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Eugene Peterson: Practice Resurrection 2

Peterson.jpgIn Eugene Peterson’s new book, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ , we are treated to a response to the posted from Wednesday about criticizing the church.

What is the church? Do you tend to idealized the earliest churches? But do you neglect then the deformities of those same churches?
“Church,” he observes, “is the textured context in which we grow up in Christ to maturity.”
“So, why church? The short answer is because the Holy Spirit formed it to be a colony of heaven in the country of death” (11-12).
The church, he says, is those people who practice the resurrection of Christ in the country of death.
Sure, he admits, the church isn’t all it seems it should be but he makes this observation: “Maybe God knows what he is doing, giving us church, this church” (14). Peterson thinks Ephesians gives us a behind-the-scenes look at what church is.


“Sometimes we hear our friends talk in moony, romantic terms of the early church. ‘We need to get back to being just like the early church.’ Heaven help us. These churches were a mess, and Paul wrote his letters to them to try to clean up the mess” (16).
“And what comes clear,” in this letter to the Ephesians, “is that church is not what we do; it is what God does, although we participate in it” (17).
But “we don’t read Ephesians as a picture of a ‘perfect church’ to which we compare our congregations and try to copy what we see. Rather, we read Ephesians as the revelation of all the operations of the Triune God that are foundational beneath what is visible among us and at work throughout each congregation. This is what makes us what we are, however imperfectly or neurotically we happen to be living it out” (17-18).
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posted February 26, 2010 at 4:03 am

“The church is not what we do, it is what God does.” That really sums up a paradigm shift that many churches, both traditional and emerging, need to make. The church is shaped, guided, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our churches would be much more fruitful if they stopped trying to imitate any century’s church and listen to what the Holy Spirit is telling us. Instead of romanticizing any past (1st century or 1950s) we need to be prepared to follow where God is leading and celebrate the church He has given us today. Amen to Dr. Peterson.

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posted February 26, 2010 at 8:36 am

thanks for these quotes

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posted February 26, 2010 at 8:43 am

This is the truth. Gives me chills and tears.

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posted February 26, 2010 at 9:04 am

As long as the church is perceived to be an organization, led by professionals and program heads, the people will see their responsibility as little more than to be supportive of the organization. When the people begin to understand that they are the church, and that THEY TOGETHER OWN THE RESPONSIBILITY DAILY TO BE THE CHURCH, a measure of health may return. In such a place, wise “leaders” who offer sound insight and guidance – elders – will be identified to fulfill the role that the New Testament depicts.

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John W Frye

posted February 26, 2010 at 9:18 am

Let’s think about it: the early church was extremely messy. Exhibit A–the church in Corinth. Yet, Paul could write to them that “when you gather and I am present with you in spirit and the *Lord Jesus is present in power*…” Jesus was present in a church community in which some even denied his resurrection! Think of the abject mess of the church in Corinth. Yet, they were gifted like no other as Paul affirms in chapter 1. With all their factions, pride, immorality, denigration of the Lord’s Table, theological error, and hostility toward Paul, they were still the *ekklesia.*
In a culture like ours when all diseases must be healed, all glitches the machine must be fixed, when all viruses in the computer program must be eliminated, when only the fittest and the best must represent their nations in the games, what do you think we will try to do with the messiness of the church? We cannot tolerate a messy church because we cannot tolerate basic, earthy humanity. Eugene Peterson sees a lingering gnosticism in our views of the church. We have to spiritualize it, sanitize it, clean it up morally to the nth degree. I love Peterson’s wisdom: relax, the church is human with all the messiness that entails, AND God and Jesus love us being human.
Now, this is no excuse for sin or condoning sin, but it is an invitation to let the hidden, yet present powerful Trinitarian God do his work in our communities.

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posted February 26, 2010 at 11:20 am

I like these quotes very much more than the last one. Glad I plan to read the book soon!
The church seems so different from what God set up in Israel. At Sinai he spelled everything out, festivals, rituals, jubilee, even some of the institutional governance. Of course it was never really followed completely.
The church he has left much more loosy-goosy. It’s unsettling. It’s confusing. It makes us depend on him. He seems ok with the sloppiness of it, with the inefficiencies, with only gradually over the course of centuries using his Holy Spirit to make corrections by changing people’s hearts. We are not the same church as the early church; God has molded us over the intervening centuries and continues to do so.
He has used the last 500 years to make belief in him more personal and less institutional or cultural. He has given us the conviction that slavery is wrong and that women can be educated, vote, and lead. He has showed us how to alleviate so much physical suffering. Look at all he has changed in and through his church! I wonder what changes he will be making next, and how we can be more effective at responding to his voice?

