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Eugene Peterson: Practice Resurrection 6

posted by Scot McKnight

Eugene Peterson, in his new book, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ  examines the poetic significance of Ephesians 1:3-14, one long, long sentence in Greek — and it’s all about God. (I post the passage after the jump.)

“201 nouns and verbs, adverbs and adjectives, prepositions and conjunctions cascading off Paul’s pen!” (55).
The passage is about God, and it reminds me of this question: 
How can we learn to be better “theo”centric Bible readers? How can we learn to focus on God more?
He observes:
“We have short attention spans. Having been introduced to God, we soon lose interest in God and  become preoccupied  with ourselves. Self expands and soul atrophies. Psychology trumps theology. … [And this] usually adds up to a workable life … But — it is not the practice of resurrection, it is not growing up in Christ, it is not living in the company of the Trinity, it is not living out of our beginnings, our begettings” (56).
Nine verbs of what God does/did: blessed, chose, destined, bestowed, lavished, made known and gather up. [These are his list; I have emboldened some others that English readers might observe.]

Ephesians 1:3-14:
1:3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ. 1:4 For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. 1:5 He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will – 1:6 to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son. 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 1:8 that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight. 1:9 He did this when he revealed to us the secret of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 1:10 toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ – the things in heaven and the things on earth. 1:11 In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will 1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, would be to the praise of his glory. 1:13 And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation) – when you believed in Christ – you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, 1:14 who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.

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JS Boegl

posted March 11, 2010 at 5:00 am

Amen! Amen! Amen! Eugene, you hit the nail on the head! HE is our focus and our destiny!
Thank you for your strong corrective to our American Church culture’s self-focused praxis!
Your Friend,
JS Boegl
(From D. Min 1990 SPIRITUALITY & MINISTRY Rancho Capistrano)

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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 11, 2010 at 5:37 am

Good thoughts as always, from Eugene Peterson. His books are reads and rereads, and more. I’m sure this book is the same. Great theme.

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J. K. Gayle

posted March 11, 2010 at 6:27 am

Thanks for sharing Peterson’s thoughts. He’s making a good point about all that’s “cascading off Paul’s pen!” (Interesting that you’d want to go to the NET Bible translation to try to illustrate it). Here’s how “The Message” is cascading off Peterson’s pen:

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posted March 11, 2010 at 7:13 am

J.K. Gayle in #3: Isn’t it fun to read how Peterson paraphrases the Bible in The Message! I have the book (large print edition) and enjoy it a lot. I also read one of his other books and think he is great. I ran across one of his paraphrases, though, and don’t understand it. My book is not one where he gives little comments about what he writes. If any of you have the book where he comments, would you allow me to send you the passage in question so you can tell me if he comments on it? Thanks.
And Scot: to answer your question about how we can learn to focus on God more…I say, pray! Some people say “Well, my work is my prayer. My being with my children is prayer” and that’s all true, but I really think most of us need to set some time aside each day to just sit in silence to commune with God. If we don’t, we can find ourselves running on empty as we try to do all the things we or other people think we have to do.

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john alan turner

posted March 11, 2010 at 8:05 am

I think the way most people are taught to do their daily Bible reading leads us to an anthropocentric hermeneutic. We’re taught to read a verse and then determine if there’s a promise for us to claim or a command for us to obey.
It’s as if we’re the main reason the Bible was written. And this may be one reason why the text seems dull and lifeless so often.
But the text might come alive to us if we’d just stop and ask ourselves one question first: What does this text reveal to me about the character and nature of God?
The Bible, after all, was written primarily to reveal God.
Then, and only then, should we proceed to the next question: What adjustments can I make to my life that might make me more godly?

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John W Frye

posted March 11, 2010 at 9:49 am

I affirm John Alan Turner’s comment (#5). We’ve been trained to dumb the Bible down to us; make it about us; make it about being good families (fathers, mothers, children, singles, wild men, feminine ladies, compliant teens, good employers, obedient employees, blah, blah, blah). After a while so much self-centeredness becomes very, very boring. But God! Now there’s an exciting Being if there ever was One-in-Three. “…living in the community of the Trinity…” Wow.

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J. K. Gayle

posted March 12, 2010 at 10:13 am

JoanieD in #4: Peterson doesn’t seem to explain much of his paraphrase; but then again Paul doesn’t explain much of his writings either.
I like Scot’s questions: “How can we learn to be better ‘theo’centric Bible readers? How can we learn to focus on God more?”
But I’m not sure that what you say, John Alan Turner (#5) and John W Frye (#6), is so helpful to me. There’s this abstract notion of God that the Bible — and a notion that Jesus in the gospels especially — seems to work against. Ironically, it’s the humanizing of the Bible that makes it more theocentric. Here’s what I mean: “[Martin] Luther’s words [to his students were, as he put it,] to ‘draw Christ as deep as possible into the flesh'” and “Martin Luther encouraged his students to flee the hidden God and to run to Christ.” (These are quotes from Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew). There’s a very human, anthropomorphic nature to the incarnated God made flesh, dwelling among mortals. And doesn’t this re-call “The Word,” the “The Revelation of God”? Jesus definitely humanized God by telling the parables that compare him to a prodigal father, an annoyed judge, a sleepy friend, a woman who loses a coin, and so forth. His goal by helping humans see God these human ways wasn’t bore people or to get them more self-centered, but rather the very humanized God seems to want to reveal how really relatable to humans God is. And, likewise, when we read Paul’s very long sentence here, we get the same kind of anthropomorphic language of us humans being orphans who are adopted by a parent who blesses us with the inheritance that really wasn’t ours to begin with. If this is Bible dumbed down with an anthropomorphizied God, then I, a human, am all for it.

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john alan turner

posted March 13, 2010 at 12:01 pm

I think you’re confusing the words “anthropomorphic” (God having human characteristics) and “anthropocentric” (humans being the center of the universe). The lens through which you’re advocating reading the text is actually the same lens I’m advocating — we read the text to discover God’s character and nature — then, and only then, do we seek to apply it to our lives.

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J. K. Gayle

posted March 15, 2010 at 7:27 am

John Alan Turner,
Yes, you’re right. I was confused about what you meant by “anthropocentric hermeneutic.” Thanks for clarifying. I do think Jesus, an anthropos, puts humanity in the center in a God-centric way. And I think his hermeneutic allows for and maybe demands humans in the center, sometimes. His questions back to the religious scholar (in Luke 10:26) are very telling: He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?” The pair of questions, the second acknowledging and maybe demanding human subjectivity, seem important.

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