December 16, 2017

Eugene Peterson: An Invitation to the Story

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As an aid to understanding the Scriptures, which he translated into the language of the German people, Martin Luther thought it important to provide prefaces to the various books in the Bible. You may recall that it was during the reading of one of these prefaces, years later, that John Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” as he experienced the assurance of his salvation.

Today, of course, we have a plethora of study Bibles, most of which provide similar prefaces. But I would like to recommend a little book to you today that (if you can still find it), will encourage you in your study of Scripture. If I were a pastor, this book would be part of any catechetical instruction or disciple-making curriculum. It was written by Eugene Peterson, who translated The Message version, and it consists of introductions to the major parts of the Bible and each individual book. It’s called, The Invitation: A Simple Guide to the Bible. This brief resource will provide many occasions for your heart to be “strangely warmed.”

Peterson, of course, is one of our mentors here at Internet Monk, primarily for his works on being a pastor. But we have also recommended his books on theology and biblical studies. He brings a scholar’s depth and a pastor’s wisdom and love to this small introduction.

To give you a sense of the insights he contributes that help us wrap our minds around the big story of Scripture and the simple, yet profound way he communicates, I will share a portion (edited for length) from his introduction to “The Books of Moses: Stories and Signposts.”

. . . The Books of Moses are made up mostly of stories and signposts. The stories show us God working with and speaking to men and women in a rich variety of circumstances. God is presented to us not in ideas and arguments but in events and actions that involve each of us personally. The signposts provide immediate and practical directions to guide us into the behavior that is appropriate to our humanity and honoring to God.

The simplicity of the storytelling and signposting in these books makes what is written as accessible to children as to adults. But the simplicity (as in so many simple things) is also profound, inviting us into a lifetime of growing participation in God’s saving ways with us.

An image of human growth suggests a reason for the powerful pull of these stories and signposts on so many millions of men, women, and children to live as God’s people. The sketch shows the five books as five stages of growth in which God creates first a cosmos and then a people for his glory.

Genesis is Conception. After establishing the basic elements by which God will do his work of creation and salvation and judgment in the midst of human sin and rebellion (chapters 1-11), God conceives a People to whom he will reveal himself as a God of salvation and through them, over time, to everyone on earth. . . .

[Peterson then describes the period of the patriarchs as the time of gestation. Much is unclear, but one thing is certain: there is life.]

Exodus is Birth and Infancy. The gestation of the people of God lasts a long time, but finally the birth pangs start. Egyptian slavery gives the first intimations of the contractions to come. When Moses arrives on the scene to preside over the birth itself, ten fierce plagues on Egypt accompany the contractions that bring the travail to completion: at the Red Sea the waters break, the People of God tumble out of the womb onto dry ground, and their life as a free People of God begins. Moses leads them crawling and toddling to Sinai. . . .

Leviticus is Schooling. As infancy develops into childhood, formal schooling takes place. There’s a lot to know; they need some structure and arrangement to keep things straight: reading, writing, arithmetic. But for the People of God the basic curriculum has to do with God and their relationship with God. Leviticus is the McGuffey’s Reader of the People of God. . . .

Numbers is Adolescence. The years of adolescence are critical to understanding who we are. We are advanced enough physically to be able, for the most part, to take care of ourselves. We are developed enough mentally, with some obvious limitations, to think for ourselves. We discover that we are not simply extensions of our parents; and we are not just mirror images of our culture. But who are we? Especially, who are we as a People of God? The People of God in Numbers are new at these emerging independent operations of behaving and thinking and so inevitably make a lot of mistakes. Rebellion is one of the more conspicuous mistakes. . . .

Deuteronomy is Adulthood. The mature life is a complex operation. Growing up is a long process. And growing up in God takes the longest time. During their forty years spent in the wilderness, the People of God developed from that full-term embryo brought to birth on the far shore of the Red Sea, are carried and led, nourished and protected under Moses to the place of God’s Revelation at Sinai, taught and trained, disciplined and blessed. Now they are ready to live as a free people, formed by God, as a holy people, transformed by God. They still have a long way to go (as do we all), but all the conditions for maturity are there. . . .

The Books of Moses are foundational to the sixty-one books that follow in our Bibles. A foundation, though, is not a complete building but the anticipation of one. An elaborate moral infrastructure is provided here for what is yet to come. Each book that follows, in one way or another, picks up and develops some aspect of the messianic salvation involved in becoming the People of God, but it is always on this foundation. . . .

Comments

  1. David Cornwell says:

    I love it! Thanks.

  2. I use the Message alot when I am reading something I believe I am not quite getting along with other versions. Peterson’s style is more flowing and poetic for me. Which I identify with. I am sure reading and contemplating the above a good poem could be written and applied to our lives and become timeless too. Written on our hearts and minds. All time points to Jesus and it is the greatest story ever written and we are apart of it through such a great foundation having been laid. Privilege and honor oh how my want to be worthy of it. Oh how my need of Him in going there.

    • +1. The Message is a great complement to other Bilbical translations. One of the guys in my church’s men’s group brings it when we meet, and every now and then he shares The Message “take” on whatever text we’re reading. I’ve always found it beneficial.

  3. The idea that the Pentetuds’5 books are symbolism for the 5 stages of life was something I never contemplated or even thought of! I’ll study this one for a long time. Very interesting. It just shows how rich and vast are the depths of scripture. Bible study never ends!

  4. 2 thoughts…

    As I read the quote from Peterson, I found myself wondering if he had captured something that the original author had in mind. Somehow I doubt it, but it seems to fit so neatly. These sorts of grids can be very useful. At the same time I have to be careful of my own tendency to take some nifty new round hole, and start trying to fit every square peg into it. That said, Peterson is a genius.

    Second, it’s fascinating how many of the books that come up here at Imonk immediately go into my Amazon wishlist. this one, I went directly to half.com and ordered it. should be here in a week.

    • Peterson has always said that the pastor’s main tool is metaphorical language, and I think this excerpt provides one of his best examples of that.

    • “Second, it’s fascinating how many of the books that come up here at Imonk immediately go into my Amazon wishlist.”

      Oh, yes. Amazon owes Internet Monk some serious kickbacks.

      • If I recall correctly, Imonk is an Amazon affiliate. Is the link to the left ONLY for Michael’s book, or is there a general affiliate link that will support Imonk?

        More to my point, I really intended that as a thank you for the role you all have in shaping my ongoing education.