You may wish to read part one of this review.
Eugene Peterson divides The Jesus Way into two sections: The Jesus Way and Other Ways. It’s notable that in the first part, aside from the first chapter about Jesus, each chapter looks at an Old Testament figure. In a book that is “a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way” you might expect more from the New Testament. However, having finished the first section I think Peterson’s choice was spot on: by examining pre-Jesus people (Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah of Jerusalem and Isaiah of the Exile) he shows the continuity throughout redemptive history.
One of Peterson’s strengths as a life-long student of the Bible is his ability to comment on the Scriptures in a way that shows their relevancy to our lives today. I use the word “relevant” carefully. Peterson is careful not to over-simplify or show how Scripture meets our needs. Instead he shows how the Biblical narrative captures and cuts to the heart of our existence.
In the life of Elijah we encounter a prophet who must confront Ahab and Jezebel, leaders who have introduced the people of God to the deities Baal and Asherah. In contrast to the providence of God that is always found “in the particular, in the personal, in the recognition of grace in an unlikely time,” these religions offer something that many of us would recognize.
“Harlotry” is worship that says, “I will give you satisfaction. You want religious feelings? I will give them to you. You want your needs fulfilled? I’ll do it in the form most arousing to you.” Baalism reduces worship to the spiritual stature of the worshiper. Its canons are that it should be interesting, relevant, and exciting- that I “get something out of it.”
The promises of Baalism are not unfamiliar to American Christians who are accustomed to churches offering to meet spiritual needs. How many of us rate our standing with God by our religious feelings? In contrast to Baal, the prophet reminds us that “absolutely everything takes place on sacred ground.” It is not what a deity promises or what needs are currently met that show the goodness of God. No, according to Peterson God’s goodness is pr oven in a narrative that shows that all of all of creation is holy.
Nothing is hid from the scrutiny of God; nothing is exempt from the rule of God; nothing escapes the purposes of God. The ground is holy; people are holy; words are holy: Holy, holy, holy.
Peterson gently asks us to consider some difficult questions. What has shaped our image of God? What expectations do we bring to our worship? Do we live as if all of life is holy?
The final three chapters of The Jesus Ways examine three figures who demonstrate alternatives to this Way. Stay tuned.