Another day, and another book review! I read this book a while ago. In Reformed Evangelical circles old Eugene gets a lot of flack, or at least I’ve heard him get some and I think I’m in those kinda circles. Anyway, mostly the flack relates to his paraphrase of the Bible (The Message). The gripe is something to do with it not being literal enough. As far as I’m concerned though those who have a problem with this have an actual problem with how people use it, not with Eugene and The Message itself. He’s a smart guy and he’s trying to make the Bible more accessible. Why don’t we slam Kel Richards for writing the Aussie Bible? Maybe it’s because he has Sydney Anglican links? Or maybe it’s actually because no one in Australia understands the Aussie Bible and therefore it isn’t misused much by the larger Christian population?

contemplative_pastor-196x300 Anyway, I digress from the actual topic which is The Contemplative Pastor. I enjoyed this book, and I found it challenging to my ways of thinking about ministering and pastoring. He slams Pastors for promoting themselves as being busy and unavailable to their flock and to God. He gives some great advice about appealing to our schedules and makes a compelling case for diarising prayer time and family time and making them as immovable as that meeting that’s taken you 3 months to set up!

He reminds us that Pastors are subversive like a revolutionary even though many will think of us as they do their local green grocer or milk bar man. He tells us to remember God is God and we are not, even though some will act and think like we are their god. He challenges us to be cautious with our words, to live in the mystery of God and the mess of people, to teach people the language of prayer (willing to participate in what is willed – willed passivity) and reminds us that we aren’t just Pastors of Sunday (or Friday in a Youth Pastor’s world).

There are some awesome quotes, like this one Peterson quotes from Annie Dillard:

Why do people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?… On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does not one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares: they should lash us to our pews. Explores unmindful of conditions died. Why don’t similarly unprepared worshipers perish on the spot?

Or this one:

Most people’s lives are not spent in crisis, not lived at the cutting edge of crucial issues. Most of us, most of the time, are engaged in simple routine tasks and small talk is the natural language. If pastors belittle it, we belittle what most people are doing most of the time and the gospel is misrepresented.

In other words, Pastors need to do small talk.

There was also a great bit about seeing people as sinners:

To call a man a sinner is not a blast at his manners or his morals. It is a theological belief that the thing that matters most to him is forgiveness and grace… If people are sinners then pastors can concentrate on talking about God’s action in Jesus Christ instead of sitting around lamenting how bad the people are. We already know they can’t make it. We already have accepted their depravity. We didn’t engage to be pastor to relax in their care or entrust ourselves to their saintly ways.

Finally the book finishes with Peterson’s story about how and why he had a sabbatical (year long) from his parish. I thought that was a great story of how he and his parish lived out what he said in the book as a whole. And the sabbatical was to great effect both for his soul and the maturing of his parish. Perhaps if people are to do long stays in one place, long (year?) breaks should be made a requirement?

I read this book in Warbuton. It was a great book to read as I was taking time out to think, pray and reflect on my ministry. This book encouraged me in that, and challenged me to be more open to people and more open to God. For that I am grateful. I didn’t agree with everything he said, nor with some of his arguments, but the challenge and the Spirit of the book are much needed for those of us who have a tendency to glory in our business for the Gospel and seek the praise of our followers for doing so.