Scot McKnight establishes a key idea in The Blue Parakeet mid way through chapter four. He posits that the Bible that God gives us to read is presented as the unfolding story of His ways with His people. When we approach the text as something else, we lose the power of reading the book as a story. In doing so, we lessen its impact on our lives and may even ‘discover’ interpretations that differ from the original intention of the authors or The Author.
Context is everything in reading the Bible as we’ve seen countless times. Context can be viewed as the concentric rings of a pebble in a pond; there is an immediate ring or context, and then one a little further out, and so on. Each of the verses exists in a context of a passage and that exists in a book and so on until we can see that each of the smallest contextual markers contributes to the whole of God’s story. Rather than standing on their own trying to carry the full weight of biblical revelation, the stories contribute to The Story. McKnight gives us a valuable example in asking us to consider our perspective on paying interest on a loan. Many of us have home mortgages or car loans on which we have agreed to pay a certain percentage of interest. We do this as Christians despite the clear biblical prohibition against it in Leviticus 25:35-38. Why? How do we justify dismissing this (and many other) passage when we claim the whole Bible as the Word of God? We do so saying “that was then, this is now” pointing out culturally how our time in God’s story is different from that of the Israelites. We stand correctly in this assertion because we read the Bible as a story with many different eras and cultures represented for the purposes of God’s expression of His relationship with His creation.
The question that we must address is what determines “what was for then?” If we read for promises and blessings or morsels of law we lose sight of the story and we are tempted to say that ‘this was for then’ and ‘it is also for now’ to everything, despite the obvious cultural differences. Tempering this is the easily remembered device: God spoke to Moses in Moses ways in Moses days, to Amos in Amos’ days in Amos’ ways and to us in our days in our ways. If we are able to read the Bible as story and we understand the thread that runs throughout, we see that same thread running through our own lives in our own modern ways. Each author reworked the bigger story for his audience and we should read what God has left for us in our own context.
I struggle a bit with this chapter. Is it for everyone to decide what ‘was for then’ on their own? Is it only in the context of reading as a community that we can discover that? I’m interested to hear your views on this and on the book as a whole.