Bible/Interpretation

Blue Parakeets & the Bible’s Big Story

I’m rereading the great book The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by my teacher, Scot McKnight. I can’t believe its already been nearly 10 years since I first devoured the book (half of it in the bookstore!), and now am studying with Scot! I’m preparing to preach on the importance of grasping the Bible’s Big Story any how easy it is to lose the forest for the trees.

Instead of learning how to read the Bible as a Big Story that sweeps us up and out of our world and into its world, like the Pevensie children being swept into Narnia through the picture of the Dawn Treader on the wall, McKnight suggests many settle for shortcuts that distort the Bible and don’t grab our heart and sweep us into the action in transformative ways.

Five such shortcuts include reading the Bible as:

  1. Morsels of law. Such readers find in the Bible a Law-God giving humanity a bunch of dos and don’ts. Such readers inevitably become self-righteous, legalistic Christians who feel morally superior and resentful that others haven’t reach our level of holiness.
  2. Morsels of blessings and promises. In 1551, a certain Stephanos added verse numbers to the Bible, and made it easier to access and reference parts. Sadly, this also led to reading the Bible as isolated pieces and wisdom nuggets and daily promises and blessings. While there’s some value in reading the “verse of the day”, there’s a whole lot of the Bible that doesn’t make it into an inspirational calendar. People only read light, cheery, uplifting verses about God’s blessings, and then experience a crisis of faith when suffering comes along. We need to read not only of David’s victory over the giant, but also his dark nights of the soul when God seemed to have abandoned him.
  3. Mirrors and inkblots. Rorschach’s “inkblot” tests don’t reveal what’s on the paper, but what’s inside the head of the observer. Similarly, many Bible readers project onto the Bible what they want to see. They read the “Jesus inkblot” in the Gospels and see a Republican or a socialist, because they are a Republican or a socialist. They read the Revelation inkblot, a favorite of such readers, and see in its pages contemporary international events unfolding (when most of Revelation is addressing 1st century events). Instead of being swept up into the Bible’s Story, such readers end up sweeping up the Bible into their own stories.
  4. Puzzling together pieces to map God’s mind. Some scatter all of the Bible’s verses across the flat surface of the room, and construct our own picture, or Grand System, in attempts to put it all together and make sense of all the pieces. The problem is we don’t have the puzzle box picture, and so our Grand Systems is not the Bible’s Story as God chose to reveal it, but rather a construct of our imagination that forces the various pieces (or verses and passages) to fit. But such readers always leave out too many pieces that don’t fit into our neat Grand System. So, we find Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist, Reformed, Roman Catholic, Anabaptist, etc.  readings that each emphasize certain puzzle pieces while deemphasize others. The obvious problem with this is that God could have chosen to reveal his Truth in such a systematic scheme like a Theological Primer book, but he didn’t. He gave us a Story instead! I believe He had good reason for this.
  5. Maestros. Others choose to isolate one Maestro to distill and get to the heart of the Bible. The natural place to start is deciding to only focus on the teachings of Jesus, and screen out the other authors of Scripture. This is a very real temptation for me, since it is indeed true that Jesus claims to be the goal and fulfillment of the entire Story, and we ought to reread the entire Scripture in light of his fuller revelation. Others grew up reading the entire Bible and understanding the Gospel through Maestro Paul and the categories and language found in his greatest letter Romans. McKnight urges us to let all the voices and perspectives in the Bible — Moses, Ezekiel, Isaiah, David, Solomon, Peter, James, John, Paul and Jesus — inform our understanding of the Big Story.

There’s no shortcut to learning how to read the Bible for all its worth. But its worth the effort and journey! Here’s a few other brilliant quotes from other authors on reading the Bible as Story pulled from McKnight’s Blue Parakeet:

“The most frequent way we have of getting rid of the puzzling or unpleasant difficulties in the Bible is to systematize it, organizing it according to some scheme or other that summarizes “what the Bible teaches.” If we know what the Bible teaches, we don’t have to read it anymore, don’t have to enter the story and immerse ourselves in the odd and unflattering and uncongenial way in which this story develops, including so many people and circumstances that have nothing to do, we think, with us” (Eugene Peterson).

“So I invite you to read the Bible not for bits and pieces of dry information [pieces in a puzzle], but as the story of God’s embrace of the world told in poetic images and types” (Robert Webber).

“The biblical gospel is not a collection of timeless statements such as God is love. It is a narrative about things God has done” (John Goldingay).

“The God of the philosopher is a concept derived from abstract ideas; the God of the prophets is derived from acts and events. The root of Jewish faith is, therefore, not comprehension of abstract principles but an inner attachment to those events” (Abraham Joshua Heschel).

For more on various ways to approach the Bible, you may enjoy my series On Reading the Bible and other writings on the Bible as Story, or “Narrative Theology”, here.

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