Editor's Note – All this week Gender Blog is posting a five-part review of Scot McKnight's "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible" by Dr. Thomas Schreiner. Dr. Schreiner has been the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1997 and serves as the Associate Dean of Scripture and Interpretation. Dr. Schreiner also serves on the Board of Reference for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
One of the things McKnight does well is to remind us of hard cases in scripture-issues where there isn't a simple answer, whether it is divorce, capital punishment, or the sabbath. At the same time, his own hermeneutical method is not very helpful. To say "that was then and this is now," and that we need a pattern of discernment as we are led by the Spirit in community is insufficient. How McKnight's program works out is remarkably vague and amorphous.
McKnight introduces various laws from the OT that we do not follow today (not sowing fields with two kinds of seed, not wearing garments with two different kinds of materials), and circumcision is also brought in as one of his major case studies. What was quite astonishing is that he neglects redemptive history in discussing these examples. In other words, both Paul and the author of Hebrews emphasize the discontinuity between the old covenant and the new. The new age has arrived with the coming of Jesus Christ, and his death and resurrection. Hence, God's people are no longer under the old dispensation inaugurated under Moses. So too, the issues of food laws and circumcision and the place of the law in Luke-Acts are raised because the kingdom has arrived (already-but not yet) in Jesus Christ. Indeed, it could be argued that a redemptive-historical approach should inform our interpretation of the entirety of the NT. The status of the OT law must be assessed in light of the great redemptive events of Jesus' death, resurrection, exaltation, and the pouring out of the Spirit. It is surprising that McKnight, who stresses the storyline of the Bible, says virtually nothing about the flow of redemptive history in assessing how the Bible applies today. Surely the issue of foot-washing is harder to assess than whether we should wear garments with two different kinds of material, precisely because of where it is located in the Bible's storyline. And yet we would scarcely know that one is harder than another in reading McKnight. There is no clear recognition that where a command occurs in the biblical story is important. We are left with saying "that was then and this is now" and then we use discernment. Ironically enough, then, the problem with McKnight's view is an inadequate explanation of the Bible's storyline. He seems to treat every command of the Bible with the same kind of flat-earth hermeneutic, without considering where the command is found in the story-without considering how the different epochs of the scripture relate to one another.2
McKnight also could be a bit more helpful in thinking through some commands in the Bible. Should we greet one another with a holy kiss? Must we drink wine if we have stomach aches? Obviously no. I am sure McKnight would agree. But is there no instruction for us in these commands? Isn't there a principle in the commands that applies to today? We learn that we should greet one another warmly in ways that fit with our culture. And if we have stomach problems, it is fitting to use medicine. McKnight is correct in saying that we cannot return to the first-century world, and yet he doesn't offer much help in translating the biblical word into the twenty-first century. It is insufficient to simply say about the holy kiss, "That was then, and this is now." More reflection is needed than is offered here.
Let me take up another theme discussed by McKnight. How should we apply Jesus' instructions on riches? Too often we ignore Jesus' words on this matter altogether. Should we give up our wealth as the rich young ruler was called to do? McKnight rightly says that we are not necessarily called upon to practice literally what Jesus said to the rich ruler. But again McKnight could offer us more assistance by considering the biblical theology of riches in Luke-Acts. If we read Luke-Acts as a whole, we see that Jesus' view of wealth must be assessed from more than one text. For instance, when Zacchaeus was saved, Jesus did not command him to give all his money away. The Lord was pleased that he gave half of his wealth to the poor (Luke 19:1-10). Peter reminded Ananias that he was not required to sell his property, nor was he required to give it to the church. Ananias and Sapphira were punished for lying, not for refusing to give all their wealth to the church (Acts 5:1-11). In Acts 12 the disciples met in the house of John Mark's mother. Presumably she retained her wealth since the church gathered in her residence. Hence, we have some indications in Luke-Acts itself that Jesus' words to the rich ruler should not be applied literally to all. Biblical theology plays an important role in considering how scripture should be applied to today, and a systematic study of all that scripture says about wealth and poverty would be enormously helpful. Naturally, there is much more that could be said on this issue than is possible here. My point is that the hermeneutical process is much more complex and rich than McKnight suggests. We must do biblical theology (and systematic theology as well!) before applying scripture to our contemporary context.
McKnight applies what he says particularly to the women's issue. It should be said up front that McKnight really offers nothing new on the issue. In some instances, his lack of knowledge of the complementarian view mars his case. For instance, McKnight "makes a big deal" of the fact that Gen. 3:16 relates to the fall, not to creation. But no complementarian that I know bases his or her case on this text! Virtually all complementarians see a difference in role between men and women because such is based on the created order, and they see indications of differences in role in Genesis 2. Now one could argue that the complementarian exegesis of Genesis 2 is mistaken, but McKnight apparently is unaware that complementarians have defended their case on the basis of creation rather than the fall. Hence, his comments on Gen. 3:16 are uninformed and misleading.
2 In an email to me McKnight says he holds substantially the same position as I do on salvation-history, and that he believes that there are indications in the book of such a stance. In my view, his discussion needs to be much clearer at this very point.
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