In the last BookNotes I mentioned being at the Doxology conference sponsored by The Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination (at Western Seminary in Holland MI.) It was thrilling, meeting people who in one way or another had a connection to or interest in the Center’s work, and who, naturally, found themselves somehow in the legacy of Pastor Pete, as Eugene was sometimes called in his early days of ministry. My own workshops on reading and how the printed page can be counted on to inspire our Kingdom imagination were well received and it was fun, then, to list for you at BookNotes some of the books I highlighted, cited, or waved around from up front. Do go back and read that post if you missed it.
Peterson, famously, read novels and wrote poetry and while he was also known as a Bible guy and being a no-nonsense, spiritually-minded pastor, he thought that he did his work —living out his vocation — with more Biblically-faithful verve if he was paying attention to the world in all its splendor and trouble. Which is what fiction and memoir and good journalism can do. It is not surprising that in his annotated listing of recommended books, Take and Read, he has pages of fiction and memoir and history.
The other day I did an intro to Eugene Peterson in an adult ed class (the link is to facebook) at my church, playfully called “Bible Verses that Rocked the World” which explores famous Christians and how they were shaped by the Scriptures. From Luther and Calvin to the Wesleys to contemporaries like Alan Boesak, Desmond Tutu, and Mother Teresa, we’ve highlighted important figures and a bit about their love for the Word of God.
Perhaps because I knew Eugene a bit or perhaps because it was almost exactly four years since his death last weekend, I found myself sad by this recent reminder of Eugene and the stories I’ve so often told about his love of novels and his love of the Bible. I re-read much of Winn Collier’s tremendously-written, beautiful biography, A Burning in My Bones, which, frankly, doesn’t explain Peterson’s The Message project that much. Love it or not — I’ll admit my feelings are mixed — The Message is more than a clever paraphrase, but a deeply considered, seriously rendered, dynamic equivalence of the Holy Scriptures.
I happen to know some of the heady books he was reading (about Hebrew poetry, Biblical archeology, translation philosophy and such) as he waded through every line, every phrase, in the Hebrew. (I was proud that I was the first to introduce him to Calvin Seerveld’s colorful, occasional translations, too.) The Message became a cultural phenomenon as he paraphrased the ancient Scriptures into the cultural vocabulary of late 20th American, the New Testament appearing in 1993 and the full Bible coming out in 2022. I’m still surprised when I learn of folks who don’t know about it. Doing that little class was a delight, but made me even more melancholy.
And then the new Bono book came out this week; Surrendered: 40 Songs and 40 Stories and he very earnestly mentions Peterson in the acknowledgments, as I expected. Reading that simple line, I broke down in tears.
Here is a beautiful video of Eugene and Jan that is gloriously done, a lovely glimpse of their Montana home and a bit about his convictions and dreams.
Here is the popular 22-minute video produced so wonderfully by David Taylor at Fuller Theological Seminary of Bono and Eugene (and Jan) talking about the Psalms in their Montana home.
In early 1982, before we opened our bookstore here, we were still in Pittsburgh and I was learning a bit about the book trade at the Family Bookstore in the Monroeville Mall. I hate to sound gossipy but the store really didn’t have that many books that interested me; it was an average pop Christian bookstore in the hey-day of evangelical goofiness. A new title came in from somebody named Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, and the allusive title itself captured me. I soon learned it was a line from Nietzsche, and I was hooked. Who was this guy, a Presbyterian from northern Maryland, not far from York, were we were soon moving? He wrote almost like the poet/activist Dan Berrigan, whose work I was immersed in, and he had a great awareness of so very much about the Bible — in the case of Long Obedience, the Psalms of Ascent. By 1982 we had opened our store and IVP released Travelling Light, Eugene’s study of Galatians which was quickly followed by Run with the Horses, on Jeremiah. He always loved the prophet with a burning in his bones, but you can read in Collier’s Burning… what inspired Peterson to write that one and why it is dedicated to “the son of a priest.” These books were lively but astute, culturally aware without being primarily about social issues. He was gritty but not heavy handed and held the laity of his church in high esteem, knowing that the gospel must be lived out in ordinary, daily sorts of circumstances and context. Who has this guy, indeed?
