The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

BlueParakeet

If you’ve read Scot McKnight’s blog Jesus Creed, you know that his work ranges far and wide but almost always centers on the meaning of Jesus in the context of living out our faith in the modern world. His books mirror this broad spectrum of application from drawing Mary back into Protestant life with The Real Mary to emphasizing the twin foci of love as the outcome of spiritual formation in The Jesus Creed.  McKnight’s latest offering is an outstanding entry in his library, moving Christians to consider the way in which they read the Bible. The Blue Parakeet is not a hermeneutics text, it is a challenge to manner in which we hear the words of the text. Is it a collection of ‘thou musts’ linked together by vignettes of human history or a lengthy and far-reaching story of God and His relationship with creation? Scot helps us to discover our initial viewpoint and then leads the reader to discover alternatives that help us to apply the Scriptures to a modern culture that is much different from the setting of the stories we read.

Central to Scot’s ideas throughout the book is the question, how does God speak to people through the Bible? We can read the text in a fossilized state, forever locking words in their first century (or earlier) context while trying to apply them to a twenty-first century culture or, as McKnight asks us, we can consider a broader reading of the Bible as themes that are universally applicable in each proceeding culture. In doing so, we can easily see that God spoke Moses’ days in Moses’ ways, in Jesus’ days in Jesus’ ways, in Paul’s days in Paul’s ways, and given that pattern it is reasonable to hear God speaking to us in our days in our ways. The themes and concepts of the Scriptures were meant to carry God’s words throughout every era of history, continually applicable to an ever-changing culture.

Blue Parakeet weaves an interesting path that leads to the development of discernment in the application of the Bible to our modern lives. Ever the professor, McKnight puts the preceding chapters to the test in applying the ideas to the contentious issue of women in ministry, devoting five full chapters to the subject. This section of the book cements the value of this work as it transfers the ideas that he presents in the early chapters from the abstract to the concrete, demonstrating how they can be applied to an issue. Will this methodology ruffle some feathers (no pun)? Certainly, but by reading the Scriptures as story rather than Torah we find each generation and culture challenges those that came before it and God remaining consistent throughout.

The Blue Parakeet was not written specifically for an academic audience but seminaries would do well to consider including this book alongside their selected hermeneutics text and How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. As with all of Professor McKnight’s books, Parakeet is well written, organized and applicable. Like a well crafted sermon, each idea has appropriate illustrations and solid application for the reader to use in testing the viability of the proposition. Christian leaders and laypeople alike should spend time reading, discussing and applying this book. 

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I was privileged to receive an advance reader edition of this book prior to its release and I took a couple of weeks to read it slowly and savor the ideas in small sips. Scot McKnight has once again provided an invaluable contribution to the advancement of the Church and the faith and his style makes the book immediately accessible to every member of the Christian community.  I am going to begin a series of posts on the book, looking at each chapter on its own now that it has been released. It dovetails perfectly with another ongoing series I have been doing on Foster’s book Life with God. Both McKnight and Foster emphasize reading to hear; listening to the scriptures for God’s voice and his unique address to each one of us. What Scot contributes to this discussion is the emphasis on God speaking to us in our ways. Our application should then take cultural context into consideration in every move we make. I’ll look forward to interacting with other readers of the book in the weeks ahead.

The Psalms

image The one hundred and fifty psalms collected in the scriptures are very nearly a bible unto themselves. These praises, prayers, and laments have spoken to the spectrum of human emotion and experience century after century as God’s people try to comprehend what it means to be just that, God’s people. The psalms have been a part of devotional bible reading and cried out as individual prayer because of the depth of the psalmists soul that the Spirit revealed for inclusion in the Word. The Psalter has a revered place in worship beyond the pulpit as well. The psalms often find their way into the call to worship and the musical selections. The Psalms provide us with God’s word for all seasons of life.

My next series of bible study posts will be on the psalms, one at a time. I invite you to contribute to a dialog on the meaning and theology of each of these important portions of scripture. Have they affected your life or your relationship with God? How does your church utilize this book? Will we be different when we finish this time together.

