I would like to Harper One for this review copy of The Pastor by Eugene Peterson. While I do not see myself as being called vocationally to pastoral work (at least not at this junction) this does not mean that I do not want to be “pastoral”. In other words, we often hear of “pastor-theologians”, which is not exactly how I would understand myself. Rather, I prefer “pastoral-theologian”. I want to do my theological thinking with a pastoral heart for the people who are trying to live the Christian faith in the real world. Eugene Peterson is the perfect dialog partner for such an endeavor.
This book is a memoir of a man who spent a few decades within the two millenium old tradition of pastoring in the Christian church. Peterson mixes theological reflection with narrative. This takes the reader everywhere from Montana where he grew up with his butcher father and semi-evangelist mother in the Pentecostal tradition to New York City where he went to seminary and into the Presbyterian tradition to Maryland where he founded a church and pastored it for many years to Vancouver, BC, where he ended up as a professor.
There were certain elements that resonated with me. The first was his love/hate relationship with his Pentecostal roots. He was grateful, yet often notes the glaring weaknesses of this overly emotional, sometimes unstable and legalistic branch of Christianity. As someone who could understand this tension it was encouraging to see Peterson where he is today. It is a sign one can survive this transition, learn from the best of Pentecostalism while also being aware of its dangers.
Another area that I enjoyed was his love for the life of the mind, yet the realization that he was not going to be a proto-typical “scholar”. For Peterson this meant he would become a pastor. For someone like myself I do not know, but I do know that I could affirm the desire to avoid a life that never leaves the theoretical in a dusty library somewhere.
Peterson has earned my respect from his love for pastoral ministry that sees people as people and his refusal to buy into the market driven, consumer Christianity that has captivated so many pastors in our country. Peterson reminds the reader that churches are not businesses and that people are not problems; worship is not a “product” and programs are not a sign of health. We need more people to say this.
Peterson is brilliant. He almost received a Ph.D. in Semitic Languages from John Hopkins University but left to pursue the pastoral vocation. I remember when The Message made him a very criticized man, but I have always like the idea because it is a “pastoral translation”. It is the fruit of his effort to take Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek into the jargon on American English. As someone who loves biblical studies and the theological task it was refreshing to hear a pastor who can stand his ground in this area.
The book does a great job of mixing theological reflection and interesting narrative. Peterson will tell a story of real people while inserting Proverbial wisdom here and there. Also, it is very balanced in chapter length which makes it easy to work through. One can read a fifteen page chapter here and then a three page chapter here. If the reader is busy progress can still be made without feeling like you lost the flow of the book.
It is a memoir, so it is hard to say there are any “weaknesses”, but I can mention one disappointment: Where is Gordon D. Fee? Peterson and Fee went to SPU together, they were on the same track team together, they both have Pentecostal roots, and they both taught at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, yet not one single sentence mentions him. I found this odd.
If you are a pastor, please read this book. If you are in seminary, please read this book. If you are in graduate school for biblical studies or Christian theology, please read this book. If you have a pastor, please read this book.