Here is a guide to most of Peterson’s many books. This list is a bit idiosyncratic, with my own quick annotations, not in chronological order. I hope it is a useful “reader’s guide” helping you work through his many pages, even though I’ll skip some of the devotionals and compilations and a few that are out of print. He is, doubtlessly, one of my all time favorite authors.
POPULAR LEVEL BOOKS
The Invitation: A Simple Guide to the Bible (NavPress) $12.99 This is a small one that I adore, compact sized, paperback. They took the vivid and very insightful introductions to each book of the Bible that appear in many editions of The Message and put them together as a Bible handbook or interesting introduction. It captures Peterson’s take on things very well and is a real keeper for fans and an easy-to-read starter for nearly anyone. It’s a good introduction to Peterson’s writing and to his solid understanding of the unfolding drama of the history of the Scriptures. One of my favorite small overview’s of the Bible, a great gift for young or old.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (IVP) $18.00 I don’t know sales histories or that sort of official stuff, but I suspect this is by far Peterson’s best seller and certainly the volume that is most beloved. It is not a commentary, as such, but reflections on the Psalms sung on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, inviting us to this “long obedience.” You see his critique of society (and its easy-answers, self-help truisms, and technical fixes) and of cheap faith. Wow. I’m glad IVP entered this into their ”Signature Classics” collection.
This recent edition has the moving eulogy written by son Leif, delivered at Eugene’s funeral. Obviously, you should own this.
There is a good study guide that can be purchased as well ($12.00) that is good for individual use and certainly for any group using this in a Bible study or book club.
Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life At Its Best (IVP) $18.00 I’ve long been drawn to “the weeping prophet” and this study of Jeremiah was very important for me, learning to engage the Biblical text and apply it with insight to today’s milieu. I’ve never loved the subtitle, but the book is profound, radical, and very well written. Like Long Obedience, it isn’t a full-on commentary, but offers thoughtful reflections on key passages. This edition includes a second preface that was in the anniversary edition and the commemorative sermon his son Eric preached at his funeral. The books is dedicated to Eric, “also the son of a priest.” Very highly recommended.
Where Your Treasure Is: Psalms That Summon You From Self to Community (Eerdmans) $19.99 This was first published by IVP as Earth and Altar which was a line from a poem by Chesterton. It is a great companion, I’d say, to Long Obedience, offering extraordinary insights into the more public psalms. His phraseology of “the un-selfing of America” was timely and prescient, even if a tad clunky. He was convinced that reading and praying these Psalms would have an effect on us, un-self us, undoing our rugged individualism. I think this is his most under-appreciated book, a true must-read. I’m glad Eerdmans picked it up and re-issued it with the second title.
In any case, it is an excellent book, very highly recommended, espeically if you liked his Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
Traveling Light: Modern Meditations on St. Paul’s Letter of Freedom (Helmers & Howard) $17.95 I am not sure why this study of Galatians didn’t sell so well at first — I think it may have been the cover sporting a colorful hot air ballon. After IVP let it go out of print in the late 80s, it got a new cover— a Marc Chagall painting that I’ve never cared for much — but does give it more gravitas. An old college thought it was nothing short of brilliant and was the most transformative book he ever read. I think some of this may date back to that Bible study group from which Peterson first started The Message, doing what he could to help his Bel Air congregants get excited about this revolutionary stuff. It’s a very strong book, about true freedom.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God (Waterbrook) $16.99 This is the only collection of old sermons that Eugene himself helped edit before he died. He also wrote an extraordinary introduction to this big collection, which itself is wise and makes for great reading. I’ve read just that part more than once and you will do, I’m sure.
Old messages culled and published before his death, As Kingfishers Catch Fire shows a remarkable consistency and common-place brilliance as he preached, year in and year out, at the PC(USA) church in Bel Air, MD. Very nice to work through or dip into from time to time. 400 pages.
Subversive Spirituality (Eerdmans) $27.50 This ought not be so pricey but it is nonetheless worth every dollar — it is a gathering of talks, studies, interviews, essays, poems — a real miscellany anthology. There are some legendary pieces in here, excellent stuff you shouldn’t miss. These diverse pieces were mostly published in journals (some academic, like Theology Today or The Princeton Journal or several on homiletics, for instance) and magazines (from Eternity, Leadership, Crux, and Christianity Today.) Taken together they are a goldmine of good stuff.
