Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Jesus Diet

Books & Culture, September/October 2007

The Jesus Diet
Eugene Peterson's "conversations in spiritual theology."

by Craig Mattson

Alas, this gadget-mindedness inclines us to treat grammar, meaning, narrative, hermeneutics as devices for extracting "biblical principles." Eat This Book counters this serious-minded technologism with a great deal of disarming storytelling—so much so that the reader begins to see that, for Peterson, narrative and doesn't have a point; it is the point. Gradually, we find our bearings in his narrative style, listen to his confessional voice, follow him as he circles back to gather up an earlier plotline. As we learn the criteria that his aesthetic discourse presents us with—plot and character, cohesiveness and plausibility, connotation and irony2—we begin to realize that Peterson is mentoring us in the practices that make up the second part of this book: reading as an act of hearing, meditating as a gestalt-like apprehension of the biblical story, prayer as response to the always prior word of God, and contemplation as living out this word....

Which brings us to Peterson's metaphoric exploration of The Jesus Way. We tend to forget that "Way" is itself a metaphor—what rhetoricians would call a "buried metaphor." We'd actually prefer (as the disciples did) for Jesus to be more literal with us, to offer us a broader band to divine data. But by describing himself as a kind of medium, Jesus confronts us with different sorts of questions than our catechisms have historically asked—questions not so much of definition as of direction. Not (as Peterson hastens to add) that defining the truth is unimportant, only that all too often in our deliberations "Jesus as truth gets far more attention than Jesus as the way." The result? Too many Christians acting like Flannery O'Connor's Hazel Motes, the founder of the Church of Christ Without Christ. We want the message without the medium; we want immediate connection with the divine. But as Peterson's latest book makes clear, we can't avoid mediation. We'll always be using some sort of means, following some sort of way. So, to get us back on the Jesus Way, Peterson traces the early steps along this path, following Old Testament wayfarers such as Abraham on the road to Moriah, Moses delivering sermons, David praying his way through his own imperfection, Elijah eating well on the banks of the Cherith, Isaiah clapping his hand to his mouth before the dangerous beauty of holiness. These stories clear places for spiritual theology—heeding the creational, practicing the sacrificial, avoiding the managerial, honoring the personal...

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