As the "conversation" continues in the Emerging Church, dialogue regarding Scripture seems to be where everything is heading. Many are doubting and questioning Sola Scriptura (see Tickle's book, "The Great Emergence"), many are questioning the inerrancy of Scripture (by emphasizing mystery and story), and others are allowing the culture to determine how to interpret Scripture. The debate over Scripture seems to be one of the main conversations going on right now.
McKnight has added to that conversation. For the most part, McKnight is unwilling to go as far as the conversation is going. Emergents continue to drift closer and closer towards liberalism and farther and farther away from orthodox Christianity. Although McKnight has not gone that far himself, his treatment on the subject certainly opens the door.
In his book, "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible," McKnight lays out how we should interpret the Bible in the modern (or should I say postmodern?) context. There seem to be two major emphases in this book.
First, the Bible is Story and must be interpreted as such. This is prevalent in Emergent writings. Rather than see the Bible as the "place with all the answers," Emergents see the Bible as Story wrapped in mystery. McKnight resists such a temptation to emphasize mystery and ambiguity. However, his argument for seeing the Bible as Story is not new in the Emergent movement.
An interesting part of his argument is the "Wiki-stories." To McKnight, the Bible is one major Story and that Story is told in a number of Wiki-stories. Moses writes his story. David writes his. Daniel writes his. Luke writes his. Paul writes his. Peter writes his. And John writes his. They are all retelling the same story.
The second emphasis of his book regards the statement, that was then, this is now. Whenever I hear someone say this in regards to interpreting Scripture, I automatically assume that what follows is not good. McKnight is not the first Emergent to raise this issue. In fact, virtually all Emergents interpret Scripture through the lens of culture.
It works like this: the Bible was wrong about slavery, and we overcame that. The Bible was wrong about women's rights, and we got over that. The Bible was wrong about divorce and remarriage, and we got over that. The Bible got it wrong regarding women pastors and church leaders, and we got over that. The Bible is wrong regarding homosexuality (or at least how Christians have traditionally interpreted it), and now we are getting over that. Many have remarked that 100 years from now, our great-grandchildren will be laughing over such debates as issues like homosexuality will be the norm and adopted.
This is what it means to have a cultural-saturated hermeneutic. Emergents are covered with it and McKnight has joined their ranks. McKnight states it clearly that the passages that forbid women in leadership positions in the church to be culturally mandated. In other words, it applied to the women in Corinth in the 1st Century, not to women living today. That was then, this is now.
Such a hermeneutic is dangerous. Although this is not McKnights intent, he is forcing Scripture to submit to culture, and thereby to man, rather than man submit to Scripture. McKnight seeks to offer an honest guide to hermeneutics. He argues that no Christian honestly lives and applies all of Scripture, but rather picks and chooses the parts they want to follow. Though there is some merit to this argument, his overall approach to interpretation remains flawed. To write something off as culturally mandated for that day and time, and some things in Scripture are, is dangerous.
An honest debate about what the text actually says is fine, and McKnight offers that. But the assumptions that things have changed, its time for an upgrade is dangerous. The gospel doesn't change, it is transcendent. God does not change, He is immutable. And Scripture and its meaning has not changed, it is binding. Although McKnight offers an honest critique regarding modern Evangelicalism, he is treading on shaky ground.
Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner - The Blue Parakeet Review (5 Parts)