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posted February 26, 2010 at 12:37 pm

As I sat in our church last week and watched children sing at the top of their lungs something along the lines of, “I am jumping for you, Jesus” I had to sit and wonder if this is what Jesus died for.
I love the church. Peterson’s definition here is great: The Church is those who practice the resurrection of Christ in the country of death. When I look at our own endeavors as a body of “believers” I’m stunned at what we come up with. In what way is all the hype practicing the resurrection? But I love the church.
She is the place where we spend the majority of our lives doing misguided activities because we confuse the Kingdom of God with the world and it’s values. But she is also the place where people regularly come to repent, within a community, of the ways their heart has been selfish. I struggle with this tension.
What if every church’s mission statement included Peterson’s understanding of church? I tire of “jumping” for somebody who doesn’t really care if I jump (if I jump but have not love, I am nothing) – I’d rather live and I’d rather my local congregation prioritize a life resurrected over and above any ideas we have.

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James Carmichael

posted February 26, 2010 at 12:44 pm

I am reading Peterson’s “Living the Resurrection” and he hints on this idea of ‘practicing resurrection’ and it’s wholistic role in the Christian life.
Peterson’s contribution to the church is amazing and so helpful. May God continue his work in his beautiful church!

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posted February 26, 2010 at 2:48 pm

“we don’t read Ephesians as a picture of a ‘perfect church’ to which we compare our congregations and try to copy what we see. Rather, we read Ephesians as the revelation of all the operations of the Triune God…”
I so like this. It’s the same way we can approach 1 Cor 13 on love. Here’s the list of things I’m going to try and do to practice love. It’s not that there is never a time and place for this, or, for the church to be formed in the ways of the NT church but it’s more that this is the fruit of what happens when we allow the Holy Spirit to indwell us and form us into the image of Christ that we become people of Love and the community of faith reflective of either 1 Cor 13 or the book of Ephesians in regards to the church.
#5 also speaks to a good corrective for us idealizing, performance driven perfectionists who can tweak the life and humanity (with all it’s flaws and defects) out of it. Bonhoeffer also addresses this in Life Together when referring to the “real vs. ideal” divine community.

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posted February 26, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Does one need to have read the previous four books in Peterson’s series to grasp this one, or can it be read on its own?
I ask because I’ve found N. T. Wright’s “Christian Origins” series to be difficult to wade through unless they’re read in order.

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posted February 26, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Adam, good question! I was just going to jump into this one but I haven’t read Peterson’s other works. Would it be best to read a different one first or even the whole series?
@Joey: I don’t know in what spirit your church did the kids “jumping for Jesus” thing, but that’s actually a very important lesson for kids to learn. In churches dominated by adults, especially those where kids are shushed and scolded for acting like children, it’s important to know that God loves them in all their rowdy, jumpy gloriousness. In fact, it’s his gift to them. Yes, Jesus died so they could jump, and sing, and shout, and laugh instead of being relegated to property or told they only matter to God when they’re older. At least that’s what I mean when I teach our preschoolers to jump for Jesus.

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Jim Martin

posted February 26, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Thanks for these quotes by Peterson. When I read Eugene Peterson and hear him talk about ministry, the church, etc., I remember once again what a noble effort that we are a part of. I love the way Peterson’s speaks about living out the resurrection.

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posted February 26, 2010 at 6:50 pm

@10&11 – You can jump right in with this one! I highly recommend the rest of the series but you’d be fine beginning with this one.

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Scott Eaton

posted February 26, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Eugene Peterson is one of the wisest saints in all of Christianity. In him I have found another “distance mentor.”

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posted February 26, 2010 at 11:58 pm

I’ve not read this Peterson book. However, I expect it to be worth the read. The church as I understand it is not the cultural expressions of assemblies we have grown accustomed to. The church is God’s group of folks who live out what it means to be the incarnation of Jesus. What Jesus did in the gospels the disciples mimicked in Acts. I believe Acts is open ended because we are to do the same sort of thing: be the functioning body of Christ in our century: loving and serving anyone who hurts. That’s not “social gospel” that’s merely living out the love of God with no strings attached. It isn’t the hype or the pep rallies we’ve become enamored with in the 90s and early part of this century. It is people to sincerely love God and love others.

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