There are several pieces on literature and writing that will thrill most BookNotes fans. I often cite his “Novelists, Pastors and Poets” and “Pastors and Novels” which are worth the price of the book and make a great case on why reading widely matters for the Christian life, especially for pastors, preachers, and leaders.
Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life (NavPress) $9.99 This may be Peterson’s shortest book and it is a gem. I once created a four week after-Easter Sunday school class from it.
The newer, paperback edition has a great forward by his Presbyterian pastor son, Eric, written after Eugene’s death. The three chapters about the post-resurrection accounts in the gospels are called “Resurrection Wonder”, “Resurrection Meals”, and “Resurrection Friends.”
Small, but so good and easy to read. Don’t miss it.
The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends (Zondervan) $10.99 Again, this is very short and maybe overlooked. It was part of a fabulous set of “Growing Deeper” books by other like-minded writer friends — Walter Wangerin, Luci Shaw, Philip Yancey, Calvin Miller — and this one was a creative experiment, written as a set of letters.
Peterson says his conversation partner, one Gunnar Thorkildsson of Moorhead, MN, is made up but, yet, he also says it is all true. Apparently, this includes verbatim letters he has sent offering spiritual friendship to others over the years. Just about 100 pages, this is one to savor.
Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians (HarperOne) $15.99 In the late 1990s, while at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Peterson did a number of books that, while technically not commentaries, were, perhaps, a bit deeper than his classics like Long Obedience and Run with the Horses. This one is on the life of David, working on texts from Samuel. It is truly a stand-out volume, capturing his quintessential “earthy spirituality.” Leap… is among the very best books on David I’ve read, and his talking about growing up in his father’s butcher shop is precious and revelatory. It was reviewed in the Washington Post and called an “epic everyman analysis.”
Answering God: The Psalms As Tools for Prayer (HarperOne) $16.99 Also published by Harper during his Regent College years, this is one of the great resources we have for understanding the Psalms as a book of prayer. We see his a great confluence of his interest in the Bible, in ancient liturgy, and in prayerful sorts of spiritual formation. It’s not too difficult, but one to read carefully. I think it may be especially helpful for those whose prayer life is unconvincing and unsatisfying. He certainly addresses the causes of dissatisfaction, for some, at least, and offers the Psalms as a way into a more faithful sort of prayer experience.
Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination (HarperOne) $16.99 I have read somewhere that this was, in his estimation, the book he worked hardest on; the laborious research and writing taking a toll. He suggests that John was a poet and he cites his fair share of literary figures to open us to the mystical truths here. He loved the Apocalypse of St. John (and after his death, Waterbrook published an old set of sermons from Bel Air on Revelation, a stunning project, called This Hallelujah Banquet: How the End of What We Were Reveals Who We Can Be, showing that Reversed Thunder had been peculating a very long time.)
This Hallelujah Banquet (Waterbrook; $18.00) being a set of sermons, is an easier read, of course, and perhaps more inspiring, but Reversed Thunder, remains an allusive, if important, resource for anyone reading and praying this mysterious last book of the Bible.
On Living Well: Brief Reflections on Wisdom for Walking in the Way of Jesus (Waterbrook) $20.00 I am sure I am not alone in worrying if Eugene would have wanted his older work to be released by publishers these days, maybe giving the impression they are capitalizing on his fame.
I trust his family, his sons and daughter, who I am sure have the right cares and commitments in thinking about all this. I am confident they approved of this posthumous project and those involved are sure this is all good. And, ya know what? They are right — this is really good, honoring him and showing the world what the dear folks at Christ Our King in Bel Air read back in the early days.
This is a collection of shorter pieces drawn from his sometimes witty, sometimes clever, church newsletter back at Christ our King Presbyterian. Many pastors have a column or regular piece in a church newsletter but not all are worthy of publishing as this surely is. I’m glad for On Living Well, dated as it may be. Here’s what a few good folks say about it:
Eugene insisted that the crux of Christian spirituality was to get all these God-truths lived, to get them moving into the street. God’s wisdom, Eugene knew, is always relational, always drawing us into the questions, complications, dangers, and joys of genuine life pursued before God and alongside one another. This is why the context of much that we read here — pastoral words written to Eugene’s small congregation — matters so much. These pages are not pious abstractions but personal words to friends, inviting all of us to embrace God’s enchanting invitation to truly live. — Winn Collier, Director of the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination and author of A Burning in My Bones and Love Big, Be Well.
