Monday, October 29, 2012

ways and means

Climing the stairs to the lookout at Mont-Royal with my faith community
The Jesus Way by Eugene H. Peterson. Wm. B Eerdmans, 2007. 289 pages.

I just finished reading Eugene Peterson's book, The Jesus Way.  It is one of those books that seems quite simple in its premise:  how is Jesus "the way"?  However, there is a lot of depth and a good amount of breadth in this book.  Peterson indicates that "way" refers to much more than Jesus being the definitive, unique pathway that allows us access to God.  In fact, the book is entirely concerned with ways and means, or "how" we follow God.  Peterson states: “My concern is provoked by the observation that so many who understand themselves to be followers of Jesus, without hesitation, and apparently without thinking, embrace the ways and means of the culture as they go about their daily living ‘in Jesus’ name’” (1).   And here Peterson comes to the crux of the matter:  much of what we identify with Christianity incorporates utilitarian, impersonal, consumer-oriented, and efficient means in order to advance the kingdom of God.  And that is not the Jesus way.

Peterson identifies six biblical figures to demonstrate the ways and means that God chooses.  There is the example of Abraham and the way of faith, which Peterson explains as "trusting obediently in what we cannot control, living in obedient relationship to the One we cannot see, venturing obediently into a land that we know nothing about" (44).  Sacrifice and testing are at the heart of forging the way of faith; I readily admit that these means are not always something I want to be a part of.  The core question is this: are we using God for our own purposes or are we placing ourselves in a position of obedience to God's purposes?  A subtle but important difference.

Next is Moses who demonstrates the way of language.  Peterson writes about the power of story and metaphor and the holiness of words.  David shows the way of imperfection, and I found myself pierced through by this chapter which reveals perfectionism to be the ugly evidence of self-salvation.  Eugene calls it a seduction.  Yes, it is.  Elijah points to the way of marginality, a way that is counter to the cultural norms of the time.  This is a concept that we in the Western church are not that familiar with; we tend to incorporate the latest trends and methods in our attempts to advance kingdom purposes, in effect showing that we believe ways and means are neutral and the end goal is what really matters.  This is a totally ungodly and un-Jesus idea.

He goes on to talk about Isaiah demonstrating the way of The Holy and the way of beauty, but what I found most informative and interesting was the latter part of the book which deals with "other ways."  With loads of historical insight and biblical background, Peterson fleshes out familiar characters from the time of Jesus and unpacks their modi operandi.  The power-hungry ways of Herod, the perfectionist tendencies of the Pharisees (argh, not again!), the privileged path of Caiaphas (ministry should have its rewards, no?), the restrictive lifestyle of the Essenes (creating an alternative reality), the opportunist nature of Josephus (particularly poignant when seen in juxtaposition to the martyrs of the time), and the violent passion of the Zealots (justice at all costs!). 

Yes, I see some measure of myself in all of them, and yet I was strangely encouraged in reading this book.  I was once again reminded that being human and flawed is always part of the equation of salvation, and that nothing ever negates Jesus' call to "Come."  The question is never, "Are we good enough to be part of God's kingdom?" We're not, that much is obvious.  The question that Peterson asks in this book is this, "Are we trying to use God (like the pagans used their gods) to ensure a good life?"  We can find the answer by looking at our ways and means.  They will give us away, will expose what our real motives are in aligning ourselves with Jesus.  Is he our ticket to perfection?  To a better life?  To gaining the approval of people?  To power and influence?  To purity?  Into a tight-knit community?  To a just world? 

Jesus does not guarantee any of these so-called benefits.  No, Jesus is the one who unites us with our Father.  He calls us to serve, to obey, to worship, to trust, to sacrifice, to suffer, to be rejected, to love, to forgive, to come.  He invites us to be part of his world, his way, to receive something both "other and better than expected" (113).

Matte from Montreal


 

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