Ode to Eugene

Eugene Peterson is a prolific writer and well known for his translation The Message. Currently, he is Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College. Not only has Peterson taught in the classroom, he was the founding pastor of Christ our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland. The Message is his most popular work, which received criticism from many. One critic claimed that Peterson only wanted to make more money on his commentary that he calls a translation. Essentially, since Peterson could not make revenue on publishing a commentary he “pimped the scripture (J.R. Miller).”

Sadly, I shared these criticisms ignorantly and through popular opinion. However, my opinions of Peterson have matured due to more recent reading of other publications, such as Eat this Book, The Jesus Way, and Practice Resurrection. In Eat This Book, I am encouraged and challenged by his approach to scripture and its meaning. Peters says that in order to read the Scriptures “adequately and accurately, it is necessary at the same time to live them” (xii). I am also challenged to not see scripture reading as simply a cognitive exercise, as if learning more about the bible creates greater spirituality (although it does enrich ones faith). Scripture must be eaten and metabolized into good works. Peterson says, “Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son (18).” This line is worth the price of the book. I would make this into a poster and place on the walls of my office, if I had one, as encouragement for the extension of scripture beyond my cognitive knowledge.

Another aspect that Peterson draws out in Eat This Book is ones motivation behind the individual. Reading scripture should be motivated by wanting to do good works in the world for the kingdom. However, the motivations that we (and I) wrestle with are when we read the scripture because we need something, want something, and want to feel something. These are selfish needs that Peterson titles a new Holy Trinity. Perhaps when I read the scriptures, I should not be focused on my needs and rights, my wants or my feelings, because God supplies my identity through the text. These feelings, wants, and needs have saturated the world and the world pours over into our Christian world, including mine.

Finally, I appreciated Peterson’s apology for the Message translation. In reading Petersons own thoughts about the Message; It helped me to clarify issues. First, my false conception of Peterson was that he did not know Greek and Hebrew and thus I did not expect accurate translation. Of course, Peterson is a well equipped translator who knowing the languages took 10 years in translating the Message. Secondly, he reminded what translation is all about. Translation of the bible exists so that the words and message of God’s revelation may be understood in a specific language for a specific people. I feel that Peterson has alleviated my conscience from the misunderstandings translation meaning. I am extremely humbled and appreciative of the work that Peterson has done and what it means in my studying of the scriptures and my participation in the Kingdom of God.

*I will be adding to this blog upon completion of other works by Peterson.

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From Potter to Gaga: Responding to Culture

Culture is unavoidable and experienced by every person. Before divining into the waters that be culture, let’s give due time to what it is. Culture has been defined by Dr. Young (President of Denver Theological Seminary) as, “the organized and integrated expression through a set of agreed upon symbols for a group of people’s perceived common good.”[1]  Another says, “more or less integrated systems of beliefs, feelings, and values, and there associated symbols, patterns of behavior, and products shared by a group of people.”[2] From these definitions, we can begin to grasp a few key attributes of culture. We see that culture encompasses agreement of actions and structures within a community. There is shared values and actions demonstrated in participation and not individualism.

For years, Christians have had mixed opinions about culture, particularly for conservative evangelicalism in the United States. Conservatives have typically viewed culture as evil or something to avoid or misinterpreted a culture, leaving the gospel minimally effective. Whether it has been boycotting a popular children’s movie producing studio or standing in a picket line of a concert of a most hated music performer, there is a fear of the culture they live in. Why the avoidance? Perhaps Christians run from culture because of the possible negative influence. However one feels about culture, we must realize that this avoidance of culture has unnecessarily slowed missionary efforts. The culture avoider must reinterpretation culture and its meaning within Christianity in order to bolster their own missional efforts. We can no longer depend on individuals to walk through the church doors when they are ready.

What should the conservative evangelicalism response be toward culture? It is too embrace culture as there mission field and expressed images of God. Dr. Kreider (Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary) has noted that, “The fingerprint of God is seen in culture.” Since we all have been created in the image of God, his thumb print is all over. Culture should not be feared, but interacted with and accepted with Christ like attitude. Although culture avoiders fear culture, it is a necessary avenue by which the gospel must travel. Again, Dr. Young summarizes well, “We understood the gospel in a cultural setting, and every generation also will understand the gospel in a cultural setting.”[3]

Appropriate responses toward culture:

  1. Response of Servanthood and Love: Philippians 2:4-8 “Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.  You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross! (NET)” It is no mystery that Christ was sent as a servant to those who did not deserve to be served. Christians are called to serve people founded in culture different from their own. Christians are also called to love their neighbor. Shunning or avoiding a culture is simply unbiblical, for Jesus was continually intercepting his culture. How can we reach out to those who we know nothing about? How can you reach out to that person sitting in the chair at Starbucks, serve the person in another cubical, or help a neighbor you have never met?
  2. Communicating the Gospel: Christians have to know the culture where they live in order to communicate the gospel. The majority of the bible is narrative, which were associated with cultural customs. Contemporary culture has different customs, which need the same truth from the stories of the gospel. Knowing the culture gives Christians the opportunity to connect with unbelievers in friendship, which allows for trust. The gospel message is much more palatable with trust. What cultural popularity can you acquaint yourself with in order to connect with others?
  3. Allow for cultural secondaries: It is troubling when missionaries, in a culture foreign to their own, forfeit the Gospel in keeping with secondary Christian practices. Economic and social structures, pointing toward the common good, contradict a Christian’s firmly held conviction from scripture i.e. drinking, dancing, or music with drums. When planting a church or doing ministry in another culture, one must be aware not to make social qualifications for being a Christian. Social and economic structures may be so strong as to dwarf the new church, giving Christianity a weak voice in the community. Likewise, Christians must allow for the transforming power of the Word of God in a believers life. Giving suggestions to new believers and guiding their spiritual growth is excellent. Christians must allow for the Word of God to be interpreted and understood in other cultures.

