Scot 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”?