Eugene Peterson has written another very good book --- about the fundamentals of Christian maturity. He hangs what he calls his “conversation” on the framework of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, about five pages of biblical text. (Did he consider including the epistle in an appendix?) Though I haven’t read commentaries on Ephesians (and don’t claim to know how other authors have parsed the text), Peterson’s presentation feels insightful in its pastoral encouragements and textual analysis. He gives the meaning of Greek words, counts the number of times they are used in the text, gives background into the gentile milieu of the original readership…but don’t think this is scholarship for the sake of scholarship. His apt anecdotes and literary allusions bring the material to life in the here and now.
Peterson makes it clear that Ephesians, as well as the work of God in the life of individuals and the church, starts with the peace, grace and call of God. Hear it: God is working. God is at work. His early chapters, on “the blessing of God” and “the creation of the church,” are worth the price of the book. Peterson draws out the meaning of prayer and the importance of the communal (as opposed to the virtual) church --- lifelines for spiritual growth. “Prayer is the cradle language of the church,” he writes. And, “While prayer is always personal, it is never individual. At prayer we are part of a great congregation whether we see them or not.” And, “Ephesians, more than any other text in Scripture, pairs Christ and church.”
In Peterson’s prose, I see reasons why attending church has become increasingly important to me. “Church at its simplest and most obvious is a protected place, an available time for God to have conversation with us and for us to have conversation with God in company with God’s people.”
The second half of Ephesians and the last part of PRACTICE RESURRECTION turn to how a Christian lives out his or her faith. In Ephesians 4, Paul pivots on a significant “therefore”: “I therefore…beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” As Peterson explains, “When God’s calling and our walking fit [each other], we are growing up in Christ.
“God calls; we walk.”
Peterson’s last section, “The Church at Work,” features a chapter on the Holy Spirit; on worship and love; on the household and workplace; on the armor that is ours to use against unseen spiritual deceits. Peterson excels because he is a good writer; he also is pastoral even as he is prophetic and professorial.
PRACTICE RESURRECTION, the last in a series of five similarly packaged theological “conversations,” requires some chewing. I suggest you read it along with the full text of Ephesians, possibly in several translations. You just might experience a spiritual growth-spurt, drawing you closer to what Paul calls the “stature of Christ.”
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on January 22, 2010