[1] Mark Young, “Models of Culture: Video 1,” in Unit 12: Video 1 (2007).

[2] Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement : A Reader, 3d ed. (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1999).

[3] Young, “Models of Culture: Video 1.”

Your Life in Rhythm

Your Life in Rhythm: Less Stress, More Peace, Less Frustration, More Fulfillment, Less Discouragement, More Hope. By Bruce Miller. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009. xi + 260 pp. $12.99.

People from all social backgrounds, religious perspectives, and economic situations struggle to achieve the goal of a balanced life. Bruce Miller, a pastor in McKinney, Texas, believes that the attempt to live a balanced life is the problem. Miller proposes that if someone wants live with less stress, frustration, and discouragement, adopting rhythmic living is a better solution. Living in rhythm as opposed to balance provides more peace, fulfillment, and hope.

Miller’s work proceeds through three movements: overview of rhythm living, kairos strategy, and chronos strategy. The author openly and honestly writes about his frustration in trying to live a balanced life and his own discovery of the rhythmic living approach. In his overview, Miller’s argument is intuitively sensible (exampled by sports seasons, celebration, grief, life’s seasons, and business cycles), and is practical and realistic because it is based on the notion that one’s environment, the world, and even the universe move in rhythm. Miller identifies two ways of living in rhythm, which gives the structure to the rest of the book: kairos and chronos. Kairos is characterized by seasons and chronos by cycles. He explains the difference between the two in a variety of ways. For example, “Chronos cycles describe the temporal context of our environment on planet Earth, whereas kairos seasons describe patterns in the flow of our human lives” (p. 39).

In part 2 Miller begins a more detailed discussion of rhythmic living by identifying expressions of kairos time as personal seasons and life stages (p. 46). Personal seasons are characterized by grief, recovery, crisis, harvest, celebration, business, beginnings, and endings. To begin living rhythmically with a kairos strategy is to identify and study personal seasons of life, such as school age, teen years, adulthood, and empty-nester years. Miller explains, “Identify your current life stage so you can apply rhythm strategies to your present life, and then identify the next stage you will likely enter” (p. 63). The author formulates three strategies in making the most of kairos: releasing expectations, seizing opportunities, and anticipating what’s next. In releasing expectations, Miller bravely deals with difficult areas of life, such as a miscarriage, divorce, and cancer, and readers will appreciate his openness in sharing stories about his own family. The author’s second strategy is to seize opportunities by not overextending yourself, which helps to keep one from burnout. In this section Miller demonstrates the rhythm of stages of life, from one’s own childhood through raising of children through the hope of seeing grandchildren pass through the same cycles. Third, the author wants his readers to anticipate their next life stage. Miller writes, “When you anticipate what’s coming ahead, that expectation fuels the hope that gives you a better life.” (107) His arguments are clear and well defended with biblical support.

The third section of Miller’s work maintains that “Chronos rhythms are measured times, which happen in predictable patterns.” (122) The author’s foundational theme is based on the patterns seen in the cosmos, such as the earth’s annual orbit of 365 days and the 24 hours of the earth’s rotation. These provide evidence from creation that rhythmic living is preferred over balanced living. Miller believes that one’s life should follow these patterns seen in creation. Particularly intriguing is his section on “Chronobiology,” the study of “life’s structure in time” (p. 128).

Miller encourages his readers to live in chronos rhythm by pacing themselves in life, building rituals, and oscillating between work and rest. Pacing oneself is ever important in the frantic pace of American life. Miller describes a common hectic busyness in family lives and provides practical and simple ways to establish new patterns that are less stressful. A second recommendation in chronos rhythm is to build rituals, which are important because they help build the community and family stability. The author shows that personal and family lives will be greatly enhanced through participation in long-term ritual patterns, such as birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. The third aspect of developing chromos-rhythum living is to oscillate between work and family. Oscillation is encouraged when one realizes that “Life is not a marathon but a series of sprints and rests” (p. 173). At first glance this seems like balanced living, but instead Miller encourages his audience to find times to work with intensity and to counter that with times of rest, like a power nap or a summer vacation.

In this book Miller proposes that by living a life of rhythm as opposed to seeking to “balance” ones’ life will be less stressful and frustrated and filled with more peace and fulfillment. Miller includes a number of real-life examples of living rhythmically, many from his own experiences. He also includes various charts, worksheets, and life exercises so that the reader can apply the books message. Your life in Rhythm makes a compelling case for living in rhythm and is recommended for anyone who recognizes the need to simplify and decrease the hectic pace of life.

Kevin Ewton with Glenn R. Kreider

Published in Bibliotheca Sarca, Ed. Roy Zuck, Vol. 168 Number 670, April-June 2011.