This is the final part of this rambling review of Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way. I had to laugh while finishing the book when I saw that Peterson’s new book, Tell it Slant, had just been released. Apparently the author writes more quickly than I read.
In the final three chapters Peterson shifts his attention from Biblical figures who enlighten the Jesus Way to three men whose “ways compete with the way of Jesus and often replace the way of Jesus.” Through the lives, accomplishments and ideologies of Herod (the Jewish king at the time of Jesus’ birth), Caiaphas (the chief priest associated with Jesus’ arrest), and Josephus (the Jewish historian and traitor, he’s also the the only non-Biblical figure in the book) Peterson gives three examples of alternatives to following Jesus.
While some Christian authors portray the Christian life as the most fulfilling way to live, Peterson is not afraid to show the attractiveness of power and religion. There are, after all, plenty of legitimate ways to make one’s way in this world. These alternatives make the way of Jesus all the more poignant.
Herod is perhaps the clearest example of this contrast. The king’s absolute power and control are legendary as are his ability to negotiate a tenuous peace between the Roman government and the occupied Jewish people. Aside from the Romans, this peace primarily benefited the King and his massive building programs. And how does Jesus, who grew up in Herod’s shadow, respond to this puppet king of the Jews?
And here is the astonishing thing: Jesus ignored the whole business. Jesus spent his life walking down roads and through towns dominated by Herod’s policies, buildings shaped by Herod’s power, communities at the mercy of Herod’s whims. And he never gave them the time of day.
Given that Jesus’ agenda was similar to Herod’s- “[establishing] a comprehensive way of life that would shape the behavior and capture the imaginations of all the people of the world.”- it matters that he completely ignored Herod and his policies. Are Christians today called to this same ambivalence towards our politicians? Is our time wasted when time and energy is spent on power structures outside the Kingdom of God? Or, is political engagement with (to use a Biblical phrase) the principalities and the powers a natural aspect of life on this side of God’s coming Kingdom?
These final three chapters (and I’ve not said anything about Caiaphas or Josephus) are worth the price of admission. Peterson is masterful at raising timely and important questions from the Biblical narrative while simultaneously giving the reader a deep well from which to begin drawing answers.