The Two Sides of Gideon I

In a Judges cycle that has definitely taken an unexpected turn for the worse, we catch a glimmer of hope.

The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.”

But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

At the inappropriate request, Gideon flashes his devotion to the Covenant. “The Lord will rule over you!” The tribes had pledged their absolute allegiance to Yahweh as their king at the base of Mt. Sinai and this near history should not have been lost on the people raising this cry. Certainly, it must have at least crossed someone’s mind that to take Gideon and his sons as a dynasty would have broken their covenant agreement?

Gideon does, and emphatically demonstrates his loyalty to the agreement. This catches our eye so quickly after he has acted impetuously out of his own anger in Succoth and Pineil. For a man with such respect for the covenant and Yahweh’s lordship, he did not hesitate to act in vengeance of his own volition. Maybe the reason this catches our interest is that it all sounds so familiar. We’ve been there. We recognize the struggle to make our actions match our theology. It’s harder than it looks.

The Shock of Gideon’s Turn

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Reading the Gideon cycle in Judges we find ourselves at an unexpected turn after his victory in war. Rather than the hero we are led to expect who transcends his fearfulness and forges forward in trust, we find instead a normal person.

Maybe, a person more like ourselves than we are willing to admit.

What catches us off guard is how quickly Gideon forgets his Yahweh ordained purpose. God did not call on him to destroy parts of Pineil or administer the whipping that the men of Succoth endured; he performed both of these actions out of his own desire for revenge. The Israelites will respond in much the same way as we turn the page. Rather than turning to the Lord in their desire for leadership, they cry out for Gideon to lead them as their ruler. Is there hope for Gideon?

We can benefit today by meditating on the words of a later leader.

Psalm 3

O Lord, how many are my foes!

How many rise up against me!

Many are saying of me,

“God will not deliver him.” Selah

But you are a shield around me, O Lord;

you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

To the Lord I cry aloud,

and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah

I lie down and sleep;

I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

I will not fear the tens of thousands

drawn up against me on every side.

Arise, O Lord!

Deliver me, O my God!

Strike all my enemies on the jaw;

break the teeth of the wicked.

From the Lord comes deliverance.

May your blessing be on your people.

Gideon Pursues the Enemy III

image After Gideon and his army had routed the entire army of the Midianites and began marching their kings Zebah and Zalmunna back toward the Jordan, he must have been wondering why his Israelite brothers had refused to support him. Angrily he must have decided that they remained turned against Yahweh, unwilling to trust the mission that he had been given. Given the distance of time, do we see the irony in Gideon’s rage against them. They were bypassed by the Midian army but would suffer humiliation and destruction at the hands of God’s judge.

Perhaps the irony is masked by the change we see in Gideon himself. Starting out as hesitant and fearful, he slowly obeys God’s commands and embarks on the restorative mission. Obedience marks this Judges’ cycle until ego and the need for revenge transforms the man. Does he feel that God’s mission gives him permission to act independently to punish Piniel and Succoth? He crosses ‘over the line’ in crossing over the Jordan. Are we at similar risk?

Christian leaders are all tempted by ego and the human desire to get ‘even.’ It’s easy to even momentarily forget that we serve at the pleasure of God and it is His glory alone that should be the result of our service. Obstacles may come, we may have to face struggles that prick our every nerve ending and exhaust the limits of our patience, we may even find ourselves sidelined for a season when we feel as though we should be in the middle of the action but we must maintain our trust in God and the purpose he calls us to.

Gideon Pursues the Enemy II

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After being denied sustenance in Succoth, Gideon pursues similar support in Peniel, to the same end. A vehement no! from the men of Peniel garners similar threats of retribution from Gideon. When he returns this way on the way back home, he states that the tower he is facing will be torn down. Do the men of Peniel respond in fear? For that matter, did a similar threat to scourge the men of Succoth with briars and thorns cause them to give in? The word tells us no and that the army of God’s purpose moved on under the power of the Lord.

