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Eugene Peterson’s Newest

posted by xscot mcknight

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?



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don bryant

posted October 14, 2008 at 1:40 am


Thanks for the book recommendation. Peterson rescues the spiritual life from the the disease of “ten easy steps.” I don’t know how many times my Bible reading has been stepped up several notches by huge draughts of time with The Message. In his book “Take and Read: Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List” where he lays out his recommended reading, I was amazed to find a whole new world of literature I had never explored. His reading list certainly isn’t the one I got in seminary. He challenged me to knock on some doors that had gone unvisited in a part of town I didn’t even know existed.



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Deb

posted October 14, 2008 at 1:56 am


“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?”
Ha!! Great comment! I did an essay recently that involved using five of Eugene Peterson’s books. I got a credit with the comment “not enough theological engagement”. They were more like devotionals than theology textbooks and while they were amazing reading and a great blessing and, as you say, “evoke[d] a world” they were certainly not easy for an undergraduate to theologically critique.



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Jeff Borden

posted October 14, 2008 at 4:29 am


“…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?”
I have been reading Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places for a year now…and still have only begun to scratch the surface of what is to be gleaned from its depths. I continue to pull devotional thoughts and word illustrations from A Long Obedience at our leadership meetings and men’s group gatherings. Eugene is a Pastor’s Pastor and a Mentor’s Mentor…an incredible gift and blessing to our generation. I cannot wait for this work to grace my bookshelf.



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Diane

posted October 14, 2008 at 5:00 am


Where does the church need pay attention to language? When the language becomes rote that’s a flag: “Are you saved? Have you accepted JC as your personal savior?” Such language depersonalizes other humans. Church language needs to be fresh, particular, alert … and listening.
I’ve watched the Peterson Bible translation phenomenom with some surprise; I like his translation but have been amazed at the avidity with which people take to it. I hope it too doesn’t become stale.
Of course, I love the idea of appreciating language!



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Dan Brennan

posted October 14, 2008 at 6:31 am


There have been several specific points where Peterson, I believe more than any other contemporary evangelical gives us spiritual direction and depth to pray with and for others. Among his other books, Peterson connects intimacy with God, others, with language in *Five Smooth Pastoral Stones for Pastoral Work.*
His exposition in this work connected dots for me in the way many in our evangelical culture (including myself) tended to pray in more abstract, doctrinal language than in language with biblical imagination. This sent me in an entirely different direction as I prayed with and for others.
He also helped understand that intimacy in prayer language in praying for others–was a spiritual formational choice against hurriedness and buysness.
It’s an act of discipleship to deliberately choose to go to God about whatever we are hearing from another, rather than to rush with our own wisdom, etc. There is much to ponder finding intimacy in prayer language with others.
And, he prepared me as a man to pray with other gender. I have found that his observations about prayer and sexuality as intricately related are spot on. It is common knowledge here there has been much written about gender differences when it comes to talk and language. Without giving men and women an itemized list of how-to, Peterson helps us bridge that gap more than any other contemporary evangelical male.



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Travis Greene

posted October 14, 2008 at 7:17 am


Ordinary language is what we use. There is, he says, ?no ?Holy Ghost? language.?
That’s my biggest insight from Peterson. He goes into detail in “Eat This Book”, about how theologians used to think Koine Greek was some kind of special, grand, holy language, when really it’s just common. It’s slang. There’s poetry in Scripture, to be sure, but if the Bible was a character from Mary Poppins, it’d be Dick Van Dyke.



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John Frye

posted October 14, 2008 at 7:17 am


Eugene Peterson offered me a coherent, biblically-informed pastoral theology…something I did not receive in seminary. Eugene was warning about “attractional models” of church long before those models began to show their vulnerable underbelly. EHP was lamenting a reduced Gospel long before it became a flatform issue in the emerging conversation. He seems to never bother about being popular and well-received. He has the courage to seriously critique local church/ministry trends with grace.



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Tom Hein

posted October 14, 2008 at 8:31 am


Eugene Peterson reminds me that what I do in my study “matters.” Sometimes I feel like it’s just words, words, words, but words do matter.



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Kyle Stevens

posted October 14, 2008 at 8:42 am


I am looking forward with great anticipation to this latest installment from Peterson. I am a huge fan of the first 3 books in this series. Peterson has a way of boiling thoughts down to one line, power packed statements. A couple of my favorites from his works thus far are “A day off is a bastard sabbath” (Working the Angles) and “A consumer church is an anti-christ church.” (The Jesus Way). But then I remember it took him 20 pages to communicate the idea in a way that he can make these statements and give them a context.
Peterson has challenged my thoughts and practices concerning rest/sabbath. He speaks in multiple volumes to the ways in which we need rest and often don’t take it or take it in ways that are not as God intended. Another area of need concerning our use of language is our means. He spends all of The Jesus Way speaking to the ways in which followers of Jesus have taken on the worlds means to reach Jesus’ ends. Very challenging.



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David B Johnson

posted October 14, 2008 at 8:59 am


EP has taught me to read the Bible contemplatively. Enough said.



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Dianne P

posted October 14, 2008 at 10:28 am


Jeff,
I’ve been reading Christ Plays in 10,000 Places for about 5 years now. Guess it’s time to pull it off the shelf and add it (again) to the pile of books at my bedside.
However, I did try to wade through Eat This Book this summer w/ an online women’s book group and gave up half way through. Seemed like a lot of the same words over and over and very little point. I think the disconnect may have been that it sets up a “how to” premise of reading the bible in a “different” way, yet Peterson is hardly a true “how to” writer. Anyone have any comments on this?



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preacherman

posted October 14, 2008 at 10:50 am


I enjoy the message.
I think he brings the point home in contemporary language. I have even used it to preach from to send a point home with the audience. He is great. I think of King James who had his version of the Bible many thought his version was the only right one. I wonder if that will ever happen with Eugene H. Peterson. (Joking of course) :-)



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Mick

posted October 14, 2008 at 10:51 am


For me, Peterson connects mind and heart. I feel I’ve been formed more in the way of Jesus even though I can’t always articulate how after having read one of his books. His writing style seems to activate the contemplative gene in me while challenging me to bring together prayerful thought with action. He moves me heaveward while still keeping me anchored to the here and now – an “earthy spirituality”. God has gifted him with both the prophetic and pastoral voice.



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Mike

posted October 14, 2008 at 11:57 am


In terms of writers, Peterson has been my best pastoral mentor. He continually subverts all the cultural nonsense we import into what “ministry” means and brings it all right back to the basics of the Bible, people and prayer. I always admired his commitment to never pastor a church that was too large for him to know everyone personally as their pastor. His books on pastoral theology are never-ending wells of inspiration and encouragement to me. I have never, on the other hand, been a huge fan of The Message, but most of that comes from my failure to read it as an interpretation rather than a translation. I do appreciate in all his writings his appreciation of language, imagination and story. Scot, as you say in The Blue Parakeet, we are not so much to read the Bible as we are to enter its world and its story. Peterson is an invaluable guide in that regard.



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Tom Smith

posted October 14, 2008 at 12:07 pm


Eugene and Jan are the reason Lollie and I are still in ministry. What he writes and who he is converses. He taught us the rhythms of pastoral ministry, the kind that is sustainable and rooted in the earthiness of the ordinary. I’m really looking forward to reading this book.



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Greg Drummond

posted October 14, 2008 at 12:53 pm


One thing Eugene Peterson wrote about keeping the sabbath has stuck with since I first read it almost 10 years ago in “Working the Angles”. Peterson said that the sabbath was a time to pray and to play.
Here is some of what he says,
“Praying and playing share this quality: they develop and mature with age, they don’t go into decline. Prayerfulness and playfulness reverse the deadening effects of sin-determined lives. They are life-enhancing, not life-diminishing. They infuse vitalities, counteracting fatigue. They renew us, they do not where us out. Playing and praying counter boredom, reduce anxieties, push, pull, direct, prods us into the fullness of our humanity by getting body and spirit in touch and friendly with each other.” (p.78)



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Jenny

posted October 14, 2008 at 1:19 pm


Christianity Today had an interview with him about four years ago when Christ Plays first came out and I knew right away that I wanted to learn from this man. Many books later, I thank God for EP’s pen!



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DD

posted October 15, 2008 at 5:46 am


Peterson’s stuff generally is just terrific. From “Working the Angles,” to “Under the Unpredictable Plant” to “Reversed Thunder” to “The Message.” I traveled to a conservative seminary in the Midwest to hear him, and to an Episcopal Retreat Center in North Carolina to hear him lecture for a week. He’s a good thinker and writer and a wonderful conversationalist … absolutely the real deal. The only time I seriously questioned his judgement was on his ringing endorsement of “The Shack” by William P Young … “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good.” Well, even our mentor’s miss it once in a while.



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qb

posted October 15, 2008 at 7:22 am


Anyone with 30 years of experience in a pastor’s role who can turn around and write a book like _The Unnecessary Pastor_ (with Marva Dawn, we hasten to note) has qb’s attention. I have to set aside nearly a whole shelf for my Peterson holdings.
What EP has taught qb is that no matter what you’re reading in Scripture, no matter how many times you’ve read it, there’s always more there than meets the eye; and exegesis is imaginative, not merely mechanical.



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Dianne P

posted October 15, 2008 at 8:20 am


QB, many thanks for the conference info…. What a treat that will be!



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dave wainscott

posted October 15, 2008 at 4:44 pm


a surprisingly little known Peterson story from “Unpredictable Plant” is huge in my life.
Here it is:
“Sex and Drugs in Church: Peterson on Why the System Can’t Care”
http://davewainscott.blogspot.com/2006/03/sex-and-drugs-in-church-peterson-on.html



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