Monday, May 08, 2006

eat this book

Eat This Book: A Conversation in The Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson

Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message, Presbyterian minister and seminary professor, is in the midst of writing a five- volume spiritual theology. The first volume, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, appeared last year and was reviewed in Circuit Rider May/June, 2005. Eat This Book is now the second volume to appear, and is simply “a conversation in the art of spiritual reading”. More specifically, this is a volume on the art of reading, marking learning and inwardly digesting scripture, the word of God, the bread of life.

Peterson insists that “the Christian scriptures are the primary text for Christian spirituality.” This notion, he admits, has never gone unchallenged, for we often prefer other “texts,” most recently the prominent text is the “sovereign self.” This leads to a reliance on experience over scripture (a practice that Methodists, with our quadrilateral, would know about), and a neglect of the very content of God’s revelation. Basing his argument upon Revelation 10. 9-10, Peterson is eloquent in placing an image before us:

“Christians feed on scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son” (18).

The remainder of the book is an unfolding reflection on the process of eating the book, feeding on scripture. As we eat the book, our lives take the form of following Jesus; indeed, the purpose of scripture itself is to lead us into this life. And so the challenge is not to gain more knowledge, but to become holy people, living the Holy Scriptures “from the inside out.”

One of the primary ways that we receive the scriptures is through the practice of lectio divina, and the book’s middle section is devoted to this ancient spiritual discipline. The book’s third and final section is an analysis of questions related to the translation of scripture; Peterson reflects on the biblical languages, and on the process by which The Message emerged.

Eugene Peterson’s counsel on reading the Bible is welcome in a culture that seeks to discover spirituality apart from scripture and discipleship apart from guidance. His message that we need to become doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22) is welcome in a church that values credentials and degrees, and yet sometimes divorces knowledge from faithfulness. Amazingly, Peterson’s wisdom comes across without a hint of arrogance; he is seasoned interpreter of the faith, his insights honed by a lifetime of pastoral practice, his judgments also under the authority of God and the revealed Word.

I am grateful that someone like Eugene Peterson has emerged, calling us to remember who we are, pointing us toward the resource that gives life, challenging us, in the words of John’s revelation, to “eat the book.” Having spent time with this volume, I await the next three, as a guest at table would anticipate the next servings of a deliciously prepared meal.

(I wrote this review for the Circuit Rider---see link to the right. You can also order the book there.)


Post a Comment

<< Home