Among the many gifts of human language, the greatest is the use of words for the worship of God, who is the Word. On these pages, over and over, Peterson’s words raise our sense of God’s sheer worthiness out of the clutter of confusion and complication… On Living Well should be greatly treasured. These words are pure acts of worship that will bring the reader into beautiful worship of the source of all beauty. — Karen Swallow Prior, research professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of On Reading Well
We don’t hear the word sage much anymore because there are so few sages these days. But Eugene Peterson was one of deep wisdom. In an age awash in banal how-to books, On Living Well is something else entirely — something we need. On Living Well is a series of meditations on what constitutes the good life, written by a man who indeed knew how to live well. This book brims with the wisdom our day needs. — Brian Zahnd, pastor of Word of Life Church and author of When Everything’s on Fire
Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up with Your Teenager (Eerdmans) $16.99 Initially released as his first book in 1976 and entitled Growing Up in Christ: A Guide for Families with Adolescents (John Knox Press) this was then re-issued by Revell and called Growing Up in Christ: A Guide for Families with Adolescents. I think it is fair to say it was “critical acclaimed” but not popular and was finally reissued with this more allusive, Biblical title by Eerdmans in the mid-90s once he had become better known. This is not the most well-known book of Peterson’s but while may be a bit dated, it brings a certain sort of vision and insight and tone to the sacred task of parenting. Nothing quite like it in his oeuvre and nothing quite like it on the market. I’m glad it’s still in print, so many years later.
The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne) $17.99 Eugene didn’t want to write this, at first, but was sort of talked into it, and he came to enjoy the writing and was glad to tell the story. From his “sacred” mountain home of Montana, and rough-cut upbringing there to his introduction to the broader world of ecumenical scholarship and his eventual call to ministry, this shares it all with eloquence and without didactic sermonizing. He makes much of the phrase “every step an arrival” as he, looking over his shoulder, sees God’s hand guiding the unfolding of his unpretentious life.
Some think it is a must-read, moving and eloquent. I have to admit I liked Collier’s authorized biography, A Burning in My Bones better, but, still, this is from the pastor himself. It’s quite a story, well told!
Holy Luck (Eerdmans) $15.50 Peterson wrote poetry often, and read it widely. He was delighted when we asked him — standing in the parking lot of a Presbytery meeting at First Presbyterian in York, actually — to do a poetry reading at our store. It never happened, so we were especially glad when a bunch of his work got published in a trim sized, handsome paperback. Very nice.
The publisher shares this helpful overview:
Holy Luck presents, in one luminous volume, seventy poems by Peterson, most of them not previously published. Speaking to various aspects of “Kingdom of God” living, these poems are arranged in three sets:
Holy Luck — poems arising out of the Beatitudes
The Rustling Grass — poems opening up invisible Kingdom realities through particular created things
Smooth Stones — occasional poems about discovering significance in every detail encountered while following Jesus
Take and Read: Spiritual Reading, An Annotated List (Eerdmans) $16.50 I wasn’t sure where to list this but for many, it is a cherished volume that has led them wisely into the depths of great Christian literature. It is a whole college class in one inexpensive volume!
I found some small parts of it a bit off-putting, but that’s me, more inclined to easier-to-read modern writers than, say, Alexander Whyte or P. T. Forsyth, who he loves. For anyone that wants a mature guide to the deepest, best books — from ancient mystics Gregory of Nyssa to Theresa of Avila, from fiction by Walker Percy to the grand three-volume novel Kristen Lavransdatter or Buechner’s Godric, memoirs from Dakota to Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, theology from von Balthasar to von Rad, this is remarkable stuff and his annotations are exceptionally informative and really interesting. Read the actual books or not, reading his appreciation for them is priceless. I think this is a book that will be very valuable for discerning readers.
This five-fold set which is considered to be his magnum opus, can be read in any order although there is a bit of a flow to them, so it makes sense to read them in order, although one surely doesn’t have to. This is his most mature and serious work but designed for thoughtful readers of all sorts, not only those with a bent towards theology and the like. Mature and rich as it is, it actually isn’t technical or academic. Take your time — this is a life-time of good reading.
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (Eerdmans) $18.99 Published in 2005 this is the first in the series which is his magnum opus, his magisterial, extraordinary, beautifully written and highly regarded set of what they called “spiritual theology.” I’m not sure he liked the phrase but this is the first and complex of this series. I think it may be the most significant book he has done. It is also his biggest at 380 pages.
