No one writes like Eugene Peterson and, because he has translated the Bible (The Message) in its entirety, there is probably no one who can plumb the depths of the spirituality of biblical language like Peterson. That he has chosen the parables and prayers of Jesus as the space for this topic in Tell it Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in his Stories and Prayers thrills me.
Question for the day: What has Peterson taught you? Which areas of life — other than political campaigning — need the most attention when it comes to language? What are of church life most needs attention when it comes to the words we choose to use?
My colleague, Mary Veeneman, was recently asked by Christianity Today to review Tell It Slant and the first thing that came to mind when I heard she was asked to review Peterson was a double-thought: good for you and too bad for you. I thought “good for you” because reading Peterson is always delightful, suggestive, and personally rewarding. I thought “too bad for you” because — as reviewers quickly learn — discovering his “thesis” is always difficult. Why? Peterson doesn’t present an argument but evokes a world. And how does a review argue with an evocation that is rich in imagery, metaphor, and insight?
Tell It Slant discusses eleven parables and complements Klyne Snodgrass’ exceptional new study (Stories with Intent). There is nothing similar: Klyne covers the landscape, Peterson soars with the images. Preachers and teachers need both.
The language we use matters. Words go forth and do their work. Postmodernists love this theme, but few see the glory of words. Peterson: “Language, all of it — every vowel, every consonant — is a gift of God.” Ordinary language is what we use. There is, he says, “no ‘Holy Ghost’ language.”
So, he says, “I want to nurture an awareness of the sanctity of words, the holy gift of language, regardless of whether it is directed vertically or horizontally. Just as Jesus did.” Which is the point of this book: to dwell on and explore the inner fabric of the language of Jesus. The language that intersects both ordinary stories (parables) and extraordinary talking with God (prayer). The sort of language Jesus uses is the same.
So, friends, here’s another book for your shelf but it is the sort of book that, if read, will not only sit on your shelf but will also sit well in the soul — and teach you to listen and to speak in ways that respect the utter God-givenness of the words we use. John got it right: The Word became flesh. Does not that tell us that Incarnation sanctifies words and urges us to righteousness even in our words?