I Know Why the Caged Bird is in Lock-Down- An Editorial on “The Blue Parakeet”

November 25, 2008

I bought Scot McKnight’s new book The Blue Parakeet partially aware of what it said and fully expecting not to like it. Then, as I began reading it, I decided to give it a chance, and for the first 93 pages of the book I was mostly with the author. But, starting with Chapter 7, entitled “God Speaks, We Listen: What is Our Relationship to the God Who Speaks to Us in the Bible?,” things began (quickly) going south. In the end I found myself reaffirmed in my initial gut instinct and with my wife asking me to read something I would agree with next so I would not be so angry around the house.

So, what did McKnight say that struck me so badly? Well, to begin with, know that The Blue Parakeet is basically a book on hermeneutics. It is about reading the Bible as a Story composed of a collection of 66 wiki-stories, all carrying one or more of the six themes identified by the author. The whole “blue parakeet” thing is explained by McKinght in one of the chapters and is used to refer to passages that are “oddities in the Bible that we prefer to cage and silence rather than to permit into our sacred mental gardens” (p.208). Never mind the fact that McKnight begins just using the phrase “blue parakeet” willy-nilly for just about anything as the book progresses, even this basic explanation entails that McKnight is coloring his view of biblical interpretation with a selection of passages that he feels have been given short-shrift by “the Great Tradition” (as he mostly derogatorily refers to church history).

So, for the first 93 pages McKnight explains his system, a system which sounds a good deal like the system I adhere to (that being Biblical Theology) and all seems good. Then in chapter 7 things get subjective. McKnight starts arguing that we must “listen to God so we can love him more deeply and love others more completely” (p.96). Now, the ideas of listening and of loving aren’t so bad, but the question is, if all we are doing is listening to God then how is this biblical interpretation? Instead, what really gets advocated is what McKnight states in chapter 8 on page 112: “If you are doing good works, you are reading the Bible aright.” Therefore, the standard of correct Bible interpretation isn’t the Bible but it is our own subjective view of if what we are doing is loving and good.

(Note: Oddly enough, the next statement McKnight makes is, “If you are not doing good works, you are not reading the Bible aright.” This is logically equivalent to the statement, “If you are reading the Bible aright, you are (or will be) doing good works,” which I would agree with, that a right reading of the Bible leads us to doing good works which are based in what we read, but this is a point McKnight never turns to.)

Continuing from here, McKnight begins attacking what he views as “blue parakeet passages,” with an extended look at a special “blue parakeet” case, the topic of women in church ministries. I will not address his view in particular (though boy I would like to!) but I will remark that I think in this argument McKnight unveils a pattern of disingenuous statements that undercut all his denials of promoting theological liberalism. First, instead of facing the main issue head-on, that being the issue of whether women may serve in the pastorate, McKnight instead chooses to conflate all of the opinions into one, presenting the conservative, “traditional” thought as being that women should never lead anyone or try to learn anything. This is utterly ridiculous, and though it may be the position of some, it is nowhere near the position advocated by the proponents of complemetarianism, which is the main system in opposition to McKnight’s “mutuality” or egalitarian approach.  Secondly, instead of resting on the Bible for what it says, McKnight chooses to assume what he is arguing for into places where he admits the writing is ambiguous (see pages 180 and 181). If that is not theological liberalism at work then I don’t know what is.

The biggest problem for me, however, in all of this book, can be summed up by an argument that McKnight uses in entering upon the women in ministry section. In arguing that the culture of the biblical period was wholly slanted by a view of women as inferior to men, McKnight makes the bold statement that:

“We must say something not often admitted by Bible-reading, God-loving Christians: He who writes the story controls the glory.” (p.156)

What!?! Now, on various pages throughout the book, McKnight claims to hold the evangelical view of the inerrancy of Scripture, but if that is the case then how could he ever believe what he has just said? In this sentence McKnight is claiming that passages which can be read as being derogatory or unappreciative of women are this way in some part because they were written by misogynists. Thus, the “inerrant,” “God-breathed” word that McKnight claims to believe in is apparently not so God-breathed as to accurately reflect God’s view of women! But, if that’s the case, just how much of it can we claim is actually from God in the first place? Liberalism, I have seen thee and thy name is The Blue Parakeet.

In conclusion, I think the best summary of Scot McKnight’s hermeneutic as presented in The Blue Parakeet is this: Do what you want as long as it seems loving and good in your context and try to make sure that it remains consistent with Scripture, at least as you read it. Think I’m being too harsh? Once more, in McKnight’s own writing:

“Adaptability of message and lifestyle is a theme written into the fabric of the ongoing development of the Bible itself. . . . All genuine biblical faith takes the gospel message and ‘incarnates’ it in a context. . . . Living out the Bible means living out the Bible in our day in our way by discerning together how God would have us live” [emphasis mine] (pp.142-143).

Interpreting the Bible with man as the center and not Christ, what McKnight is advocating by doing it “in our day in our ways,” is nothing more than humanism, and is only going to lead us to reading ourselves, and not Christ, as the central purpose of God’s creation. This is the same thinking that got Adam kicked out of the Garden and I don’t think it will get us much farther!