The language we are really fluent in, the language we are most used to, deals with impersonal data and functionalized roles. The practice of prayer, if it is going to amount to anything more than wish lists and complaints, requires a recovery of personal, relational, revelational language in both our listening and our speaking.
-Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection (2010).
4 thoughts on ““…a recovery of personal, relational, revelational language…””
I’m curious what Peterson thinks that language should sound like, and where exactly it might be absent in the church save for mainline denominations. I’m reading this interesting new book on the evangelical relationship with God, and the author points out how a certain way of speaking about God in personal, experiential terms is already pervasive in modern evangelicalism — largely owing to the neo-pentecostal theology of the Jesus People movement that shaped now mainstream evangelical bodies such as Calvary Chapel and Vineyard. She argues that these “new paradigm” Christians, who confidently speak of God as they would another human being, use this language as an identity marker — which could mean that it perhaps isn’t as marginal as Peterson suggests? Or maybe he’s just thinking of his own PCUSA context.
Peterson doesn’t get real specific about what this language sounds like. I’m sure his own church context affects how he thinks about this but I wonder if his critique would still hold within the world this author references. That is, Peterson doesn’t seem interested in either the buddy-buddy personal Jesus or the therapeutic God who makes our lives better. This is the sort of “personal” language I associate with much of Evangelcalism while Peterson leans into the Incarnation and the Trinity as the corrective to language that mostly seeks to accomplish something or get something from the other.
BTW, I think I know the book you’re referencing. Looks very intriguing. Would you recommend it?
Gotcha. I usually resonate with much of Peterson writes, and I thought it was a curious quote. Which reminds me that I need to read that book sometime — it’s on my list.
I definitely think “When God Talks Back” is one of the more important books on evangelicalism that has been published in the last few years. The author is a psychological anthropologist, and it’s fascinating to hear an outsider’s take on spiritual practices and language that so many evangelicals assume to be normative, such as learning to hear God’s voice and speaking to God as you would an invisible best friend. I think she’s very nuanced and sympathetic in her treatment of the churches she studied (one of which I’m pretty sure is Hyde Park Vineyard), but some people have taken offense at her comparisons of evangelicals to children. Would love to hear what you think of it.