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Spirituality and Eugene Peterson

13 Apr

The internet and the blogging phenomena has opened up new doors of communication for the church. Theological dialogues are no longer held in the hollowed halls of seminaries and Christian colleges and a thesis no longer needs to be nailed to a door to start a theological debate. For all the good blogging has done to promote ecumenical dialogue and Christian unity, it has equally opened the door for just about everyone to be attacked.

I have been reading Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book: a conversation in the art of spiritual reading and I am reminded how good of a writer Peterson is. I have also been surprised to see Peterson on some of the “Christian discernment” websites. I am not going to name the sites. Google Peterson’s name and you will find them. These so-called discernment websites are alarmed at what they see as the influence of the New Age Movement into the evangelical church. Their primary targets are the writers in the area of spiritual formation/spiritual disciplines. It seems that these guys are alarmed anytime any Christian talks about spirituality. It seems that any reference to meditation, contemplation or spirituality causes them to hit the “NEW AGE ALARM.”

The church has nothing to fear from a Christian emphasis on spirituality. The Christian faith is much more of a spirituality than a religion. Some studies have shown that 1 out of 5 Americans claim to be “spiritual, but not religious” (See Robert Fuller, Spiritual, but Not Religious, Oxford Press, 2001). The move towards spirituality in American cultural is a positive for the church, because we are proclaiming a God who is active and involved and who is inviting us to know him. Jesus said that this is eternal life that we might know God and Jesus Christ whom God has sent (John 17:3). The Greek word “know” is gignosko, which means knowledge by personal encounter. The Christian faith is a spirituality; it is a way of walking in the Holy Spirit.

Gordon Fee says that there is no biblical concept of spirituality, or anything spiritual, without referencing the Holy Spirit. According to Fee, the Holy Spirit is God’s “agent” upon the earth, teaching, convicting, leading, indwelling, filling, and empowering human hearts and wooing them into a love relationship with the triune God. Christian spirituality is nothing more than a picture of a life lived in the Holy Spirit, a life that those of us in the Pentecostal/charismatic tradition have been emphasizing for the last 100 years. The charismatic expression of the Christian faith is not extraordinary but normative. Christian spirituality is not for the few mystics in the church it is the normal expression of the Christian faith.

Christian spirituality also raises the value of the human soul. I love what Dallas Willard says about the spiritual discipline of silence. In a lecture on Spirituality and Leadership at Regent College, Willard said that the first thing you recognize when you practice silence and solitude is that “YOU HAVE A SOUL.” How true! Peterson says these about spirituality in Eat This Book:

“Spirituality means, among other things, taking ourselves seriously. It means going against the cultural stream in which we are incessantly trivialized to the menial status of producers, and performers, constantly depersonalized behind the labels of our degrees or our salaries. But there is far more to us than our usefulness and our reputation, where we’ve been and who we know; there is the unique, irreproducible, eternal, image-of-God me. A vigorous assertion of personal dignity is foundation to spirituality.”

Eugene Peterson
Eat this Book, Pg. 23

Preach it Eugene! Preach it! Too many times I have lived my life as a PRODUCER and a PERFORMER, living as if my value is wrapped up in what I can produce.

For futher reading on the subject of spirituality, check out Brian Zahnd’s comments on Christian mysticism.

Also read anything that Peterson writes. He is a great writer and a prophetic voice to those of us who serve as pastors.

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4 Comments

Posted by on April 13, 2007 in Theology

 

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4 responses to “Spirituality and Eugene Peterson

  1. OPM

    April 14, 2007 at 7:44 am

    Pastor Derek (which by the way is my youngest brother’s name),

    We have a few things in common. I actually stumbled onto your blogs in search of news of the Kansas City Chiefs. It turns out we both have some connection to Pastor Brian Zahnd and WOLC. I suspect you have some KC ties and are now living in the “Great South” as am I. We are both preachers — who blog.

    Well, I too recently read Peterson. (I did the unconventional thing and started with the first book of his theological conversation series, “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places”.) It really has opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities in spirituality that I never saw before (at least not with any depth — or better yet — not with what I have recently dubbed a “textured faith”.)

    I beleive there is a real call for “passionate depth” out there. I have had many friends, who of late, have had to look for new churches due to circumstances outside their control. The overwhelming cry has been, “I go to the Charismatic/Pentecostals and I get fluff. I go to the churches that do not believe in the ‘operative gifts’ and I get the Word, but no zeal.”

    Many of our churches have gone to the extreme to reach the unchurched — so much so, that they are in fact reaching no one — b/c they do not preach the gospel at all.

    Having said this — I beleive Peterson brings a balance to the situation — all the way around. I don’t always agree with all of his doctrine — but his heart — its his heart I like!

    God bless — keep blogging!

    Pastor Shane

     
  2. derek vreeland

    April 16, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    Shane,

    I also read Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. It was a good read. I think Peterson is a great writer–it terms of his mastery of the English language. Beyond that, he is a great leader of pastors. He really feeds my soul. I think that those of us in the Pentecostal/charismatic movement can grow a lot from reading Peterson. I think you are right when you said that a lot of people say P/C churches are full of fluff. I have said that I want to the “Spirit-filled,” but I don’t want to be weird! Really, I just don’t want to be shallow. Richard Foster has said that superficiality is the curse of our age…unfortuately it is the curse of most P/C churches.

    I am from St. Joe originally. I spent three years in BZ’s church. He is one of the pastors that I look to as a mentor. He has shaped my ministry more than anybody else. And yes, I have been in God’s country (the South) four about eight years.

    I was talking with a friend of mine who lives in Gallitan. He is looking for a church and was invited to your church. Small world huh? His name is Jeremy and his is a DJ at the Fish in Nashville. I told him to tell you that he knows me, if he has a chance to say hello to you.

    I am also a die-hard Chiefs fan. I have converted some of these college football fans in my church. There is a growing number of Chiefs fans down here.

    Derek

     
  3. derek vreeland

    April 16, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    Shane,

    I also read Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. It was a good read. I think Peterson is a great writer–it terms of his mastery of the English language. Beyond that, he is a great leader of pastors. He really feeds my soul. I think that those of us in the Pentecostal/charismatic movement can grow a lot from reading Peterson. I think you are right when you said that a lot of people say P/C churches are full of fluff. I have said that I want to the “Spirit-filled,” but I don’t want to be weird! Really, I just don’t want to be shallow. Richard Foster has said that superficiality is the curse of our age…unfortuately it is the curse of most P/C churches.

    I am from St. Joe originally. I spent three years in BZ’s church. He is one of the pastors that I look to as a mentor. He has shaped my ministry more than anybody else. And yes, I have been in God’s country (the South) four about eight years.

    I was talking with a friend of mine who lives in Gallitan. He is looking for a church and was invited to your church. Small world huh? His name is Jeremy and his is a DJ at the Fish in Nashville. I told him to tell you that he knows me, if he has a chance to say hello to you.

    I am also a die-hard Chiefs fan. I have converted some of these college football fans in my church. There is a growing number of Chiefs fans down here.

    Derek

     
  4. A Free Spirit

    October 30, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    I suspect that the spirituality/religion distinction has been overdrawn, particularly in the modern context where the two blur. I have just posted on it. In case you are interested, here is the link. http://deligentia.wordpress.com/2009/10/30/spirituality-and-religion-a-false-dichotomy/

     

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