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Good Questions, Shaky Logic

Scot McKnight, professor in Religious Studies at North Park University has written a provocative, engaging, and winsome book about how we apply and study the Bible. At the beginning of the book, McKnight drives home the point that believers are always engaging the bible by adopting and adapting some portion of Scripture at the expense of other sections (12-13). He goes onto give examples of biblical material including tithing and footwashing that offer some explicit commands that many Christians fail to follow. Admittedly, some of these examples do not prove their point, as in the case of footwashing being a normative activity (McKnight references John 13:14 as his basis). Yet, McKnight's questions are on the right track when he states, "I've learned that it is time to think about why and how we pick what we pick and why and how we choose what we choose" (19). In other words, our picking selected passages and themes in the Scripture over against others, or our failing to see our own prescribed biases when reading Scripture only exacerbates our blind vision of the heart of the biblical message. Secondly, something that McKnight could bring out more, is that by seeing the overarching character of the unity of the Scriptures (OT and NT) we are less inclined to make the assertion that one part of the Scripture has no relevance for today.

Birdwatching for McKnight and his wife is a enjoyable hobby. In the second chapter, he tells of the time when a pet blue parakeet came upon the area where the sparrows in his back lawn were playing. At first, they were 'terrorized by our visitor the blue parakeet,' but instead of flying off they gradually befriended this blue parakeet and became good friends. This story is McKnight's way of orienting us toward three ways we understand the bible for today. We retrieve the Bible to practice its message in its totality while some draw only what it culturally applicable from its message. Secondly, others read through tradition. We see this in the Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed churches. Confessionally, Presbyterian churches read the Scriptures through the system of doctrine set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith while Lutherans view their Bibles both through the Larger and Smaller Catechism's of Luther and The Book of Concord. This idea of reading the Bible thorugh tradition is much like a conceptual grid upon which we interpret and apply the Bible. Lastly, McKnight references a view that he ascribes too that reads the Bible with tradition (25-35). "We need to have profound respect for our past without giving it final authority" (35).

McKnight's sketch of three ways that we read the Bible is helpful but inadequate in the end. Many coming from a confessional background instead have sought to reformulate confessional language and ideas as to give them no weight at all. I think that another way many interpret the Bible is through a broader understanding of life understood through worldview (both conceptual and practical). Everyone comes to the text with a worldview (liberal, conservative, in between). Many times our worldviews our characterized apart from an interpretive community but rather in conformity with culture, our preferences. In some cases, our worldview lens upon which we interpret scripture is blind to our anti-historical prejudices. I think however, what McKnight is getting at is the balance between the weight of Christian thought through history and the prominence of God speaking through his people today.

What is helpful about the next section of the book is McKnight's insistence that we regard the bible as 'Story.' Too long have we piecemealed portions of Scripture to fit a thematic line of thought that have not given full weight to the narrative that God was writing in his Word and through his work. McKnight sees the Bible as Story concept as coming together through 'wiki-stories' (66-67). Each author provides his account of God's work in concert with the plot of the whole Bible (creation to consummation). McKnight is right all the way to bring in to the discussion the supreme importance of the Trinitarian work in both creation and redemption (66). You can see echoes of Barth's Church Dogmatics here in McKnight's understanding of the Trinity's work. The only problem that I have with McKnight's discussion of these overarching stories that form the unity of the 'Story' is his disparaging of systematic theology. Good systematic theology takes the insights of biblical theology and uses them to form a cohesive discussion about specific topics. His problem was that the Biblical authors were not allowed to speak ('the authors themsevles were not give their day before the jury' (62). Some systematics seem to only want to provide extra biblical categories for the topics without reference to the Biblical ideas. Yet, this should not mean that we throw away the insights of systematic theology (a good example of the synthesis between biblical and systematic theology is in Far as the Curse is Found by Michael Williams).

Lastly, McKnight takes much time at the end of the book to describe the issues surrounding women in ministry. McKnight surveys women's roles in the OT and NT as providing a basis for women serving in the ministry. His comment at the end of one chapter is to the point, "If women did all this, why does Paul speak of silencing women in public assemblies?" (185). I understand and appreciate the roles that women took part in both testaments, but am not sure the logic coheres that by providing examples of women in ministry in the Bible we are providing a basis for their present day employment in that same service. I can resonate with McKnight's understanding of the silence passage in 1 Timohty 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 that women were not here called to silent forever but were asked not to speak and question in the service without proper training in education and ministry. Yet, one issue he does not address is the complementarian's position that equality is not the issue of discussion for women in the ministry but the notion of roles. Women are not inferior by any means but as the complementarian believes, are made for different roles in the local church. Have we faltered in encouraging women in ministry, in their giftings and capacities? Yes. But I think that McKnight's take does not quite understand the other side of the issue.

Overall, this book was both illuminating and disturbing. It provides a good beginning for asking the right questions about our interpretive stances. It also pushes us to see that we interpret the Bible selectively whether we want to see it or not. This book was also a bit disturbing because McKnight seems to overemphasize some points while not considering other positions (systematic theology, complementarianism). I would gladly offer this book to those who want to start reading their Bibles more carefully and start asking the right questions concerning living out the Bible.

Much thanks to Zondervan Publishing Company for the review copy.


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