We recently accompanied my son and daughter to the movie “The Tale of Despereaux.”
In one scene Despereaux’s mouse brother escorts him to the castle library. The brother instructs Despereaux on the art of eating books. Despereaux, however, chooses to read rather than eat. He is drawn into the story of a noble knight rescuing a fair maiden. Despereaux believes the book’s story is his story.
He leaves the library and begins to live in life this story he’s found in print.
This is the experience the authors of two recent books hope we will have when we read Scripture. “The Blue Parakeet” and “Living at the Crossroads” call us to believe that the Bible’s story is our story and that its narrative transforms our perspective on life.
Both books caution against approaching Scripture as a guide to religion or a collection of doctrines. We are to instead read Scripture “as story”— a unified narrative about God and his creation.
“Blue Parakeet” challenges us to read Scripture as story because doing so helps us interpret difficult texts.
“Living at the Crossroads” makes the same challenge, claiming that reading Scripture as story helps us meet the challenges of living in a non-Christian culture.
In “Blue Parakeet,” McKnight, professor of religious studies at North Park University in Chicago, exhorts us to learn the narrative of Scripture because doing so enables us to deal with “blue parakeets” — troublesome texts that cause us anxiety (the way a neighbor’s escaped blue parakeet caused anxiety for McKnight’s sparrows).
Examples of “blue parakeet” texts include those dealing with foot washing, the Sabbath regulations, homosexuality and gender roles. McKnight proposes we interpret “blue parakeet” texts in light of the grand story of the Bible.
Unfortunately, he finds that few of us engage in this hard work but instead opt for “shortcuts.” For example, some read the Bible as a collection of “morsels of law” — they are only interested in the rules and commands of Scripture.
Similarly, some read the Bible as a collection of “morsels of blessings and promises”— they only pay attention to the comforting blessings and promises in the Bible. Both shortcuts (McKnight lists five) uproot material from the larger narrative of which it is a part.
What is the Bible’s narrative? McKnight proposes a five-themed story of oneness, otherness, otherness expanding, oneness in Christ and perfect oneness. Each biblical book is a “wiki-story” within this larger story.
McKnight’s term “wiki-story” stems from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia in which each entry is added to and refined by contributors. Similarly, the wiki-stories (biblical books) are the ongoing addition to and refinement of the Bible’s main story. Each wiki-story contributes to one or more of the Bible’s five main themes. The “blue parakeet” texts find their full meaning not only when seen in light of the wiki-story that contains them, but when seen in light of the whole story of which that wiki-story is part.
In the book’s final section, McKnight demonstrates how reading Scripture as story can aid specifically in the interpretation of texts on gender roles. He believes that as each biblical wiki-story progresses, there is a corresponding progression of the role of women in ministry. Due to this direction in the biblical narrative, McKnight proposes women be given greater teaching and leadership roles in congregations today.
Some readers may disagree with McKnight’s conclusions on this issue. In addition, in developing the idea of wiki-stories, McKnight leaves the impression that the biblical writers were heavily influenced by culture — a suggestion some will find untenable.
The book, however, has much value. For those wishing to explore gender roles, the book provides a fine starting place. In addition, McKnight’s challenge to Bible-reading “shortcuts” deserves a hearing, especially within the Stone-Campbell movement that has at times been guilty of these shortcuts. Further, McKnight builds productively on the Stone-Campbell movement’s fondness for interpretation in context. He pushes us
to not only consider the immediate book within which a text is found, but the entire biblical narrative of
which it is a part.
In “Living at the Crossroads” Goheen (Trinity Western University professor of worldview and religious studies) and Bartholomew (Redeemer University College professor of philosophy, religion, and theology) urge us to learn the story of Scripture not because of how it will make sense of texts but because of how it will make sense of life. The authors provide a two-chapter overview of the story of Scripture that summarizes material found in their previous book “The Drama of Scripture.”
The next three chapters explore the story of Western culture. These chapters are a primer on the events that led to the “modern” and subsequent “postmodern” worldviews. The authors pay particular attention to the ways in which the stories of modernism and postmodernism stand in opposition to the Christian story.
Finally, Goheen and Bartholomew explore how to live out the Christian story while dwelling in a culture influenced by modernism and postmodernism. Christians are urged not to withdraw from culture or accommodate to culture. They are instead to practice “critical participation”— to participate in culture but to do so critically, challenging elements that oppose the Christian story. The book’s final section explores how to live the Christian story in business, politics, sports, creativity and art, scholarship and education.
Goheen and Bartholomew deal with more theology and history than McKnight. The result is a demanding read. However, the three-chapter primer on modernism and postmodernism is worth the effort and an excellent introduction to cultural changes. Parents or youth ministers wanting to understand young adults and church leaders wanting to understand their communities will benefit from this primer. In addition, Goheen and Bartholomew’s discussion on living out the Christian story in the midst of the Western story is thoughtful and practical.
CHRIS ALTROCK is the preaching minister of the Highland Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn., and author of four books, including “Rebuilding Relationships” (Chalice Press, 2008).