October 8, 2008
Live From Catalyst: McKnight on Bad Bible Reading
Five common, but flawed, approaches to reading the Bible.
by Skye Jethani
Day 1 at Catalyst in Atlanta is dominated by the Labs. These smaller breakout sessions give conference attendees a more intimate setting to hear from authors, thinkers, and leaders in a more interactive environment. My first stop was Scot McKnight's lab "The Blue Parakeet" based on his new book by the same title. The book advocates a "third way" of reading the Bible. (Scot is a friend and a regular contributor to Out of Ur.)
Next week, Brandon O'Brien will be posting his review of The Blue Parakeet so you should stay tuned for a more in depth discussion of McKnight's ideas. For now, I'll just mention a snippet from his lab I found helpful.
McKnight outlined five flawed ways many people read the Bible:
1. The Morsels of Law Approach
These people search the Bible and extract ever commandment. They see Scripture as fundamentally a book of rules to be obeyed. The problem, says McKnight, is that no one really obeys - or even tries to obey - every commandment. And we're not just talking about some obscure stuff in Leviticus. Scot mentioned a number of New Testament commands that many Christians dismiss as well. We are all selective.
2. The Morsels of Blessing Approach
McKnight says publishers are always sending him daily calendars that have a different promise or blessing from the Bible printed on each day. It's a nice way to start the morning, he notes, but it gives people a skewed view of Scripture. The Bible is a lot more than warm thoughts from our Creator to carry us through our day. Finally fed up with these calendars, McKnight wrote to one of the publishers offering to write a daily calendar with nothing but passage about God's wrath.
3. The Rorschach Approach
Most people are familiar with the Rorschach Ink Blot test often used by psychologists. Patients are asked what they "see" when looking at symmetrical ink patterns. Because the blots don't really resemble anything, the patient's answer tells the therapist more about the patient than the image. Similarly, McKnight notes that many people see in Scripture what they want to see, not what's really there. For example, political conservatives see justification for capitalism. Liberals see justification for a welfare state.
4. The Systematic Theology Approach
Some folks, the particularly left-brained and anal retentive (my perception, not McKnight's), believe that God has scattered facts throughout the Bible. These snippets of truth need to be located, rather like an Easter egg hunt, and categorized into buckets. Finally, the pieces are assembled into a systematic theology without ambiguity or mystery to explain God, humanity, creation, and history. The fatal error in this approach, says McKnight, is that large portions of Scripture are never included because they refuse to fit into our neat systems.
5. The Maestro Approach
McKnight shared about his love of Italian food - particularly risotto. The best risotto he ever had was prepared by a chef in Italy while on vacation. Since then he's compared every other risotto dish with that one. We all have favorites; someone we consider the maestro, the master, we compare all others with. So it is with the Bible. Some people have a master book of the Bible - Exodus for Liberation Theologians, or Romans for Reformed pastors - and then they force every other part of the Bible to fit that book's framework. Some favor the Gospels and Jesus' focus on the Kingdom, but they don't read about the Kingdom in Paul's writing. So they force the Epistles to submit to the Gospels. The opposite also happens when Jesus is only read through Paul.
These five approaches, says McKnight, are all very common, and all very flawed. His solution? We must read the Bible as a story. But it's not just a story that we read, it is a story that we live. "We must let the Bible's story become our story," he said, "so that it becomes us, and we become it."
Intrigued? Me too.
More from Catalyst tomorrow.