the jesus way (3)

You may wish to read part one and part two of this review.

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.

the jesus way (1)

Won and I met for burritos last week as we talked through the first four chapters of Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way.  Those of you who have read Peterson know that it’s a good idea to read him slowly.  Slowly because he wades into some deep waters.

In The Jesus Way Peterson sets out to differentiate the American Way with the Jesus Way.  He doesn’t spend much time describing the values of our American culture; sentences like, “A consumer church is an antichrist church,” are not the norm.  Rather, through the lives of biblical figures he shows what life lived on the Jesus way looks like.

The first four chapters look at the examples of Jesus, Abraham, Moses and David.  Reading Peterson’s observations of these well-known people, it becomes clear that the way of Jesus will not be found in a list of correct doctrines.  About Jesus he writes,

There are- and their absence is conspicuous- no summaries of his attributes, no test results of his intelligence or aptitudes, no lists of his accomplishments.  Every detail is embedded in his metaphor-studded story. We are intended to enter by imagination and faith and prayer into the story, this narrative, and get a feel for what is involved, the relationships that make up the web of this way.

In the lives of Abraham, Moses and David we see how these men pursued God in haphazard but generally authentic ways.  One example: Moses, according to Peterson, demonstrates the importance of God-formed language.  A “healthy community” depends on a “healthy language”.

A reoccurring idea in The Jesus Way thus far is the importance of the community of God to be distinct.  Distinct in the stories we tell, our robust imagination, the language we use to describe the world, etc.  This of course raises a question: In your experience, are the people of God a unique community formed by our pursuit of Jesus?  Or, does our life together more closely resemble our surrounding culture?

the jesus way

This week I begin reading The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson. My friend Won is also reading the book and we’ll meet a few time to talk about it. You may know of Peterson from his earthy translation of the Bible, The Message. The Jesus Way is the third book in his 5-part spiritual theology set. The first two books, Christ Plays in 10,000 Places and Eat This Book, were excellent and beautifully written.

I had this random thought that perhaps some Signs of Life readers would be interested in reading this book along with Won and me. If so, leave a comment and I’ll let you know our very rough reading schedule. I think we’ll try to finish the 271 pages in 6 weeks or so. I’ll be posting some thoughts about the book as we go and would welcome comments from anyone who wants to read along. Also, it’s not necessary to have read the first two books in this series.

A blurb from Eerdmans to whet your appetite,

Arguing that the way Jesus leads and the way we follow are symbiotic, Peterson begins with a study of how the ways of those who came before Christ — Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah of Jerusalem, and Isaiah of the Exile — revealed and prepared the way of the Lord that became complete in Jesus. He then challenges the ways of the contemporary American church, showing in stark relief how what we have chosen to focus on — consumerism, celebrity, charisma, and so forth — obliterates what is unique in the Jesus way.