Book Review: The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight is perfect for you if any of the following apply:

  • You've ever wanted to let the Bible become a bigger influence on your life, but then when you tried to do so, you found out that the Bible doesn't really cooperate as easily as you'd like it to in telling you what to do.
  • You've ever had or liked a bumper sticker that says, "God says it, I believe it, that settles it."
  • You've ever been really motivated to read through the Bible, then began and perhaps finished Genesis, but then felt utterly lost and bored by mid-Exodus, or if you were really tough- perhaps you even made it into Leviticus or Deuteronomy.
  • You've ever wondered how in the world the Old Testament can actually say some of the stuff it says, like God commanding his people to wipe out other groups- including their women and children.
  • You've ever wondered how in the world the New Testament can actually say some of the stuff it says, like saying it's sinful for women to braid their ha and that they will be saved through childbearing.
  • You've thought that the Bible may be interesting, but felt unsure of what it's supposed to have to do with your life today.
  • You either enjoy or are completely puzzled by these Scripture Plaques You Won't Find at the Christian Bookstore.

In the book, McKnight does a masterful and entertaining job of exploring what the Bible is (and what it isn't), what we should do with it (and what we shouldn't), and how we can benefit from it. By telling his own story, he gently but persuasively makes the point that even the most committed Bible-believing Christians among us don't really believe that they should do everything the Bible says they should do. (For example, I've known a lot of deeply devout Christians, but I still have yet to know anyone who has done what we get on to the rich young ruler for not doing: selling everything we own and giving the money to the poor.)

McKnight helps us to take our blinders off and realize that regardless of what we claim to believe about the Bible, all of us pick and choose from what it says. (Good thing, too, because I don't think stoning is a good punishment today for much of anything.) So, since an honest examination reveals that we do pick and choose even if we don't realize it, we need to pay very good attention to why and how we do so.

A central claim he makes is that the Bible needs to be read as Story. (By this, he doesn't mean to say story=myth, but that the whole thing follows a plot- with a beginning, middle, and end). He contrasts this way of reading the Bible to others, such as reading it as a collection of laws, a collection of blessings and promises, something onto which we can project our own ideas (like a Rohrschach inkblot), or as a giant puzzle that we have to piece together. He claims that by reading the Bible as Story, we are able to see its parts as "wiki-stories" which all contribute to the larger story that begins with humanity's union with God, continues through our separation from God, and points forward to our eventual re-union with God.

In this way, the Story of the Bible can help us to lead more discerning lives. It helps us to consider how God has worked in the past, how God may be working today, and (knowing a bit of where it's all headed) how we can align our actions with what God will be doing in the future.

So what about the blue parakeet? McKnight gives a full metaphor in the book from his bird-watching experience in his own back yard, but in short he says, "Blue parakeet passages are oddities in the Bible that we prefer to cage and silence rather than to permit into our sacred mental gardens." Passages like these (and I think most of these Scripture plaques would qualify as blue parakeets to him) should wake us up to realizing that the Bible is often not what we've thought it to be, and that it can only be what it was intended to be when we let it be what it is. (That's my own convoluted wording- not his.)

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