Hermeneutics and Blue Parakeets: Introduction

blueparakeetScot McKnight, whom I’ve blogged about before (under “Should We Be Emerging?” and “Ironic Faith”), has recently published an excellent book on hermeneutics called The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. It’s an introduction only, but it presents some very important points that we all need to know — and know well.

McKnight begins by pointing out that nearly all Bible scholars are inconsistent in their reading of the Bible. We insist on some commands as the will of the Almighty and entirely ignore others.

In the Churches of Christ, we take very seriously the commands about celebrating the Lord’s Supper while never, ever obeying the command to wash feet. We are very serious about baptizing by immersion but not about the Holy Kiss. We don’t require our women to wear head coverings in the assembly, and yet we prohibit them from speaking — except in unison with men, or to a tune, or to confess sin, or to confess Jesus.

We are  not alone. All denominations have a certain measure of selectivity. The Catholics insist on confession of sin to others. We limit the command to “public” sin. The charismatic churches take speaking in tongues and prophecy as permanent gifts and acts of worship. We limit them the First Century. And yet the charismatic churches often don’t take communion weekly as we do. And the Catholics aren’t nearly as strict on icons and images as we tend to be.

McKnight agrees that such choices have to be made. No one, for example, still offers animal sacrifices or requires their converts to be circumcized. The question isn’t whether to choose, but how

McKnight notes that in nearly every case, those who decline to obey a command or example argue, “That was then; this is now.” Which is true, of course, some of the time; but how do we know when it’s true and when it’s not? Which commands are forever commands and which are temporary?

When should we say, “God said it; that decides it” and when “That was then; this is now”?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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14 Responses to Hermeneutics and Blue Parakeets: Introduction

  1. Joe Bagget says:

    This phenomena is as you state is not unique to one faith tradition but to all. When I was at ACU I did a research project about this. I worked really hard to find 100 people that had no religious backgrounds at all and especially no background in the Bible. I had them all read the Bible from cover to cover using the NLT or NIV so they would read it in their modern vernacular. I asked them open endedly to write down their ideas or conclusions as they read. Then I had a list of question (pre-supposed ideas) that they answered after reading it a second time. You could group or classify many of their conclusions by these categories, culture, race, ethnicity, education, age, socio-economic group. The richer people were the more they saw God as a celestial being that really was not involved with humanity. The poorer the reader was the more they saw a God who stood against social injustice. I bring this up to state that we all have filters that lead us to inconsistently read and apply the scriptures. Very few of us will ever come to this realization. We all think that our way is right. Here is the affect it is having in the traditional church and this is probably the issue that is driving the so called emerging church movement (I call it phenomena. The inconsistency in the interpretation of scripture that leads churches such as our own faith tradition to place heavy emphasis on sins like adultery and homosexuality but ignore greed, pride, gossip and others is nothing less than hypocrisy. Does anyone remember anybody going forward and confessing the sin of gossip or greed or gluttony? Not me just the big nasty ones. So the emerging generations of the unchurched and lost just can’t get their minds or hearts around inconsistent interpretations of the scripture. This will be the nemesis for congregations as they attempt to engage our skeptical post modern culture.

  2. connie says:

    hi ,i was just wondering what head covering church of christ woman are to wear.. i have gone to churches of christ and i dont see head covering. i do believe woman should have long hair as covering thankyou

  3. connie says:

    oops i read that wrong but have always wondered about the head covering … woman should then ?im new to this sight thankyou

  4. Jay Guin says:


    That sounds like a really remarkable study. I'd love to see a copy of your paper.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Hi, Connie. Glad to have you as a reader.

    I'll be talking more about head coverings as the series continues, but most in the Churches of Christ don't require women to wear a hat, veil, or doily on their head during worship. A few do, however.

  6. mark says:

    Hermeneutics may not be the answer especially when eschatology dictates much of our religious practice. Is the Bible finished?
    2 Corinthians 3
    2You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts

    Perhaps the most important thing about the Bible is including ourselves in the picture instead of debating methodologies of which commands to follow. What we find out through years of trying to find the Biblical truth is that our common sense is not really that common and our scientific approach is not that exact. Even more anyone who has a zeal for Gods people will find themselves debunking just about everything they once knew. Its no wonder the church is shrinking! But this might be a good sign.

  7. Marvin Nichols (Nic) says:


    Check out Mark E. Moore's: "Seeing God in HD " (2008).

  8. Alan says:

    We are too impressed with the logical conclusions (inferences) we draw from scripture. Way too impressed. We should be more impressed with what is written and less impressed with what we figured out.

  9. Nick Gill says:

    "we take very seriously the commands about celebrating the Lord’s Supper while never, ever obeying the command to wash feet."

    That is even more frustrating is that, while I have NO problem with accepting the metaphorical nature of the command to wash feet — since it is not a practice that transcends cultures (like eating together is) — I find it very common that no one looks BEHIND the metaphor.

    It isn't just foot-washing that we ignore, but the REAL command to sacrificially serve one another. We use the excuse of metaphor to dodge the thrust of command.

    But, as you say, we've got our Lord's Supper down pat!

  10. Jay Guin says:

    Actually, Nick, I think we do a pretty sorry job with the Lord's Supper — with an elevated theology and a diminished practice.

    I mean, we call some guy to give a talk the night before, give him 3 minutes, groan if he goes long, and spend the rest of the time in doleful silence wishing we could sing or talk or something.

    Compare that to sitting around a table with hot pita bread served fresh from a stone oven, a glass of wine, and encouraging conversation all around led by a leader of our group. I realize we can't get all the way there in a church of 300 people, but we can get closer than we do.

    I'd really like to combine with the Love Feast as the early church did, at least once in a while. That would build a church! — take communion hot from the oven and then go grab some fried chicken and banana pudding.

  11. Tony Billoni says:

    The Body of Christ, still warm from the oven? Too much like Pizza Hut for me!

  12. Jay Guin says:

    Actually, Tony, that's how the early church did it. Not only was there no pizza hut, there was no grocery store. Most folk cooked their own bread.

    I got the idea from a Ray Vander Laan video where he eats a Bedouin meal including freshly cooked unleavened bread. The bread was hot and tasty. There's no reason to suppose that the Israelites preferred cold, tasteless bread as we usually serve it.

    In fact, the Jewish Passover is not doleful and somber, but a celebration of God's great work to rescue his people.

    Or think of this way. In 1 Cor 11, Paul describes the taking of the bread as a participation in the body of Christ. In chapter 12, he speaks of the local church as Christ's body.

    Now, which is a better symbol of the church — as it ought to be — a dried crumb that wouldn't nourish a mouse, or a hot, soft, freshly baked mouthful of delicious bread?

  13. JMF says:

    Jay and/or Joe Baggett:

    I too would be most interested in reading the survey you did at ACU. Did he ever send it to you, Jay? If so, would there be an issue with you forwarding it to me?

    You have an unbelievably helpful blog, Jay. You start with JesusCreed today which I've never heard of, that leads me to Blue Parakeet which I've never heard of, and now I've got a great study ahead of me. Please don't ever assume your ministry isn't bearing fruit.

  14. Jay Guin says:


    Joe sent me some related materials but couldn't find the original study.

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