When most of us egalitarians have a friend with questions about women in ministry, we offer them one of a few classic books. We give them Gilbert Bilizekian's Beyond Sex Roles or one of the multi-views books published by InterVarsity Press or Zondervan or perhaps (if we're really creative!) refer them to an article on the CBE website. We now, however, have at least one entirely different option: Scot McKnight's new book The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.
The remarkable thing about Scot's book is that it's not really about women in ministry or anything else relating to gender--it is, as the title, suggests, about how to read the Bible. The first section of the book is about reading the Bible as a larger narrative (similar to how N. T. Wright suggests we read it in books of his like The Last Word), the middle sections are about ways to interpret the Bible, and the final section applies these principles to the issue of women in ministry. The genius of the book is twofold:
(1) Those that have no interest in gender issues may end up thinking about them because they wanted to read this book about interpreting Scripture.
(2) Those that are interested in gender issues can read this book and focus a lot less on the back-and-forth between egalitarians and complementarians (which has its place) to, instead, consider this much broader and--in many ways--more important issue of how to read the Bible. Once their way of reading the Bible is different, it's unlikely they can return to their same old views of gender nearly as easily.
Admittedly, there were aspects of the book I wasn't completely enthused by, and you may wish to read a more complete review of the book on Amazon or Christianity Today before giving it to a friend. However, solely considering its merit as a resource with the potential to improve the status of women in Western evangelical churches, I am quite impressed.
What I most admire about the book is its ability to see the big picture. While many of us are so passionate about gender issues that we could spend all day discussing the related Bible passages, Scot realizes the interpretation of these passages is not his top priority. Seeing the many academics that debate women's roles, I think we often forget the place most lay people are in: it's not just that they don't know the Greek and Hebrew to solve this gender mystery themselves. Rather, if we are to ever move forward on this, or many other issues in the church, we're going to have to study--and dialog about--how to read the Bible to begin with. After all, few of our churches really teach us to handle this seemingly basic task.
Scot's book may not please everyone in the sophistication of his argument for women's equality, nor the depth of its coverage of this larger question about Scripture, but I think we could learn a lot from his humble willingness to let the specific issues of women in ministry take a backseat while we work tirelessly to improve general interpretive skills. Each emphasis has its place in our writing and teaching, of course, but The Blue Parakeet fills a gap few seem to have noticed. While it's crucial to continue our study of the specific issue of women in ministry, let's not forget the foundational questions we must help people answer in order for them to mature in their faith. We may be surprised just how well more specific issues like gender equality can be connected to these larger questions and how much more open people are to new ideas when approached from that broader and potentially less threatening angle.