Sometimes when I begin a new book, I am gripped from page one and tear through the book rather quickly. Other books are slower to grab me, it takes a few chapters, but eventually I get sucked in. Then there are Eugene Peterson books. Eugene Peterson is best known for his translation of the Bible, The Message. He is a retired pastor and author of many books. I really enjoy reading Eugene Peterson’s books, but for some reason I’ll read a chapter one day and not come back to the book for days after that. It is not that I don’t like the books. Far from it. Perhaps it is simply that a Peterson book is not the sort you “tear through”.
Years ago in seminary we read Peterson’s book on the last book of the Bible, Revelation, Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of St. John and the Praying Imagination. I also read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Both were phenomenal books that I still return to if studying Revelation or the Psalms.
Then in 2005 (I think) I picked up Peterson’s new book, the first book in a series on Spiritual Theology, titled Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. The book moved from creation to history to community. The next year I read the next book in the series upon its release, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. In it I recall learning about reading slowly (which I was learning about anyway as I read Peterson) and lectio divina.
Then came The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way. Peterson did a lot in this book to contrast Jesus to other ways available in the first century,such as the ways of Herod, Josephus, Caiaphas and the zealots. Next came Tell it Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers. The title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem and, if I recall correctly (and after a brief glance at my goodreads review), how true spiritual conversations happen in the everyday and mundane of life.
Just last week I finished the final book in the series, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing up in Christ. In this one, Peterson takes us on a tour of the book of Ephesians, introducing us to the church in Ephesus. The church community is at the center of this book, it is not too much to say that the way we grow up in Christ is to join others in community who are also moving towards that goal.
I highly recommend any of these books (and you can read any of them alone, the “series” is not one where each previous is a necessary read). Peterson was a pastor and writes like one, any of these books could be a beneficial read for any Christian. They are a bit more demanding then much of the fluff that litters the shelves of Christian bookstores. That said, Peterson is no hip megachurch pastor with a book deal writing easy-to-swallow best-sellers. His books come out of a lifetime of ministry, a lifetime of engaging with real people in the real challenges of life. Plus, he is just a fantastic writer. I think I read Peterson slowly because the writing is so good. You can scarf down a burger and fries at McDonalds to briefly appease your appetite; reading Peterson is like enjoying a bountiful, five course steak dinner.