Three Ways to Read the Bible

Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, Chapter 2: The Birds and I

This chapter is where McKnight explains the analogy that produced the title of the book.  I’ll let you buy the book to get that explanation.  It is a helpful metaphor.

McKnight argues there are three main ways people read the Bible. He acknowledges his list is both reductionistic and strips apart methods some people put together.

  1. Reading to retrieve:  We go “back to the Bible” in order to figure out how to live and believe today.  In whole or in part, we try to make a first century text fit our modern world.  The problem is that this is neither fully possible nor practical.  Also, everyone ends up with his own interpretation of what to bring forward to today and how to do this.  We do need to “adopt” the words of the Bible but we also need to “adapt” them to our unique world.
  2. Reading through tradition:  We need to pay attention to the major traditions of the church down through time as we interpret the Bible.  This norms biblical interpretation and keeps us from everyone from having their own interpretations.  The problem is that it is very easy to “fossilize” these traditions, making them equal to the Bible and unable to be changed.
  3. Reading with tradition:  We should not ignore church tradition but we also shouldn’t fossilize them either.  This gives us guidance as we read but we also must maintain freedom to understand the Bible in a new way.  The problem with this approach is hyper-innovation, that is, always changing how what we do and believe.  McKnight posits that we can fight that with a “profound respect” for tradition but resisting the urge to make it the final authority as only scripture can be that.  Still, we need to slow down long enough to ask what the Church has thought about what we are reading.  This last approach is the one McKnight favors.

He is right that his list is a simplified one.  I feel like there are approaches he has missed that do not fit his list, in particular a more principle-driven approach that goes back to the Bible looking for timeless principles apart from a literal understanding of their texts.  Or how about this one stated below that I am partial to, the four-part approach popular in the Wesleyan tradition?