Church leaders can find a second item of interest in this passage. It is sometimes the case that we can misread external signals thinking that they guide our purpose. If Gideon had asked of God for sustenance, relying on the people of Succoth and Peniel to be the answerers of this prayer, he may have been tempted to turn back and question his own interpretation of the mission. Maybe not at the first denial, but perhaps the second. How many times have we, as church leaders, been certain of God’s calling to a specific purpose only to find obstacle after obstacle in our way. What is the magic number of denials that we count before we turn back? Maybe our practice needs to be …one more than that.

Gideon Pursues the Enemy

image The story of Gideon is a tale of faith, or the lack of faith. God pursued him to fulfill his purpose in restoring the relationship between Yahweh and Israel. Now, as Gideon pursues the enemy across the border territory of the Jordan. Exhausted but driven, the warriors of Israel pursue the enemy without stop. Needing sustenance to carry on the mission, Gideon asks the men of Succoth for bread to carry them further.

A lack of faith stops them cold.

A church leader faces this all the time. God will implant a vision and a call to the leader for a particular church to accomplish and yet, when the vision is presented to congregation, the naysayers raise the heads and begin to find reasons why that could not possibly be God’s call on that body. In one light, their hesitation is justified. It will cost too much money, it will damage the reputation of the church, it will never work, the carpet will get dirty. The moment of truth arrives for the leader; will they act in faith to God and his strength or give in to the church in fear for their position. Too often, we fall into the latter.

Gideon faced both the fear of the loss of reputation (Ephraim) and the concern for safety (Succoth) but kept his eyes focused on the purpose to which he was called. Did he wonder how Yahweh would ever redeem this people?

Gideon the Diplomat

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image Fresh from living out his purpose in routing the warriors of Midian, Gideon is thrust into the position of diplomat. An intertribal argument awaits him before he has even rested:

Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have your treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” (Judges 8:1)

The Ephraimites are upset at missing an opportunity to increase their personal glory, indicating perhaps that the troubles that had separated Israel from God in the first place were still in need of attention in this Judges cycle. They had not only lost their perceived glory but a portion of the spoils of war as well. Sharp criticism draws a diplomatic response from Gideon. He placates their anger by alluding to their superior status in the tribal standings. They accept this as an apology and are quieted. We expect the familiar construct “and the land had peace for x years” but God is not finished yet.

Do people who look in on the internecine battles within God’s church see a similar situation? Does denomination A proclaim their superiority over church B, not in God’s glory but in their body count or the size of their fortress? Has God’s hand been forgotten in all things?

Gideon Sounds the Horns

Gideon does the only appropriate thing upon receiving the revelation and assurance of his victory over the Midianites from the mouth of a frightened Midian soldier,

When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshipped God. (Judges 7:15)

image This easily overlooked vignette reminds us of our proper priorities. How often we put off the worship of the Father in response to his revelation or leading. Instead, we are only too eager to jump to action now that we are confident of His assurance of our success but there is a good reason for pausing to worship. You see, if we act immediately we are susceptible to taking the credit for any coming success rather than placing it in the proper perspective. Worship first humbles us, helping us to recognize that the assurance comes from God.

The small force that surrounds Gideon serves a similar purpose. He is humbled as his army is reduced and reduced through the methods that Yahweh pronounces until Gideon must be totally reliant on God’s power for any victory. Yahweh’s power is displayed through the small army; the strategy that Gideon employs makes his force look much, much larger than it really is. In a panic, the Midianites turn upon themselves and flee in fear.

We look to the Bible for life lessons and sometimes, they are more subtle than we would like. Its easy here to lose the truths in the action but there are profound ideals that we can apply. First, as we diminish our own power in trust to God’s power we can count on His strength making itself known in ways we cannot imagine. The second truth that the Midianites learned the hard way is that battling or opposing this power is self-destructive, a guaranteed loser. Are we cautious enough not to step into the shoes of the Midianites?