The title comes from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem and the book is arranged in three major units, “Christ Plays in Creation” and “Christ Plays in History” and “Christ Plays in Community.” In each section there is a bit of a template of four things he does to show how God shows up in these four arenas. The orderly flow and rhythm makes it helpful and how he does what he does is half the fun. Highly recommended.
Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Eerdmans) $18.99 This, the second in the series that has been called “monumental” is the shortest and (among those we know, at least) the most popular. It is on the role of the Bible, even a bit about translation and hermeneutics, and then offers great guidance on lectio divina and how to read deeply. Eat This Book — a phrase uttered by two prophets in the Bible, by the way — is one of the best books on this topic, lovely, thoughtful, interesting and helpful. A fabulous little ending appendix has his annotated description of other authors on this topic. He loved the Word and it is beneficial to keep company with a thoughtful pastor guiding us in this elemental Christian practice. Do it!
The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way (Eerdmans) $18.99 Here is how the publisher describes what Peterson is up to in this marvelous book on discipleship, exploring what it means to follow Jesus, doing His work in His way. They say:
Arguing that the way Jesus leads and the way we follow are symbiotic, Peterson begins with a study of how the ways of those who came before Christ revealed and prepared the way of the Lord that became complete in Jesus. He then challenges the ways of the contemporary American church, showing in stark relief how what we have chosen to focus on — consumerism, celebrity, charisma, and so forth —obliterates what is unique in the Jesus way.
Wow. This is hard-hitting. And pretty obviously just what we need, now more than ever. In a way, this is the most revealing book about Peterson’s approach to a non-sensational, no-glitz, down-to-Earth faith that does the right stuff in the right way. Whew.
Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers (Eerdmans) $18.99 Don’t you love the often-cited line from the Emily Dickinson poem (that ends with the truth dazzling us gradually)? This Peterson work is so good, a natural follow-up from The Jesus Way. If we are to be shaped in the ways and way of Jesus, then, naturally, we must immerse ourselves in His teachings. Much of his teaching was told “slant” — in parables, stories, and, naturally, his routines of prayer.
Tell It Slant is a good overview of the parables and a good glimpse into the style of teaching Jesus used. More foundationally, it is about how Jesus used language, how “slant” language is indirect and oblique, “requiring a participatory imagination.” It points readers “to Jesus’ engaging, relational way of speaking as a model for us today.”
One appreciative Gospel Coalition reviewer of Peterson’s memoir (The Pastor) liked the book but worried that he didn’t explain his doctrine, that there wasn’t enough dogma, that he shared his life story without didactic theology. Maybe this book explains why that is. Peterson reads theology and is immersed in the Scriptures and it has shaped his worldview, his imagination, but he, like his Master, often told it slant. He lived his life naturally, without cant. I think understanding that about him is important and this book helps us appreciate his use of language.
Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Eerdmans) $18.99 This is the fifth volume in this groundbreaking set of “spiritual conversations” around foundational, lived, relational theology, looking at growth, maturity, wisdom — as the subtitle puts it, “growing up in Christ.” Attentive readers will guess that some of it is drawn from the book of Ephesians and it invites us to that wondrous phrase, practicing resurrection. What a wonderful, meaty, thoughtful, and captivating vision, what has been called a tour de force and a beautiful, culmination to this magnificent series.
I’ll let his friend Marva Dawn explain its importance:
This is the perfect culmination to Eugene Peterson’s fivefold Conversations in Spiritual Theology. How much the church would be transfigured if we could all more fully live as one with Christ in His Resurrection! You will delight in the way Peterson takes portions of Ephesians and displays the results of ‘rocket’ verbs and other word choices, of disciplines toward maturity, and of movements ‘upward, inward, Godward.’ This is a life-transforming book for us all!” Marva Dawn, author of A Royal Waste of Time and Truly the Community
VOCATIONAL HOLINESS FOR PASTORS
I started off this part of the list with the lovely set of letters between Eric and Eugene since they are about pastoring. And, at the end, I listed an all-time fav, a book he co-authored with his pal and our former customer, Marva Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor. It isn’t snobby or off putting, and I often wondered if it would have sold better with a different title. In any case, it’s wonderful, vivid, and shows his good collaboration with Marva and deserves to be in this section of our guide to Peterson’s work.
