The man called the pastor of pastors, the writer of innumerable books, translator of The Message, and most notably a follower of Jesus, Eugene Peterson, passed away this week. He leaves behind many grieving and many rejoicing at his life and his legacy.
Though I did not know him personally, as a pastor I have deeply appreciated Eugene Peterson’s many works. They appealed to deep theological thinkers researching the depths of scripture. But more importantly, Peterson opened the way to the Word up to everyman (and woman).
Since I generally write about “living richly,” I would like to take a week to highlight both a life that was lived richly, and books that have helped many people live life richly.
These are my top five favourite works of Peterson, that changed my faith, the way I view God, and the way I encounter Jesus in scripture. With the exception of The Message, they are not all of his most well-known works. If you have not read any of them, please do. They are worth every minute!
- The Message is technically a paraphrase of scripture. It is not considered a translation from the Hebrew or Greek because it is not a word-for-word or sentence-for-sentence breakdown of the original text. However, The Message allows people to access scripture in language that is accessible to those who perhaps have never darkened the door of the church. In using contemporary language, and sometimes even slang, he makes scripture come alive, unpacking the text for people in tangible and applicable ways.
- Eat This Book describes how and why Peterson wrote The Message. But most of the book is about how we should encounter scripture. He encourages people to chew on scripture the way a dog chews on a bone, coming back to it repeatedly and ruminating over it.
- Run with the Horses is Peterson’s working out of the book of Jeremiah. An easily misunderstood prophet, Peterson writes pastorally and with great care about the life Jeremiah. Some would say Jeremiah was a tortured soul, but others may say Jeremiah truly lived a rich life because of his pursuit of God. The underpinning of Run with the Horses is living richly wherever you are, in any circumstance.
- Five Smooths Stones for Pastoral Work offers valuable insight and wisdom for pastors who are dealing with sensitive situations of care. He writes, “Among other things pastoral work is a decision to deal, on the most personal and intimate terms, with suffering. It does not try to find ways to minimize suffering or ways to avoid it…Pastoral work engages suffering” (93). It was his engagement with suffering, with people, with ideas that made him a great pastor.
- Reversed Thunder (Peterson’s commentary on Revelation) is last on my list, but definitely not least! When the pastoral team at our church decided to preach through the book of Revelation, I was not excited. Flashings of Nicholas Cage in a movie rendition of Tim LaHaye’s book ran through my head. But sitting down with Reversed Thunder at the family cottage, next to a warm fire with snow falling outside, made me rethink all of the hoopla that we sometimes hear about Revelation. Each chapter is a “last word” on a topic: christ, worship, evil, salvation, etc. And each chapter is a reminder that God’s kingdom is already and not yet. Peterson constructively disciples the reader through the idea that what was done once for all can also be acted upon here and now.
What is your favourite Eugene Peterson book?
Here is a short video about Eugene Peterson’s life: