Christian Living · Non-fiction

Eugene Peterson On Living from the Inside Out

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As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation On the Ways of God Shaped by the Words of God | Eugene Peterson | 400 pgs | WaterBrook Press

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The only thing I knew about Eugene Peterson before I picked up this book was that he was behind the Message. So I imagined him as a hip, young, guy with maybe a bit too modern taste for my view. But, his reference to Gerard Manley Hopkins in the title of his newest book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire hinted to me that there might be more to this–as I’ve come to learn–aged theologian and life-long pastor than I had discovered. It turns out he embraces the poem of the same name by Hopkins because it marked a shift in his thinking, one of those moments that change the trajectory of a life-time. He suddenly understood with Hopkins that we are born to reflect Christ from the inward to the outward; that this unity between in the inner and outer life  allows us to live out “what I do is me, for that I came”. Despite my early skepticism, I now align Peterson in my thoughts with modern truth-bearers like Tim Keller and John Piper. A man who offers thoughtful, Christ-enlarging, heart-probing insights into scripture and Christian living.

It turns out that Eugene Peterson has been quite a prolific author, but in this newest work he presents to us through seven parts, with seven glimpses each, a wholistic understanding of how the structure of scripture from Genesis to Revelations  connects to bring us an ever-enlarging vision of God’s will. Have you ever thought of the life of Abraham as setting up our understanding for the rest of scripture as to what it means to be a friend of God? Have you ever connected David’s list of “blessed is the man who…” with Jesus’ version of “blessed” in the Sermon on the Mount? As we walk with David, Moses, and Isaiah we see how carefully God placed these stories in relation to what he would reveal through Peter, Paul, and Christ. Peterson’s self-proclaimed goal for self and church is to live an authentic life shaped by God’s words. He unpacks these words in the hopes that they may shape the core of who we are as God’s people.

I have a hunch that Peterson’s other works are more cerebral, as he obviously appreciates the life of the mind. But, as a collection of sermons, Kingfisher reads easily and gently like a father explaining things dear to his heart to his charges. Specifically, Peterson refrains from a great deal of textual analysis instead focusing on the core message of each text and grappling with its relation to modern life. He chooses a passage from both Old and New testament to pair up and each chapter/sermon can be read in about fifteen minutes, making this useful as a devotional if that is your habit.

As much as I appreciate great theologians of the past, it is encouraging to be in the company of men like Eugene Peterson and know that there are still teachers living vibrantly and honestly, full of life-transforming dedication to the Master of Souls. Besides–a man astute enough to hear the whisper of poetry earns my respect.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
*Review copy courtesy of WaterBrook Press*
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