The middle four have uniform covers and comprise a quartet. I am no pastor and you may not be either, but I’m telling you, this is rich, wonderful, stuff, good for anyone. Read them all — you won’t regret it. And them give them to your pastor. Whether she is old or young, new at the job or a seasoned saint, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran or non-denominational, these are perfect pastoral gifts.
Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations Between Father and Son with Eric E. Peterson (NavPress) $19.99 This is a short and lively set of real letters Eugene and his son, Eric, then a new Presbyterian pastor, exchanged. Tender, wise, interesting. Just published in 2020, this is a lovely book, part Eugene, part Eric; he mentions some fatherly stuff, books he’s reading and lectures he’s preparing, so there is a small bit of autobiography that you’ll enjoy. But it is mostly about pastoring, replying to Eric’s very real questions. Don’t miss the companion volume, Letters to a Young Congregation by Eric, himself, by the way. Or, for that matter, Eric’s excellent study Wade in the Water: Following the Sacred Stream of Baptism.) Letters to a Young Pastor is a very, very nice book and it is great to see Peterson in conversation with this colleague in ministry, his son.
Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Eerdmans) $20.99 This is a seminal book, providing a sea-change for many (maybe for Peterson himself) as he describes his early efforts and process of teaching parishioners how to pray and read the Bible. His descriptions of the pastoral task, of the “angles” to work, are priceless. I could say more, but you should read it yourself. Very nicely done, a bit intense and often tender, it is highly recommended. I think it is the one in this series to start with.
Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Eerdmans) $20.99 I know there are some who have said this is Rev. Peterson’s most important book, a deep and profound study of the calling of a pastor and his coining of that phrase “vocational holiness.” The image he plays with — the “unpredictable plant” — is from the end of Jonah. Ha!
He say that book is “a parable with a prayer at its center” and yields some nearly subversive views for pastoring well. Yes, in his hands it does. Wow.
The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Eerdmans) $19.99 This is a very good read, good for anyone, and certainly vital for pastors these days. Curiously (and not often recalled) this was first out in the series of white hardbacks done by Leadership Journal. It wasn’t so much about leadership skills and didn’t fit their style or expectation and went out of print. Happily it was given a new cover and entered into what then became a trilogy of three great titles by Eerdmans in Grand Rapids. Nice.
Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (Eerdmans) $21.99 Ahh, this was one of Peterson’s early books, first published by John Knox, a Presbyterian publishing house, in the late 1970s, I think. After it went out of print in the 1980s it eventually was repackaged and released as the first in the pastoral set of “vocational holiness” books. It fits and, as the publisher insists, sets the stage for the others in the series.
Written at the height of pastoral care movements that drew on psychology and social science, this returns to the Old Testament and the Jewish roots of faith to determine what pastoral work is about. This may be his most demanding book, a very creatively written, playfully allusive but intense study of various Biblical books and their contributions to forming the character and faith of a serious pastor. I love this book, truly, but some find it a bit complex. From five Old Testament books he draws these tasks of the called pastor: prayer-directing, story-making, pain-sharing, nay-saying and community-building.
The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call co-authored with Marva J. Dawn (Eerdmans) $27.00 As I noted above, this is a fabulous read, and a great study of the church — the people and the leadership and the pastoring that goes on as we gather as God’s people. Designed for pastors, I guess, I’d highly recommend it to one and all. It’s a real delight seeing Marva and Eugene in collaboration, in all their counter-cultural, even radical, glory. Marva looks to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for instruction for churches seeking to live faithfully in today’s world. In turn, Eugene explores Romans, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, drawing from them a gospel-informed view of pastoral identity. Rediscovering the call, indeed. 266 pages.
Westminster Bible Companion: First and Second Samuel (WJK) $33.00 Not too many people know that Peterson did a major commentary on his beloved history books of 1 & 2 Samuel. It’s in the WBC series and is readable accessible, with good opening up of the narrative flow and stories of these core portions of the Old Testament drama. Nicely done.
I like this description:
The power of story as God’s word to the community of faith is never more clear than in the books of Samuel. Emotion, drama, complexity of character, and mystery fill the pages of these two biblical books. Eugene Peterson’s commentary emphasizes the resonance and interplay between these stories of kings and prophets and the social and cultural issues that concern us today.
