I recently started listening to a book called “The Invitation” by Eugene Peterson. A lot of you are probably already familiar with Eugene’s most famous work, The Message, which is a thought-for-thought modern translation of the Bible, written in a very casual style. Anyway, “The Invitation” is basically a 30,000 foot view of the Bible itself. It’s a great read and, in the first chapter, he talks about exegesis — what it is, in a nutshell, and why it’s important.
This page-and-a-half on the topic of exegesis was so thoughtfully written that I wanted to see what else, aside from The Message, that Peterson had written. (By the way, The Invitation is a great read. The summaries it offers of every book of the Bible are very helpful as you navigate through Scripture.)
Looking into Peterson’s other works led me to an article on The Gospel Coalition website where Russell Moore (a prevalant Christian speaker and author) was talking, and I’ll sum it up, about how he appreciated the works of Mr. Peterson (who passed in 2018, by the way) but wouldn’t recommend his works to a new believer. The quote was this:
“I probably wouldn’t now give [Eugene Peterson’s] books to a brand-new believer, seeking to find a starting place in discipleship, for fear the new brother or sister might embrace the whole package.”Russell Moore, in an article from The Gospel Coalition
So as to provide just a little more context on what he’s referring to as “the whole picture,” I’d add that the article itself — which I encourage you to read, don’t just take my word for it — was written in response to thoughts that Peterson voiced on the topic of gay marriage. Well, really, one single thought, uttered at one time, in one publication — as far as I can tell.
Now the whole topic of gay marriage and where it does or doesn’t fit within the confines of the practice of Christianity is its own topic… but there’s a startling trend I’m noticing in Christianity — especially since I’ve been in ministry. The trend is, specifically, to completely discount the works of a Christian author, speaker, whomever, based on a very small subset of the individual’s works — or, in this case, based on a single quote.
Now, this specific scenario — this one article — bothered me enough to actually say something about it because Mr. Peterson spent the majority of his life dedicated to the life and teachings of Christ. To purposefully deprive someone in your life of thoughtful, genuine reflections on Christ and His teachings because of literally one thing the author in question said at one time in his life feels overly judgemental — again, to an extent that I felt inclined to say something.
Alright, moving forward.
I’m not sure if you caught it, but Moore said the magic word in his quote. Again, he said he wouldn’t offer up Peterson’s books to, quote, “a brand-new believer, seeking to find a starting place in discipleship.“
Discipleship is the magic word.
Something that many of us can probably agree on is that discipleship, if we’re referring to the pattern by which we aid others in the process of becoming spiritually mature, isn’t comprised of offering up a few New Testament McNuggets, handing someone a pile of approved books, and then moving on. Effective discipleship occurs with time.
Surely, with time, through the process of discipleship, we can aid others in things like theology, literary context, historical context, missiology, etc. — and we can work with them to reflect, with prayer, on so-to-speak hot-button, culturally prevalent topics as they might come up.
At this point, I’d like to point out that I’m not picking on Russell Moore.
An unavoidable problem with being a “figure” or “personality” in the realm of Christianity — as Moore most definitely is, is that people seek you out for those McNuggets, they expect the McNuggets, and they’re disappointed when you don’t provide the McNuggets.
At that point, as the “figure,” as the “personality,” you’ve got a couple of options:
- give the new believer the benefit of the doubt, trust in the workings of the Holy Spirit to guide them in their journey, and don’t be gun-shy to recommend works that you mostly find value in or
- avoid recommending books altogether and, instead, recommend disciple-makers; recommend people to seek out; recommend a church, a body of believers that can provide discipleship.
(And definitely give them some parameters to look for as they seek that out — because there’s a lot of churches that… suck, “not to put too fine a point on it.”)
Bottom line: I’d argue that we should have enough respect for the intellect and soul-searching capability of our fellow believers to be able to share works with others even if we only agree with 75% of them or if we know they’ll only agree with 75% of the ideas. To read a book and find value in like half of that book is a pretty good read for me. Within that 50% or 75% might be new ideas I’ve never heard or new concepts to reflect on.
I think by hesitating to recommend the works of another Christian author because you can’t get behind 100% of what they’re saying feels like you’re implying that questions aren’t welcome in Christianity and I find fault with that. It also feels like there’s something you’re trying to hide. That, in particular bums me out and I think that approach will be even less helpful to others than actually recommending those aforementioned works in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely do believe there is such a thing as bad theology. I won’t name any names — of authors or personalities or anything like that — but I don’t think Eugene Peterson is a teacher of bad theology. Nor do I think, after reading his article, that Russell Moore thinks that either. Which is why I was puzzled at the decision at which Moore, another quality theologian, ultimately arrived… and, again, why I was prompted to put together some thoughts.
As always, leave a question if you’ve got one and I’ll try to answer it.