I wanted to start something today that I hope will become a regular activity on my blog. It involves giving book reviews of books that I have recently read. I don’t suppose people will be heading to my blog on a very regular basis to find out my thoughts on particular books. But for those who do visit The Prodigal Thought on a regular, semi-regular, or even infrequent basis, I hope you will find these reviews somewhat helpful, especially as you consider which books you want to read and which you think would be better left alone.
The first book I wanted to consider is one written by Eugene Peterson. Most know that Peterson is the one who crafted The Message version of the Scriptures, a very modern day paraphrase of the Bible. Many have had their thoughts about the project – some positive and some negative – but, while I don’t think Peterson words everything exactly the way I would have chosen to, I do believe it is a refreshing devotional tool for God’s people.
Anyways, moving on to the book review…
I did want to give some thoughts on Peterson’s book, Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places, as it also holds the subtitle, a conversation in spiritual theology.
Eugene Peterson is professor emeritus of spiritual theology at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, after retiring in 2006. To those who have read him, he is known as one with a gentle and pastoral heart, brimming with wisdom from a full life of shepherding God’s people and teaching spiritual theology. He would be one that fits the description of Proverbs 16:31 and 20:29 very well:
Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life. (16:31)
The glory of young men is their strength,
but the splendor of old men is their gray hair. (20:29)
After reading Peterson, I can’t imagine one walking away angry, disturbed or disgusted (at least I think we can testify to this when reading The Message, even though we might not have read anything else by him). He truly is a man full grace and tenderness, and this shines through in the way he shares his thoughts in his words, quite like a Brennan Manning. No one would ever accuse Peterson of going ‘over the top’, for he brings a healthy balance to all he writes. This is the fruit of a wise and pastorally gifted man.
Peterson definitely stays true to who he is in Christ in his work, Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places. In the 300+ pages (maybe a little too much for those of us in the modern era), his thesis is to look at how Christ is displayed in three main areas of life – creation, history and community. And keeping in line with both the subtitle of the book, a conversation in spiritual theology, and who he is as a person, Peterson shares his thoughts in a very relaxed format.
Considering his three-pointed thesis, I agree with Peterson’s thoughts that Christ is displayed in creation, history and community. This is a very holistic approach to our spirituality as Christians. And, as Peterson would agree, we cannot disconnect these three from one another, for they interconnect and weave together to make a beautiful tapestry of how Christ is displayed in the world.
It’s not to negate the the special emphasis we would place on how God reveals His goodness and grace in the Scriptures, or even the sacraments of water baptism and communion. Peterson quotes much of Scripture and also gives time to discussing the sacraments. But Peterson’s desire is to give a wider, all-encompassing approach to the revelation of God in Christ through creation, history and community. And the title itself, Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places, helps to capture this more holistic approach to our spirituality as well. He’s not endorsing pantheism, that is God literally being in everything. But it is Biblical Christianity to recognise that Christ is to be glimpsed at in everything, everywhere.
I wanted to quote one paragraph that I especially liked in the section on Christ being displayed in community:
‘Men and women are not admitted to the community by presenting credentials of love skills, nor do we maintain our place in the community by passing periodic peer reviews on love. We are here to be formed over our lifetimes into a community of the beloved, God’s beloved who are being formed into a people who love God and one another in the way and on the terms in which God loves us. It’s slow work. We are slow learners. And though God is unendingly patient with us, we are not very patient with one another. Outsiders, observing our embarrassingly slow and erratic progress in love, wonder why we bother. Well, we bother because God is love: he created us in love; he saves us in an act of love; he commanded us to love one another. Love is the ocean in which we swim. So what if many of us can only wade in the shallows, and others of us can barely dog paddle for short distances? We are learning and we see the possibility of one day taking long, relaxed, easy strokes into the deep.’ (p312)
It’s beautiful isn’t it?
This was a book I kept on my bed side table for a few months, slowly plodding through it 5 or 10 pages at a time. And I think that was the proper thing for me to do as I looked to soak up all the grace and wisdom Peterson had to share in this work. It would not have been worth it, at least for me, to take big 40-50 page chunks out of it at a time. The invitation to regularly reflect on his words would not have been there if I would have rushed through the book.
So, on a scale of 1 to 10, what would I give it? I’d give it an 7.5.
Would I recommend that you read it? To this, I would say it depends. If you are a deep and heavy theological thinker, then you might not like the book. But if you are into discipleship, into mentoring people and helping them grasp the bigger picture, and in a simple yet refreshing way, then I would recommend it. And, to be honest, even if you are a heavy theological thinker, I might recommend picking up the book if you are looking for something that could be like a cold and refreshing cup of water on a hot summer’s day. Sometimes we can get so caught up in theological treatises, filling (or puffing up) our minds with [good] stuff, but never refreshing ourselves deep within the soul. If that is where you are, though trying to maintain your heavy systematics, then I would recommend the book.