The NRSV Life With God Bible (HarperBibles) $49.99 (burgundy leather) // with Deuterocanonical books $44.99 (deep (brown leather)
I want to give a loud shout out to this smaller-sized, beautifully made NRSV study bible. It was dreamed up by Dallas Willard and Richard Foster with the Biblical oversight offered by Peterson and Walter Brueggemann. This doesn’t have as complex a study apparatus as most major study Bibles do, and it only comes in a compact size. But it is wonderful, having garnered praises from folks as diverse as Max Lucado and Tony Campolo, calling it thrilling and impactful and outstanding. Besides spiritually attuned study notes, 16 good maps, profiles of Biblical characters, topic indexes and such, there are challenging spiritual exercises and a developing set of fifteen essays on living the “with-God life.” You can see Peterson’s hand in this, for sure.
The Message Devotional Bible (NavPress) $29.99 (hardcover); $39.99 (brown leather-like); $39.99 (large print hardcover)
There are just bunches and bunches of editions The Message and we carry most of them. (Take a look at the NavPress website to see the beautiful designs and various sizes and shapes and prices and send us an order or just give us a ring, please.) This one is special because it has interspersed devotional and reflective notes and study aids from Peterson. As you’d expect there is a Bible reading plan and helpful index and a topical guide (and those great introductions to each book of the Bible.) There are insights galore, meditative reflections and a “neighboring” set of comments about incarnating the gospel in our places. These notes are drawn from previously published books, but many are for previously unpublished sermons and writings. I like the balance and guidance this useful edition offers. I happen to use the large print hardback which is a bit heftier, but still quite handsome.
Pastoral Work: Engagements with the Vision of Eugene Peterson edited by Jason Byassee and L. Roger Owens (Cascade) $24.00 How can I not mention this, a collection volume of serious engagement with Peterson’s unique style of vocational holiness and Biblical orientation. This isn’t a glowing tribute, really, although all of the many authors are true fans; most were friends. They do tell some stories, naturally, but each offers an important exploration of as aspect of Peterson’s vision and practices. I love this book and highly recommend it to one and all, even though it is designed, I suppose, mostly for church leaders.
I suppose there hasn’t been much critical engagement with Peterson’s body of work because he hasn’t mostly served in the typical academy. Pastoral Work brings together some of the finest scholar-pastors working today to describe the way “Peterson has inspired and infuriated them” on the way to (hopefully) more faithful pastorates.
Most of these authors are mainstream ecumenical names, from Stephanie Paulsell to Anthony Robbins to Will Willimon to Marty Copenhagen to Carol Howard Merritt.Most have certain leanings of a deeply Biblical sort. The chapter by Trygve David Johnson (chaplain at Hope College) is tremendous. I admire Kristen Deede Johnson — co-author of The Justice Calling — very much and her chapter is tremendous comparing and contrasting Peterson and James Davison Hunter on institutions. Don’t miss Tim Condor’s somewhat edgy piece “Twenty-five years of Working the Angles.” I really enjoyed the vibrant Lilian Daniel’s chapter, “Eugene Peterson Saved My Ministry, and Ten Ways He Can Save Yours Too, with Jesus’s Help (Not).” Prince Raney Rivers brings a black megachurch pastor’s voice into the mix showing just how wide Peterson’s influence was. What a book.
A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson Winn Collier (Waterbrook) $20.00 (paperback) $28.00 (hardback, while supplies last.) OUR 20% OFF SALE PRICE = $16.00 (paperback) and 22.40 (hardback, while supplies last.)
I’ve said it before and I need to say it again — this is one of the great books of our time, a lovely, gorgeously- written, insightful, entertaining and officially authorized biography. Winn — who understands Peterson deeply and is a sympathetic writer — is honest, too, not offering cheap applause let alone hagiography (which Peterson wouldn’t have wanted.) He had the complete blessing of the Peterson family, had access to the crawl space below the Flathead Lake house where bunches of boxes of bunches of papers were kept — diaries, copies of letters, even records of conversations with his Dallastown bookseller. Nobody could have picked a better writer for this major project and it was a huge labor of love. We have a few hardbacks left and plenty of the paperbacks. Get some as Christmas gifts, why don’t you. It’s a super book, highly recommend by both Beth and me. And lots of more famous folks, too. You can’t go wrong.
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