Friday, May 20, 2005

orthodox without being narrow-minded, evangelical without being joyless

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation In Spiritual Theology
By Eugene H. Peterson (Eerdmans)

An Appreciation [note: this also appears at Circuit Rider Book Reviews, linked to the right].

Eugene Peterson is well-known as the translator of The Message, a contemporary rendering of the Bible in a North American context. He is also author of a number of highly-regarded and widely read works on pastoral ministry, among them Working The Angles and Under The Unpredictable Plant. Having served as a Presbyterian pastor for a number of years, Peterson knows intimately the rhythms of the local parish; possessing a background in biblical languages, he also writes with depth and passion about the scriptures and their connection with the human condition.

This lifelong pastoral vocation, deepened with sustained attention to translating the scriptures, has come to fruition in a marvelous new book, Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places. This “conversation in spiritual theology” begins with an evaluation of what spirituality has come to mean in our North American context: As Peterson “clears the playing field”, he examines our understandings of human nature, biblical revelation and the spiritual life, pushing us back to our basic texts, terms and metaphors.

Peterson laments that we have sought a spirituality apart from scripture; we have searched for a Jesus separated from his own human flesh; we have replaced “soul” with “self”, and we have domesticated the transcendent God and lost the practice he refers to as “fear-of-the-Lord”, the beginning of wisdom according to the writer of Proverbs.

This clearing away of our cluttered spiritual landscape makes a way for a renewed attention to three primary matters: creation, history, community. After reflecting on the birth of Jesus, Peterson comments on the threat of gnosticism, and then gives a thorough exposition of two “grounding texts”: Genesis 1-2 and the Gospel of John. Such an immersion leads us into the practices of Sabbath and wonder. He continues this cycle in exploring history and community, situating the discussion in the life of Jesus, identifying threats within the culture, exegeting biblical texts and concluding with practices that flow logically from the discussion.

According to the dust jacket,
Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places is the first and foundational book in a series of five volumes on spiritual theology. I must confess that I am in awe of the project in its emerging state. Peterson is biblically coherent, cultural relevant, spiritually engaging. He is orthodox without being narrow-minded, critical without being dismissive, evangelical without being joyless, scholarly without being pedantic. His style is conversational, and yet his subject matter is of utmost importance. As I read this book, I had the sense that I was learning from a wise pastor who had somehow held it all together, a love for God and a love for people, an immersion in biblical study and a heart for the world in which we live each day.

Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places is a remarkable work. It is so well-conceived and executed that I found myself wondering, at times, “How does he do this?” But more often, I was led to reflect on the glory of God, in creation, in history, in community, and even in the ordinary life that is the pastoral ministry. In the spirit of wonder and gratitude, I await the future volumes!



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