My Reading Universe, Pt. 1: Eugene Peterson

The other night at church, someone asked, “Hey Eric, what are you reading?” This is always a very complicated question for me to answer, because I’m using churning through 6 or 7 books at a time, but I thought I’d take a few minutes here and outline the major “pillars” of my reading universe. These are the people that simultaneously, form, shake, and enhance my ministry, my world view, and my creative spirit. There are numerous other authors, of course, but these are my “mainstays”.

So over the next few days/weeks, I’ll outline who these folks are — to me, at least — and why they matter. In short, they are:

  • Eugene Peterson
  • NT Wright
  • Brennan Manning
  • Flannery O’Connor
  • Cormac McCarthy

Let’s start with Eugene Peterson. He’s the guy who wrote The Message. When I began my vocational ministry “career” someone — quite randomly — threw his book called Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Ministry at me, and I through myself into the book with the enthusiasm of someone who’d thought they had the whole world figured out (I was soon to find otherwise). I suppose the next thing I read by him was his translation/paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, then after that I devoured 5 or 6 more of his, including Five Smooth Stones and Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places.

I’ll be honest: sometimes, I have no idea what Peterson is trying to say, and even when I do “get” him, the result can at times be a bit, “meh.” But what sings through, much of the time, is the voice of a poet and pastor, who at times just nails the balance of rigorous intellectual pursuit with the gentle voice of an artist-pastor. Peterson was the guy who showed me that you did not have to be a “Type A”, CEO-type in order to be a leader in the contemporary USAmerican church. He also reminds me that “pastoring” comes from a long tradition, with deep wells. We don’t need to “invent” discipleship for people. In so many ways, the same words and disciplines that worked for people in the 13th century still work today.

This Needs No Further Explanation

“The point about Jesus’ resurrection is not ‘He’s alive again, therefore there is a life after death,’… It’s not, ‘Jesus is alive again, therefore we’re all going to go to heaven,’ … The point about the resurrection is, ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead, therefore God’s new creation has begun, and therefore we have a job to do… We don’t need to worry (about our sin) any more… but you do need to work.” -NT Wright

Reflections on Catalyst 2009

I just got back from the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta; it was my first time attending the live event, though I’ve watched DVDs from the past 2 years. I thought I’d throw out a few reflections from the event.

  1. The Justification Wars Are Hot. Though speakers from different perspectives were there, any anticipated public denouncing or “zingers” didn’t occur. What didhappen, however were a few decidedly public shots into the debate on justification, most typically represented by NT Wright and John Piper. One speaker, in the middle of a talk about something else, decided to clarify the definition of the gospel as the appropriating of the righteousness of Jesus to cover our sins (this to many shouts of approval from the crowd). Note: curiously, this same speaker immediately used — as an example of this gospel — the story of Peter converting Cornelius in Acts 10:31-43 in which Peter never references the “atoning blood of Jesus”.

  2. Resurrection Isn’t So Hot. In all the talks, there was very little discussion of the mind-blowing event of resurrection. People are still more intrigued by Jesus’ death than they are the inauguration of the new age.
  3. Please Stop Shouting At Me. Nothing personal, but by the middle of the second day I really just wanted the music to be turned down, and wanted a speaker to whisper the love and beauty of God over me. We (those?) evangelicals really like it loud and pumping, both their music and their teaching. Curiously, never in two days did 12,000 leaders pray, read scripture, or recite a creed in one voice. We could hear each other sing, but I sat thinking how powerful it would be to recite the Lord’s Prayer, or the Nicene Creed, or a prayer of confession.

There were other, more personal revelations, but I think that from an observational standpoint, those were my takeaways.