A different kind of Bible story
McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet is the latest addition to the growing collection of popular writings recommending a narrative approach to Scripture. For McKnight, Scripture is the story of God’s activity in history: it has a plot, important characters, internal development, a climax, and an anticipated resolution.
It’s a story that must be interpreted in community, with the wisdom of the history of Christian interpretation, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Every passage must be read in the broad context of the overarching drama of creation/fall/redemption, or, as McKnight prefers, a movement from oneness (the harmony of initial shalom) to otherness (sin/estrangement, disunity), back to oneness.
The story of the Bible is one of the Fall giving way (to varying degrees in various times and places) to the new Creation. McKnight suggests the way we read the Bible ought to reflect this. The Bible is not primarily a compendium of doctrine, a rulebook, a history/science textbook, or a church-growth template (although it contains elements of all of these). Rather, the Bible is one of the means by which God advances the Kingdom. It’s the story of God, described in the language and context of particular times and places; a story that leads and orients us as we live in our own time and place at a different point in the story.
This narrative approach to Scripture is not new – it’s been well-articulated by thinkers like N.T. Wright, Craig Bartholomew, and Michael Goheen – but is worth returning to often. I’ve found it extremely helpful, not only making better sense of difficult texts but also providing an impetus to further learning and growth. To cite one example, adopting the narrative approach has allowed me the freedom to read the Pauline epistles contextually, as the occasional (“occasioned” by a specific set of circumstances) documents they were and are.
Reading Paul with an understanding of where he fits in God’s broader story of redemption, what his role was (and was not), and to whom he was called to speak has been crucial for me to see that his views about, say, the issue of slavery or the role of women in the church are not necessarily timeless metaphysical pronouncements on these important matters. The narrative approach McKnight recommends yields this freedom while at the same time calling for the hard work of learning the historical, cultural, and literary contexts necessary to discover, through Paul, the meaning of God’s Word to us today.
McKnight’s approach to Scripture fits well within an evangelical-Anabaptist theological framework. There is pronounced emphasis upon taking historical, cultural, and literary context seriously as we read Scripture. McKnight affirms, as does our Confession of Faith, that different parts of the story of Scripture play different roles in God’s salvation story, and that all of Scripture points to and must be interpreted in light of Jesus Christ and the new creation he makes possible.
MB readers will appreciate the Christocentric model of reading and inhabiting Scripture, and the emphasis on the discernment of the community McKnight sets forth. Our overarching interpretive principle in our collective reading of Scripture is Jesus Christ. He is the goal of the entire story we are part of and the means by which it moves forward and will one day be consummated.