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The Bible is story, told in a narrative context. There are parts that aren’t narrative, but the narrative is the over-arching organizer. The Bible is a story that narrates God’s interaction with humanity.

McKnight lists several alternative readings that we attempt:
1. Morsels of Law – we look for the rules, we to do or not to do.
2. Morsels of Blessings and Promises – we pull verses out of context, seeking good words from God.
3. Mirrors and Inkblots – when we look at the Bible we see more of ourselves than of God.
4. Puzzling Together the Pieces to Map God’s Mind – we view the Bible as a puzzle and once we get the puzzle solved, you no longer have to work the pieces. Everything becomes fixed.
5. Maestros – we specialize in one aspect of the story (Jesus or Paul typically) and it distorts the way we read the rest of the Bible. McKnight writes, “Reading the Bible through a maestro’s eyes gives us one chapter in the story of the Bible. One-chapter Bible readers develop one-chapter Christian lives).

Instead, we need to read the Bible as story. McKnight talk about “wiki-stories.” “Wiki-stories” (as in wikipedia) allow various people to contribute to an overall theme. The Bible allows “the ongoing reworking of the biblical Story by new authors so they can speak the old story in new ways for their day.”

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Scot McKnight is a self-proclaimed bird-watcher. He describes one occasion when he saw a flash of blue among the leaves. He quickly ran down the list of possible sitings and eliminated them all. The blue turned out to be a neighbors blue parakeet. He lost interest. It was just a pet. However, he started to notice that his normal visitors, the sparrows, were afraid of this new visitor. They stayed away. But time passed and things changed. Soon the sparrows were enamoured by the blue parakeet; wanting to be near it, wanting to be like it. McKnight makes the analogy between this blue parakeet and certain biblical passages. There are some passages that we encounter that frighten us. Some that challenge us.

“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?”

How do you read the Bible? McKnight suggests three ways: Reading to retrieve (we read the Bible in such a way as to return to the ideas and practices of the Bible; an approach that is undesirable and unbiblical), Reading through tradition (which can lead to traditionalism – “the inflexible, don’t ask questions, do-it-the-way-it-has-always-been-done approach to Bible reading”), or Reading with tradition.

Of this third way, reading with tradition, McKnight writes, “God was on the move; God is on the move; and God will always be on the move. Those who walk with God and listen to God are also on the move. Reading the Bible so we can live it out today means being on the move–always. Anyone who stops and wants to turn a particular moment into a monument, as the disciples did when Jesus was transfigured before them, will soon be wondering where God has gone.”

“How, then, are we to live out the Bible today?” asks Scot McKnight. None of us does everything the Bible commands. We focus on some things and ignore others. Foot washing, holy kiss, tithing, sabbath keeping, food restrictions, to say nothing of abortion, evolution, capital punishment, homosexuality, and charismatic gifts. Christians read the Bible and come out at different places on these subjects. Are they disingenuous? Are we?

So, how do we read the Bible? How do we read it in such a way that “honors God and embraces the Bible as God’s Word for all times?” This is the issue Scot McKnight tackles in The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.

Think about how you read the Bible. How do you decide what to do biblically? Does it only impact certain decisions and not others? What areas? How do you read it? We’ll look at what McKnight has to say over the next few weeks.

In this final chapter Foster emphasizes that God is active in our lives. He writes, “Always we are walking in the way of freedom, not coercion. The Bible does not in itself produce any magical effect. It reveals God’s story that we might hear from the living God that this story is not only for a nomadic tribe thousands of years ago. It is not only for bands of persecuted followers of the Jesus way under threat from the Roman Empire. God’s story is for all of us.”

And so we come to the Bible not to gain information; not to be able to pass some final exam. We come not just to figure out the best way to live. Instead, we come to the Bible for relationship. We come because we can meet God there. We come because God is seeking us out.

In this chapter Foster focuses on the freedom that discipline brings. It sounds contrarian, but discipline allows us to choose what we’re doing when we’re doing it rather than doing what, by our sinful nature, comes all too naturally. But again, we don’t practice the disciplines in order to become good at the disciplines. Instead, we practice indirection. Foster writes, “Indirection affirms that spiritual formation does not occur by direct human effort, but through a relational process whereby we receive from God the power or ability to do what we cannot do by our own effort.”

We are not gaining favor we God or consider ourselves more spiritual because we practice certain disciplines. Foster emphasizes, “We do not produce change by practicing the Disciplines–we receive it. Spiritual growth is a gift, not an accomplishment.”

Foster then gives a number of examples of this indirection. “Instead of taking on responsibility for our growth directly, we do it on the slant. Rather than trying to overcome pride by attacking our reasons for feeling proud, we undertake Disciplines of service. Over time, these actions put us in a proper relationship with others, which brings humility . . . hence overcoming pride. If gossip or empty talk is a struggle, we train through silence. If greed, we retrain our view of possessing things by engaging in simplicity, frugality, giving. If cursing, we train by blessing those who provoke our anger, taking up the habit of blessing for a month or so until we are more apt to bless than to curse.”

