I was raised with a skepticism toward Eugene Peterson.
How dare he turn Bible translation into a one-man show?
“The Message” isn’t a Bible or a translation. It’s “Eugene’s Happy Thoughts.”
This is not the stuff of serious, God-honoring Christianity.
When I found out that he was well-studied in biblical languages, that he penned The Message not for the world but as a contextual exercise in caring for his local congregation, that his writing is a deep, deep well of wisdom pointing the way to Jesus, I got over that skepticism.
And then it was that I just didn’t have time. He had written a lot of books (not just The Message). They all looked good. But when to read them?
Preparing to move, I sorted through all my books and found a few boxes I was ready to part with. I took them to Archives, the local theological bookstore, and watched them quickly flip through most of the pile, with a few cringes and chuckles. There were a few with some resale value so I traded those two boxes for store credit, enough to purchase a small stack of books to start the next leg of my journey.
Gift card in hand, I jokingly asked where the Eugene Peterson section was. While he didn’t quite have his own section, there were nearly two full shelves devoted to his work. I browsed, checked which ones were available in used-but-clean condition, and grabbed a stack of five.
The Contemplative Pastor. Yes, this will be helpful.
Praying with the Psalms. I don’t love the Psalms but Greg is constantly carrying this book around. I should probably try that too.
Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. Kurt said I had to read this one. I should read this one.
Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Integrity, yes, that’s key.
Subversive Spirituality. Yes, I sometimes pretend subversive is my middle name.
So far I’ve made it through the first of the list, with a bit of time spent in the second. Embarking on this next context of vocational calling, Peterson’s words have been life-giving and challenging. I’ve underlined, highlighted, and annotated much throughout the book, but particularly appreciated these whistleblowing lines from Peterson on prayer and the vocation of pastor.
Prayer is not a work that pastors are often asked to do except in ceremonial ways. Most pastoral work actually erodes prayer. The reason is obvious: people are not comfortable with God in their lives. They prefer something less awesome and more informal. Something, in fact, like the pastor. Reassuring, accessible, easygoing. People would rather talk to the pastor than to God. And so it happens that without anyone actually intending it, prayer is pushed to the sidelines.
And so pastors, instead of practicing prayer, which brings people into the presence of God, enter into the practice of messiah: we will do the work of God for God, fix people up, tell them what to do, conspire in finding the shortcuts by which the long journey to the Cross can be bypassed since we all have such crowded schedules right now. People love us when we do this. It is flattering to be put in the place of God. It feels wonderful to be treated in this godlike way. And it is work that we are generally quite good at.
Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor