This post is the first in a series of a review of Eugene Peterson’s new book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. There will be a gaggle of speakers in this series, including me (I’ll probably do most of the summaries), Steve McCoy, Joe Thom, Keith Carpenter, Brad Bergfalk, Brad Boydston, Paul Duppenthaler, Rob Merola and Kevin Cawley. So, if you start to see some familiar names, they are all pastors 0r close to it. Expect a good set of reflections about one of the more important books of the year.
Here I am showing Peterson’s book to my students.
Christ Plays is not an easy book to divide up for blogging: 300+ pages and only three chapters! So, we’ll do our best to post on about 30 pages so we can keep the reading schedule to what can be managed during what is the busiest time of the year for many of us, especially pastors. Not only that, Peterson is as poetic a writer as we find today, so he’s got one comment after another that deserves to be touched upon.
Summary: Clearing the Playing Field (pp. 11-47)
He clears the field with definitions that will be used in the book.
This book is about “spiritual” and “theology” for both are needed for either to be genuinely Christian. It is a conversation because it will go back and forth. (The title comes from a poem by Gerald Manely Hopkins.)
Two stories: Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, John 3 and John 4, both illustrate the importance of the Spirit. Great comparisons on pp. 17-18. Conclusion:
spirituality is not a body of secret lore, not about aptitude and temperament, not about you and me — it is about God.
Three texts: Gen 1:1-3, Mark 1:9-11, Acts 2:1-4. Beginning of world, beginning of Jesus’ life, beginning of Church: all about the Spirit. “God alive who makes alive. God the Spirit who imparts spirit. God’s Spirit… is the main action” (26).
Four terms, a quartet: (1) Spirituality (Beyond and Within; breath and life). (2) Jesus: revelation of God. Jesus defines and sets boundaries to the spiritual life and renders our own attempts to make up a spirituality impotent. He sees believing that Jesus is God to be the challenge of the Christian faith. The ordinariness of life is where God chooses to show himself. (3) Soul: “Self is the soul minus God” (37). (4) Fear-of-the-Lord: this is how we live the Christian life. Prayer and worship is how we live before God. Here’s what Peterson means: “a way of life in which human feelings and behavior are fused with God’s being and revelation” (42). “We don’t so much lack knowledge, we lack reverence…. It is not so much know-how we lack; we lack a simple being-there” (44).
And a dance: God as Father, Son, Spirit is the (perichoretic) dance and we are called to participate in this dance of life in God. We participate in the “relationship that is God” (46).
(SM): I loved this chapter and discussion, and found lots of things to think about. My major criticism is this: I think “fear-of-the-Lord” falls short since the essence of his argument to this point his understanding of soul was about personality and relationality, so I would have liked some attention to “love-of-God” and I would emphasized not so much life “before” God (though I’ll cheer on the idea) but life both “with” and “before” God.
StM: I really dig Peterson’s point that “Spiritual theology is a protest against theology depersonalized into information about God” (p1). As an SBC pastor, I find it all to tempting for our people to think theology is done on paper and spirituality is more practical. I think the two things that struck me most in this section were how the John stories pointed to the accessibility of the spiritual (it’s not elitist) and how considering the ‘soul’ takes the sting out of a world that identifies people as resources.