Eugene Peterson: Practice Resurrection 4

Eugene Peterson relentlessly chases an important idea in the opening part of his new book, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ . That idea is the need to strip ourselves of the romantic, it’s-going-to-be-utopia versions of the church, and he makes it clear that you won’t find that perfection in those early churches either. Not even at Ephesus.

What do you think of his forthright presentation of the church as composed of embarrassingly ordinary people? How often do you present the church this way?

And he gets to the heart of a fundamental idea in our faith when he ties together the birth of Jesus and the birth of the Church:
“God gave us the miracle of congregation the same way he gave us the miracle of Jesus, by the Descent of the Dove.” And I love his next statement:

“It was a miracle that didn’t look like a miracle, a miracle in the form of the powerless, the vulnerable, the unimportant — not so very different from any random congregation we might look up in the yellow pages of our telephone directories” (25-26).
We see Christ as a scandal and a stumbling block; he wants to see the local church in the same way.
God could have chosen a different way: God could have chosen perfect people or made perfect people and set them down in a sinful world in a way that would show them up as so different, so perfect, and so glorious. God didn’t. That’s because that’s the way God wants it.
He sees his task as one to tell the truth that dazzles gradually.
To a congregation of “embarrassingly ordinary people” (28).
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  • Scot,
    “Not many wise, etc…” according to Paul (1 Cor 1). If pastors would absorb this truth and communicate it regularly, the people in our churches would rise to their kingdom identity and purpose. The incessant peddling of ‘models,’ ‘strategies,’ ‘how-to-be-church kits,’ etc foster an inferiority complex in most congregations. People assume ‘we never measure up.’ The good news is: ‘we don’t have to.’ Thanks for these posts.

  • Another thought: I regularly communicate this vision to Fellowship Covenant: Someday Jesus is going to pull back the curtain of the universe and all the famous people, powerful people, internationally known people will be lying prostrate, humiliated in the dust as Jesus presents his glorious bride–you! Housewives, antsy children, plumbers, office workers, AA members, etc. The last shall be first and the first shall be last…

  • Richard

    John, I think you’re spot on and I see this in our local context at many churches, not just ours. Our people have a collective low self-esteem (for lack of a better phrase). They doubt that God can use them to make a difference. I like Peterson’s thought on demystifying the “called out” ones that we look at in Scripture.

  • I’m also with John, Richard and Eugene Peterson.
    I heard a wonderful sermon on failure the other week. It struck me: (i) how rare this was to hear (ii) how liberating it was to apply – i.e. failure is a fact, failure is redeemable by the grace of God. This is such a contrast to being beaten up with a message that constantly says ‘If only … we can be (this or that) THEN we will be getting somewhere’. The ‘good news’ in this sort of message never quite arrives and leaves you feeling a failure. But one that starts with the reality of failure leads to the good news of the gospel.

  • Richard

    Honest question: if we held to Peterson’s model of the church, how consumer/seeker/market driven would we be? Could this be a positive step away from “the showman” mentality of the pastorate/Sunday service?

  • SamB

    This blog series is very interesting to me. I am reading through Peterson’s book “The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way” with a group of men, which is the third volume in his series on Christian spirituality. In this book, he passinately tries to show that the American (Wester) church has lost its way in following Jesus. That is we are trying to follow Jesus in ways that are different than how he lived his life, how he was (and is) the way. We are only a little way into the book,just finishing the first chapter. So it seems like the book being discussed here and his third book in the series are like two sides of the same coin: one emphasizing loving the church as she is, seeing that God intends her to be a understood as a hospital and the other calling the church passionately to be more faithful to the way of Jesus.
    An aside: the previous book we talked our way through was The Jesus Creed. So far the book Jesus the Way seems like a very good follow-up to The Jesus Creed. And this new book by Peterson may be a very good to open next.

  • H Davis

    Recently one person who is relatively savvy in their theology who was visiting our Reformed Presbyterian church (but has now ceased visiting) told a member of our church that they liked our church as for the preaching and ministry mindset but they weren’t going to come any more because we didn’t have enough cool people and we have a registered sex offender who attends. Your post and Peterson’s comments help to remind me of the Gospel-impressiveness of such a congregation.

  • Alan K

    Richard (#5), great question. I think Eugene has hit the bullseye in his critique of the church in several of his books–we have bought into the idea that church is something that needs selling, and that by meeting the world’s criteria for attention-getting, we can pronounce ourselves blessed by God. Eugene has humbly stated that this is nothing less than a lie, nothing less than trying to become something other than what the church actually is.
    Practicing resurrection is something entirely different than making ourselves sexy for the world to gawk at. The community that practices resurrection will never ever have to market itself to the world. Its very existence will make the announcement the world needs to hear.

  • Fudge

    “We see Christ as a scandal and a stumbling block; he wants to see the local church in the same way.”
    This quote is pure brilliance.

  • If there is one fact coming home to roost by the growing environmental crisis, founded upon the overwhelming materialism reflected in human nature, it is that as stewards of creation, humanity is an abject failure. As a species, we can hardly call ourselves moral or spiritual. Why, because we lack the insights and will to both know and do better. Our understanding is incomplete. Thus if we are ever to serve a creation worthy of the image of God, it remains for him to ‘Raise-up’ within us, the understanding necessary to do so. That is the Resurrection I wait for. And by asking to give up on the dream of a greater vision, it is suggested that we accept the idea that God is finished with us as we are. That could very well be the greatest mistake the mind of man can make, one of such overwhelming arrogance and presumption, it defies description.

  • Dave

    may his tribe increase, one cool dude, even in old age he speaks with great relevance, passion and truth. gotta love it.

  • Beautiful wise thoughts. I love it. Makes me feel at home for a change (not a remark against this blog, Jesus Creed!).

  • Carin2Learn

    As I listen to more and more stories about church life in evangelical and city circles, I am increasingly grateful for having grown up in a church of “embarrassingly ordinary people.”
    My elementary years were spent as a PK in a small, rural congregation where everyone shared, most were related, and church felt simple. We were friends with the church across the way, even though it was a different denomination, because they were the only other one in the neighborhood and that’s where everybody’s cousins went. I am not kidding. Consumerism didn’t even cross our minds.
    Of course, being a child, I was shielded from the adult politics and conflicts that I’m sure must have been occurring, so I freely admit that my memory is romanticized to some degree. Small, rural churches also have their own weaknesses. Some might even call them lukewarm believers, compared to the passion and confrontational theology in some evangelical circles. Still I believe this small church of farming people gave me a taste for simplicity of faith and community, and I’m grateful for it.

  • Eugene Peterson is a great tonic for so many of our bad ideas and impulses in the church. His series of books on pastoral vocation should be required reading. They are for me.
    This comment, though, is a response to Dave who noted that “even in old age” Peterson is writing with passion, relevance, and truth. It turns out that old people have something to contribute.