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Scot McKnight: The Blue Parakeet

By Mark D. Roberts | Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yesterday I described Scot McKnight’s recent visit to Laity Lodge. Today I want put up a brief review of his latest book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Zondervan, 2008).

Initially, the most striking thing about The Blue Parakeet is it’s bright yellow color and odd title. What, one must wonder, does a blue parakeet have to do with reading the Bible? Scot explains this in what is effectively the second introduction to the book. As it turns out, McKnight is a bird-watcher. (A year ago I would have found this rather odd, but now that I live in a place with lots of interesting birds, I can relate to Scot’s fascination with our winged friends.) One day while he was watching sparrows in his backyard, Scot saw an unusual flash of unusual blue. It turned out to be a blue parakeet, no doubt an escaped pet. Scot was surprised, and so were the sparrows, who didn’t know what to make of the blue stranger. In time, they managed to get along with the parakeet, even though it had initially interrupted their routine.

According to Scot, there are passages in the Bible that are like this blue parakeet. They surprise us. They confuse us. They interrupt our otherwise comfortable reading of the Bible. What we do when we encounter these blue parakeets matters, especially for those of us who consider the Bible to be the authoritative guide for our faith and life. Scot explains his point this way:

     Chance encounters [with blue parakeet passages] somtimes lead us deeper into thought. The passages I mentioned in the previous chapter [concerning Sabbath, tithing, foot washing, charismatic gifts, and surrendering possessions] as well as comments from students are for me “blue parakeet experiences.” When we encounter blue parakeets in the Bible or in the questions of others, whether we think of something as simple as the Sabbath or foot washing or as complex and emotional as women in church ministries or homosexuality, we have to stop and think. Is this passage for today or not? Sometimes we hope the blue parakeets will go away – as I hoped. (Kindle location, 357)

The rest of The Blue Parakeet is Scot’s effort to explain how we do and how we should interpret the Bible. In technical terms, this is a book about biblical hermenutics (the study of we interpret the Bible). It assumes the authority of Scripture and takes seriously the nature of the biblical text and especially its challenges for contemporary interpreters.

I found several features of The Blue Parakeet much to my liking:

• Scot’s style is casual and engaging. He has written for ordinary folk, not for scholars, though his ideas reflect a scholar’s knowledge. (Scot is a fine New Testament scholar and professor of biblical studies at North Park University.)

• He pays special attention to the narrative flow of Scripture and urges us to read biblical passages in terms of this narrative.

• He defends his positions strongly and clearly, though not tearing down those who would disagree with him. Scot is not a polemicist.

• His extended example of how we read biblical texts that speak of women in ministry is a helpful one. Even if you disagree with Scot’s conclusions, he’ll give you things to think about.

• He is honest about his own struggles to understand the Bible faithfully.

I would recommend The Blue Parakeet especially to Christians who are wrestling with how to interpret the Bible in a way that is faithful, both to Scripture and to our context today. I wish I had this book when I was in college and worrying about issues of biblical authority and interpretation. I could also see The Blue Parakeet being well used in adult class and small group studies.

Topics: Book Reviews |

10 Responses to “Scot McKnight: The Blue Parakeet

  1. Ray Says:
    April 28th, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Sounds like my kind of book. Thanks for the recommendation.

    I always learn something new here. I had never heard the term polemicist before (I know, I don’t get out much). Thanks also for enlarging my vocabulary.

  2. Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e65v2 Says:
    April 28th, 2009 at 4:45 am

    […] think Origen noted that feature in Scripture just a few years earlier (that is the idea that there are “blue parakeet verses”, which cause you to stumble so […]

  3. Bill Goff Says:
    April 28th, 2009 at 8:28 am

    I’m having a hard time keeping up with your book recommendations. I am still reading The Divine Commodity which I especially enjoy for the comments on Vincent Van Gogh.
    At the link there are some thoughtful reviews of The Blue Parakeet.

  4. Barb Says:
    April 28th, 2009 at 11:19 am

    My women’s Bible study did read this book and I have created a set of study questions–if you are interested let me know.

  5. ChrisB Says:
    April 29th, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Mark, I have to disagree with your take on Blue Parakeet. As I see it, he briefly explains some other methods of interpreting the Bible, declares them wrong, describes his method, declares it right, and offers no evidence of any of this. He then outlines a very subjective method for determining what parts of the Bible we should apply. I think this book is a manual for eisegesis. I was left wondering where the rest of the book was.

  6. Mark Roberts Says:
    April 29th, 2009 at 10:24 am

    ChrisB: Thanks for your comment. You’re right to an extent about Scot’s not defending certain statements. I’m not sure I’d agree that his method is “very subjective,” however. I’d like to see how Scot deals with interpretations that are incorrect according to his approach, a contrast between women in ministry and gays in ministry, for example. People should read your link to get your more complete critique of Blue Parakeet.

  7. McKnight and Ford: Book Déjà Vu? | Says:
    May 6th, 2009 at 12:02 am

    […] Scot McKnight: The Blue Parakeet […]

  8. Poem for Scot McKnight - Bird Watching | Says:
    May 19th, 2009 at 5:02 am

    […] Scot McKnight: The Blue Parakeet ( SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “Poem for Scot McKnight - Bird Watching”, url: “” }); […]

  9. salvatore ippolito Says:
    October 10th, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    In The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight challenges us to acknowledge and examine the paradigms that guide our reading of scripture. McKnight suggests that the Bible presents a story. I believe it basically does. That portions of it are not written in narrative form doesn’t alter that fact. He suggests we read scripture in light of its overall story. I definately think we should. It is sometimes said that we should lay theological tradition aside and simply read scripture. Theologically-minded people find that insufficient. The Blue Parakeet provides me with reason to think otherwise. If we were to simply read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation–always in that order–God’s story would illuminate all of its parts. In that way, the story would be our paradigm for scripture itself. (There is no way around circularity. At least there’s integrity in the approach). Perhaps that’s how Jews at their best have always read scripture. It’s a story of which we are a part. N. T. Wright has had much to say about reading and interpreting the Bible as story. C. S. Lewis’ insights surrounding language futher suggest the Bible should be read in this form. Maybe McKnight has found a way out of the theological web most Protestants have found themselves entangled in.

  10. salvatore ippolito Says:
    October 10th, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    What I’m trying to say is that we almost always think we must plan an approach to scriptural text. We’ve gone systematic and have tried to reconcile scripture with reason or logic. We’ve attempted to square the Bible with culture, worldviews, and agreed upon scientific statements about people and the world (how it all works). I’m reminded of Barth who, although accused of de-historicising scripture, was not without insight when he said that there is God, there is his creation, and then there is our meager attempt to understand both (I paraphrase here). And I feel that our attempt can really result in great misunderstanding. Perhaps if we read the Bible as story, the Bible will speak for itself and reform our hearts and minds through the Holy Spirit. God works best when we’re out of the way!


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