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.

on the night stand

Do you ever have to stop and count how many books you’re reading at any one time?  I’m not sure how it works, but sometimes I’m happily reading through just one book and other times I can barely keep track.

Currently I’m finishing up the last section of The Jesus Way (as reflected on here and here).  Zondervan was kind enough to send an early copy of Scott McKnight’s latest, The Blue Parakeet.  I’d like to finish that and post a review or two by the end of this month.  This week my copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle arrived at our public library branch.  I probably should have waited to start this, but the fascinating interview on NPR proved too much to resist.  This may end up being one of my favorite’s of 2008.

Last week Cathy lent me her copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Leadership Journal sent me Coffeehouse Theology to review.

That’s a lot of books.  Too many books?  I suppose that depends on whether you ask my wife or me.

I probably shouldn’t ask, but what has been your favorite book of 2008?

the jesus way (2)

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.

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?

thinking about fear

Some friends at Leadership Journal were kind enough to ask me to write a monthly post for their blog, Out of Ur.  This month’s post, Urban Exile: Following Jesus in the Face of Fear, went up today.  It begins like this:

Pulling up to a busy intersection recently, my wife and I were startled to see a car with its rear windshield shattered. Out of the damaged car leaped a man with a baseball bat, yelling and chasing the two apparent perpetrators. As we slowly drove by, my wife reaching for her phone to call the police, we saw into the back seat where a young girl sat trying to make sense of the chaos that had erupted around her. Arriving at our apartment three blocks away I became aware of an emotion I hadn’t felt in a long time: fear.

In the next few days I hope to post some thoughts on the first third of Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way, tell you about our experience visiting a farm this weekend that exists to do some pretty interesting social services, and ask some questions about how Christians are responding to the Sarah Palin nominiation.

As always, thanks for reading.