“Well-meaning people tell us that the Christian gospel will put us in charge of life, will bring us happiness and bounty. So we go out and buy a Bible. We adapt, edit, sift, summarize. We then use whatever whatever seems useful and apply it in our circumstances however we see fit. We take charge of the Christian gospel, using it as a toolbox to repair our lives, or as a guidebook for getting what we want, or as an inspirational handbook to enliven a dull day. But we aren’t smart enough to do that; nor can we be trusted to do that. The Holy Spirit is writing us into the revelation, the story of salvation. We find ourselves in the story as followers of Jesus. Jesus calls us to follow him and we obey- or we do not. This is an immense world of God’s salvation that we are entering; we don’t know enough to use or apply anything. Our task is to obey- believingly, trustingly obey. Simply obey in a ‘long obedience.'” [248-249]
For last couple of weeks I have been reading Person’s new book. It is a memoir that documents his journey to and through pastoral vocation. For those who love Peterson this is a welcomed book that fills out his writings with personal details. Very well written. Warm. Engaging. A must read for anyone aspiring for pastoral vocation.
Here is a marvelous definition of Church that Peterson gives…
“It had taken me a long time, with considerable help from wise Christians, both dead and alive, to come to this understanding of church: a colony of heaven in the country of death, a strategy of the Holy Spirit for giving witness to the already-inaugurated kingdom of God.” [Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, 110]
I recently came across a Mars Hill Journal interview with Eugene Peterson. He has some intriguing words about our immersion in the Bible as Christian Schriputre. I wanted to share a segment of it here, but the whole interview is worth a close read…
MH: Why do you suppose we have become so comfortable with the scriptures?
EP: I think it’s partly our sin. One of the Devil’s finest pieces of work is getting people to spend three nights a week in Bible studies.
MH I’m sure that’s going to surprise a lot of readers!
EP: Well, why do people spend so much time studying the Bible? How much do you need to know? We invest all this time in understanding the text which has a separate life of it’s own and we think we’re being more pious and spiritual when we’re doing it. But it’s all to be lived. It was given to us so we could live it. But most Christians know far more of the Bible than they’re living. They should be studying it less, not more. You just need enough to pay attention to God.
MH You said that we treat the text as if it had a life of it’s own. Many would say that it does have a life of it’s own, yet you mean something else.
EP: I think I would want to say it a different way. We treat the text as if it is in a separate world of its own, apart from our lives. This text reveals God lovingly at work in the world. And the intent of the text is to draw us into that world of God’s action. Study is normally an over intellectualized process. It takes us out of relationships. And so I guess I’m just not at all pleased with all the emphasis on Bible study as if it’s some kind of special thing that Christians do, and the more they do the better. It needs to be integrated into something more whole.
MH So there’s a very natural interplay between the text and our lives.
EP: Yes, but as long as we’re ignorant of the Scriptures we won’t have a clue as to what God is doing. We do need to recover the large world of the Bible. What I see happening is that when people read the Bible, they reduce the world to something which they call Bible study. But the world of the Bible, the world revealed in Scripture, is a much larger world than anything you get in the newspapers or history books. If we’re doing Bible study right we ought to get a glimpse of that. But the way Bible studies are often conducted often ghettoizes the people doing them.
MH You wrote The Message for “disaffected outsiders and bored insiders.” Who are those people?
EP: Outsiders don’t think there is anything that the Christian faith has that has to do with them. They think Christianity is for religious people. And since they aren’t religious they’re not going to open the Bible. There are also a lot of people who have been intimidated by Christians who don’t think they are up to snuff. Unless they pass a prerequisite stage they can’t understand what’s going on. There’s an enormous amount of ignorance about God and the scriptures. Some if it is perpetuated by this intimidation. It’s something you’ve got to be introduced to or have a special introductory course before you know what’s going on. The bored insiders are those I meet all the time. They’ve heard it over and over again, and they’ve lost touch with the reality of these words. Here again is part of the providence you mentioned. I had a congregation that was a mix of both outsiders and insiders. There were people there who had grown up in the church and had been there all their lives. It was a kind of conventional thing for them. I also had people who had never heard anything Christian. I couldn’t say the name Abraham and expect people to know what I was talking about. So, I had to learn how to say it because I had all these outsiders who didn’t know anything about religion or Christianity. They forced me to let their language be the language of my preaching and teaching, I had to learn that. But then if you’re an insider, it’s really easy to get dull ears and I wanted to wake them up. It’s what preachers ought to be doing every Sunday and it’s what I’ve been doing all my life.
