Especially in his senior years, Eugene H. Peterson has become a prophetic voice, gently but firmly challenging the American church to be concerned with the way it declares and lives out the Gospel. The title of the book refers to Jesus's statement recorded in John 14:6: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." Jumping off from that point, Peterson quickly delves into a discussion of ends and means. "We cannot skip the way of Jesus in our hurry to get to the truth of Jesus." Put another way: "Only when the Jesus way is organically joined with the Jesus truth do we get the Jesus life." Or: "The popularized acronym WWJD ('What would Jesus do?') is not quite accurate. The question must be 'How does Jesus do it?'"
After an initial chapter about Jesus Himself, which includes Peterson's interpretation of the meaning of Jesus's three wilderness temptations, Peterson presents six chapters based on Old Testament characters who illuminate Jesus's message and meaning for us. (1) Abraham --- a way of faith and sacrifice. (2) Moses --- "the way of language," as receiver of the Torah, in some ways analogous to the Gospels. (3) David, whose "way of imperfection," including prayers that express his need and repentance and gratitude, "provide us with an imagination that is capable of understanding the operations of God to do His perfect work in us." (4) Elijah, who lived on the margins of society: "The essence of the Elijah way is that it counters the…culture's way." (5) Isaiah of Jerusalem, who proclaimed and lived in the reality of the holiness of God. (6) Isaiah of the Exile, who preached "images of the living God of salvation" that were rooted "in a solid sense of creation and history." Here Peterson returns to a discussion of the means of our salvation: the suffering servant.
A much shorter Part 2 looks at three contemporaries of Jesus who show us what the "Jesus Way" is not. (1) King Herod, who plays a role in the Nativity story. (2) Caiaphas, the High Priest. (3) Josephus, a prominent Jew who colluded with Rome against his people. This section includes history lessons, such as background on the Maccabees, Zealots and Essenes.
Though this book stands on its own, it is the third in a series of five billed as "conversations in spiritual theology" (CHRIST PLAYS IN TEN THOUSAND PLACES and EAT THIS BOOK are the previous installments). THE JESUS WAY is not light inspirational reading; yet on nearly every page you'll find a memorable or pithy line that grabs your attention and draws you along, anticipating the next thoughtful insight into what it means to live as a Christian. There's a pastoral engagement in Peterson's writing, including well-placed personal anecdotes (even one about Winnie the Pooh) that transforms these books from academic theology or biblical exposition to spiritual nourishment. Toward the end of the book there's a revealing comment in this regard: "We can only pray our lives into the way of following Jesus…. The way we follow must be internalized and embodied."
For further help in digesting Peterson's spiritual theology, a study guide will be available June 15th from the publisher.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on March 15, 2007