How might you attack your sins indirectly? How does God help in this?

In this chapter Foster asks, “Do we truly want life with God? This is the prime question in moving from intention to action in the spiritual life. . . . God wants an active partner in relationship. The spiritual life is just that–a life. We learn as we go. We learn as we do. As we go and do with God, we are changed along the way.” Our Christian life and, by extension, our reading of the Bible is about relationship. We seek God in our daily life.

In this context Foster discusses spiritual disciplines. We take upon ourselves practices that help to shape us. Foster defines disciple as “the ability to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason.” In a sense we take on these practices, not to become good at these practices, but in order to do what we need to do when we are called upon to do it.

Grace is a primary ingredient in our practice. Our practices do not save us. Our practices do not get us a better seat in heaven. Our practices should not be burdensome. Our practices should not bring weariness.

Instead, Foster offers, “If we find that we are not venturing deeply enough into the waters of life with God, the answer is not to try harder. The answer, simply, is to get rid of more–get rid of our agendas, get rid of our self-concern, get rid of our helplessness and fear so that we might get more of God.”

Not only do we read the Bible with heart and mind, we also read the Bible in community. We read the Bible with others of faith. Foster quotes Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams.

“Those of us who assume that the normative image of Scripture reading is the solitary individual poring over a bound volume, one of the great icons of classical Protestantism, may need to be reminded that for most Christians throughout the ages and probably most in the world at present, the norm is listening. . . . So the Church [reads Scripture publicly] not as information, not as just instruction, but as a summons to assemble together. . . Whatever we do in private with our reading of Scripture, we must do in awareness of this public character.”

We read the Bible when we come together. But our reading is not limited by those we come in daily contact with. Given our world today, we experience a breadth that previous generations did not experience. Foster observes,

“Just as the Koreans have much to teach us about prayer, so the Africans have much to teach us about reconciliation, and the Chinese about faithful endurance through suffering and persecution, and the First Peoples of North America about the challenges of cultural hegemony to the universality of the Gospel.”

Our own perspective is limited by our experiences. As we share with others we bring in a multitude of experiences. Reading with the People of God broadens our awareness.

Foster does not leave us at the level of reading with just the heart. He writes, “Reading the Bible for life with God is not a matter of accruing information, but an act of genuine understanding empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are learning to love God with the mind.”

In learning to love God with our mind we use our intellects to understand more fully his word to his people. In using our minds we take advantage of the various tools available to us through scholars that have gone before us. There are dictionaries, encyclopedias, word studies, commentaries, and various other helps to assist us in bridging the cultural, historical, linguistic gaps between us and the time of the Bible.

We also read the texts within context. We don’t pluck verses from the rest of their message and attempt to apply those to life. Those verses occur within the larger pieces of communication (narratives, poetry, parables, epistles). In reading with the mind we allow those verses to communicate through the larger messages.

We also read recognizing genres. Narratives do not communicate the same as poetry; law as prophecy, epistles as gospels. We allow the messages communicate using the means they use. Anyone who has sat in a Bible class recognizes the difficulty of us reaching agreement in our understanding of a text. We’d like the simple answers, but the Bible is not simple.

Again, Foster writes, “We want neat, orderly systems; God gives us a koan: ‘I am.’ We want absolute truth nailed down in neat propositional form; the Bible gives us a vast sprawl of Divine-human history. We want bottom-line rules for life; the Bible gives us the law of love. We want programs to follow; the Bible tells us to follow hard after God. We want something tangible to show for our efforts; the Bible asks that we relinquish results and place our faith in what is unseen. The Bible reveals to us its Story–tragic as well as glorious, bloody and violent as well as nurturing and inspiring–by pouncing upon us from another realm, taking us by surprise.”

I’ve been out of pocket for a couple weeks, but back and ready to blog again. I continue with Richard Foster’s Life With God. In this chapter Foster describes lectio divina (spiritual reading) in approaching the Bible. Preceding his description he discusses allowing the Spirit to guide our reading. He writes,

“It may sound easy to ‘allow the Spirit to guide us’ while reading the Bible–and, indeed, it is neither difficult nor burdensome–but in a culture of consumerized Christianity it is also easy to stumble over preconceived notions about the Bible cluttering the path.
“Chief among such market-driven notions is that the Bible exists to serve our needs. It is no surprise that in a consumer-driven culture we would be tempted to reduce the Bible to a product for self-improvement. But to do so is deadly.”

Lectio consists of four elements: lectio (reading), meditatio (reflecting), oratio (praying), and contemplatio (contemplating). This type of reading seeks to engage the heart and mind in hearing God’s word.