“We do violence to the biblical revelation when we “use” it for what we can get out of it or what we think will provide color and spice to out otherwise bland lives. That always results in a kind of decorator spirituality”- God as enhancement. When we submit our lives to what we read in scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves. ” [Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, 44]
Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book: The Holy Community at the Table with Holy Scripture, (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2000)
“Exegesis is loving God enough to stop and listen to what he says. It follows that we bring the leisure and attentiveness of lovers to this text, cherishing every comma and semicolon, relishing the oddness of this preposition, delighting in the surprising placement of this noun. Lovers don’t take a quick look, get a “message” or a “meaning” and then run off and talk with their friends about how they feel.” 
“Obedience is the thing, living in active response to the living God. The most important question we ask of the text is not, “What does this mean?” but “What can I obey?” A simple act of obedience will open up our lives to this text far more quickly than any number of Bible studies and dictionaries and concordances.” 
Recently I have been returning to some of the books that have been formative for me spiritually. Reading Eugene Peterson’s book Reversed Thunder I was struck by his words about St. John, the writer of the Book of Revelation. Peterson’s thought on St. John as a theologian resonate with the type of theological work I think modern theologians are called to for the sake of the Church.
What kind of a theologian does the Church need?
First, Peterson writes about the God-intoxicated shape of theologian’s existence. “St. John is a theologian whose entire mind is saturated with thoughts of God, his whole being staggered by a vision of God. The world-making, salvation-shaping word of God is heard and pondered and expressed. He is God-intoxicated, God-possessed, God-articulate. He insists that God is more than a blur of longing, and other than a monosyllabic curse (or blessing), but capable of logos, that is, of intelligent discourse…
Second, Peterson writes about a theologian’s desk being positioned in the midst of a parish. “There have been times in history when theologians were supposed to inhabit ivory towers and devote themselves to writing impenetrable and ponderous books. But the important theologians have done their thinking and writing about God in the middle of the world, in the thick of action: Paul urgently dictating letters from his prison cell; Athanasius contra mundum, five times hounded by into exile by three different emperors; Augustine, pastor to people experiencing the chaotic breakup of Roman order and civitas; Thomas, using his mind to battle errors and heresies that, unchallenged, would have turned Europe into a spiritual and mental jungle; Calvin, tireless in developing a community of God’s people out of Geneva’s revolutionary rabble; Barth arbitrating labor disputes and preaching to prisoners; Bonhoeffer leading a fugitive existence in Nazi Germany, and St. John, exiled on the hard rock of Patmos prison while his friends in Christ were besieged by the terrible engines of a pagan assault.”
What is a theologian’s contribution to the Church?
First, Peterson writes about a theologian’s role as a person who helps the Christian community to keep thinking about God and not just making random guesses. “It is of great importance for Christian believers to have, from time to time, a reasonable, sane, mature person stand up in their midst and say “God is…” and to go on to complete the sentence intelligently. There are tendencies within us and forces outside us that relentlessly reduce God to a checklist of explanations, or a handbook of moral precepts, or an economic arrangement, or a political expediency, or a pleasure boat….The theologian offers his mind in the service of saying “god” in such a way that God is not reduced or packaged or banalized, but known and contemplated and adored, with the consequence that our lives are not cramped into what we can explain but exalted by what we worship.”
Second, he writes about the task of a theologian. “The task of these theologians is to demonstrate a gospel order in the chaos of evil, and arrange the elements of experience and reason so that they are perceived proportionally and coherently: sin, defeat, discouragement, prayer, suffering, persecution, praise, and politics are placed in relation to the realities of God and Christ, holiness and healing, heaven and hell, victory and judgment, beginning and ending. Their achievement is that the community of persons who live by faith in Christ continue to live with a reasonable hope and in intelligent love.”