I don’t remember how I found the works of Eugene Peterson, but I’m glad I did. Peterson joined Tozer, Bonhoeffer, and Buechner in what I would call the first reading trajectory that took me beyond what was popular at the area Family Christian story. I remember two of his books in particular: The Contemplative Pastor and Subversive Spirituality. It was Peterson who introduced me to the idea of “spiritual direction,” something I still consider vital (and too infrequent) today. His ideas of “subversiveness” and the “apocalyptic” really helped open my eyes to an itch I was feeling about church work that was good to have scratched.
I also found great comfort and challenge in his first set of pastoral books: Working the Angles, Five Smooth Stones, and Under the Unpredictable Plant. His approach to Scripture was creative but healthy, his view of the pastoral role something that was serious and appealing in a way that I didn’t often get in my various experiences in Christian institutions. His second set of pastoral books, which started with Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places and crescendoed for me in Eat This Book challenged me to think more deeply and more broadly about the interaction between Scripture, Spirit, and believer. Eat This Book gave me a real appreciation for The Message, even though I had long sense moved on from it as a regular read.
And while I’ve read most of his other works (with a few exceptions, but at least that leaves me something more to read as time goes on), there are three that have really stuck with me in some way or another. First, Take and Read really opened up a broader world of Christian thinking for me. It read kind of like a “Who’s Who in the Christian Theological Universe” for me when I was younger. It took something potentially impersonal and utterly dense and humanized it in a way that appealed to heart and mind. Second, his commentary on the book of Revelation was a wonderful attempt at seeing how John’s great vision summed up all of the biblical story. I look forward to revisiting Reversed Thunder often. But it’s Peterson’s commentary on 1st and 2nd Samuel for the Westminster Bible Companion that I think I might appreciate the most. It’s somewhat uncharacteristic of his overall body of work, I think. More scholarly while still not approaching unapproachability. At least twice now he has helped guide me through the messy life of David. If every I teach a class on the poet-king’s life, Peterson’s guide will definitely be included.
I was sad to hear of Peterson’s move to hospice care last week. While I knew he was feeling the effects of old age, I had not realized that things were that far along. I found out about his death through Instagram, from one of the artists I follow who had greatly impacted by Peterson’s work. I’m thankful that I have books like The Pastor and Tell It Slant to revisit, just like I’m glad I have books like As Kingfishers Catch Fire to carry with me as I travel farther down life’s road.
Truly: I don’t remember how I found the works of Eugene Peterson, but I’m glad I did.