Eugene Peterson presents “The Last Word on Scripture” in Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination not by arguing about inspiration and inerrancy or by pressing into epistemology and hermeneutics or by forcing the Word of God into some interpretive grid (e.g., YEC). Peterson is concerned about the intent of Scripture; its purpose in the lives of God’s people. “Words link spirits. Reduced to writing and left there, words no longer do what they are designed to do—create and maintain relationships of intelligence and love. … For language in its origin and at its best is the means by which one person draws another person into a participating relationship. … The intent of revelation is not to inform us about God but to involve us with God” (12-13). Peterson is serious about not divorcing the words of Scripture from the voice of God. A. W. Tozer wrote about this same reality—“The Speaking Voice”— in his book The Pursuit of God. Jesus’s harshest critics, who studied the holy words diligently, had fallen into that deadly error. “Printer’s ink became embalming fluid” (13).
The words of Scripture are to be received with imaginative faith so that the livingness of the Word happens in our lives by the work of the Spirit. Eugene points out that teachers help us understand the Word. Apologists serve so that the Word is not discredited. Masters of imagination (one of whom is the Apostle John on Patmos) “keep us awake and aware before the living God who speaks to us in these scriptures and …remind us that we are living beings who are being spoken to” (15). Peterson unpacks how our five senses—sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste—are addressed in the Book of Revelation. Did you know that numbering is an extension of touch (15-16)? To number is a tactile function. Who knew?What about inspiration? “The way inspiration takes place—the process by which various human languages written in sometimes faulty grammar are used by God the Spirit to speak God’s word personally to us—is a mystery that defeats complete understanding. What is indisputable, though, is that persons of faith believe it to happen and claim to experience its effects” (18-19). Peterson suggests all Scripture is apokalupsis (revelation) which means to uncover. Imagine a pot of stew cooking on the stove Peterson suggests. You walk into the house and smell the aroma. Your curiosity is aroused. Senses are heightened. You make your way to the kitchen breathing in tantalizing smells. You take off the lid; you uncover the pot. All the ingredients are “exposed to the eye: Apocalypse!” (19). “Scripture is read and heard—and touched and smelled and tasted—in order to be practiced. It is not for entertainment. It is not for diversion. It is not for culture. It is not a key for unlocking secrets in the future. It is not a riddle to intrigue the pious dilettante” (17, emphasis mine).
The Book of Revelation does contain some predictive prophecy. “There are predictive elements in some prophecy (and some in the Revelation), but they are always in the service to a present message. The Bible warns against a neurotic interest in the future and escapist fantasy into the future. … In the Revelation we are immersed not in prediction, but eschatology: an awareness that the future is breaking in upon us” (21). Scripture is God’s word and it is God’s Word for us now. “The Revelation has 404 verses. In those 404 verses, there are 518 references to earlier scripture. … The statistics post a warning: no one has any business reading the last book who has not read the previous sixty-five. … Much mischief has been done by reading the Revelation in isolation from its canonical context. … Scripture is not to be toyed with. It is not to be twisted and squeezed into our needs and wishes. We are to submit to scripture and let it develop our lives” (23, 25). I believe that Eugene Peterson’s Reversed Thunder needs to be on every pastor’s bookshelf and that “The Last Word on Scripture” needs to be read often