Five general secretaries of international ecumenical organizations engaged in lively conversation with leaders of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) on Friday, April 8, at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva. The general secretaries who engaged in this interesting and important dialog are the heads of the ACT Alliance, the Conference of European Churches (CEC), the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC).
“One of the most pressing challenges we face is religious intolerance,” said John Nduna of ACT Alliance, a coalition of churches and church-related agencies working in the areas of human development and emergency assistance. As a second concern, Nduna noted that “the shrinking humanitarian space around the world, [hinders] how we can reach people in need of aid.” Each of the five leaders acknowledges that partnership among Christian churches and missions is of key importance, both in promoting dialog with various governments and in advocating before various international organizations who are tasked with improving conditions in troubled locations. I have come to share this view deeply even though I believe various ecumenical organizations often retain a flawed political and social model of change.
Nduna notes that in Darfur, “we have had excellent results in working with Caritas,” the Roman Catholic global service ministry. “We are asking how we can replicate that in other regions, in interfaith as well as ecumenical cooperation.”
“We cannot be ecumenical on our own,” added the Rev. Dr Martin Junge of the Lutheran World Federation. These leaders all underscored the simple fact that it is necessary to overcome mutual suspicions not only among churches or traditions within Christianity, but among ecumenical organizations that may seem to be in competition with one another.
Dr. Junge spoke of what he called the “polycentricity of the communion of churches” as a strength, not as a weakness. He believes that it may become the basis of “the language of trans-contextual dialogue” enabling people from widely different backgrounds to meet and understand how diversity works. This response resonates with everything I’ve seen and learned in the ecumenical context.
The Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit of the WCC advanced the idea of combining a commitment to mutual support with an expectation of “mutual accountability” in encounters among churches, agencies, states and cultures. Such partners need to strive for a sense of “unity that has substance” and to seek new models of dialogue and cooperation that will “bring all sorts of actors together.” It is beyond me how you could disagree with this conclusion. You might quarrel with the means employed, and I sometimes do vigorously, but I cannot sit on the sidelines in the modern world that cries out for Christians to work together in “polycentricity.”
Tviet sees two principal concerns driving churches in coming years: Continued dedication to “fostering the visible unity of the church”, and “addressing the many injustices that are experienced not only in the global South but by people everywhere.” A particular challenge to the WCRC is the call to heal divisions within its own confessional family. So long as these injustices are not understood in strictly economic terms, terms that are built on taking away freedom and killing human enterprise that truly addresses the poverty problem, I again have to agree. But, as many of you know, the devil can be in the details for some of these ecumenical leaders.
Prof. Viorel Ionita of Conference of European Churches noted that European congregations face specific issues arising from the secularization of nations and a continent that once was deemed Christian. Through dialog among the churches, CEC finds common ground with the Roman Catholic Church as well as among its own members.
In a new report provided by the World Council of Churches this statement provides meaningful context:
Ecumenical bodies like CEC exist to support churches in their vocation today, to participate with them in bearing the gospel of Jesus Christ within sometimes hostile societies, to advocate on behalf of churches and their members before European political institutions. “In all of this,” he concluded, “the EKD joins in playing an important role in Germany, in Europe and throughout the world.”
Bishop Dr Martin Schindehütte, who is responsible for the EKD (Evangelical Church in Germany) office of foreign affairs and ecumenical relations, observed in the Geneva conversation that “we need each other’s insights to be faithful in our own contexts.” He further observes that: There are “complex relationships and connections within the ecumenical movement”, he said, yet the core of Christian unity and action is the gospel.From this foundation we are strengthened to devise patterns and plans that help the churches coordinate their activities with greater clarity and purpose.
This entire report, from which I have drawn my quotations and the material in this blog can be found at the news reports of the World Council of Churches.
The first teachers of Christianity are called the Church Fathers. The reason is that these teachers were seen, over time, as the great teachers of spiritual truth for the whole church. The term “Fathers of the church” refers to those theologians and teachers who were the earliest post-apostolic thinkers and writers who left us a rich legacy of faith and doctrine in their written works.
There is no clear cut-off date by which someone may be called a “Father” or not but I lean toward the fifth century for several reasons. The Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) was critical to the entire future of the church. Up to and through this time period the major theologians were the greatest Fathers of the faith. But St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) is included on some lists, as well as Venerable the Bede (d. 735) and St. John Damascene (d. 749). No arbitrary time period works perfectly but tradition generally treats the patristic period up to and through the middle of the fifth century as the core of the time period in which the Fathers wrote.
The earliest histories of this period are found in the works of Eusebius of Caesarea and St. Jerome (d. 420). But it wasn’t until the era of the printing press that great editions of these works became more widely available to a growing circle of Christians. One major collection of Latin Fathers numbers 222 volumes while the Greek Fathers reach 161 volumes. This is, obviously, a large body of written work. Scholars who make it their life’s work to study and interact with this work have become a great blessing in my own life. Projects which provide this work to the masses are now producing a rich harvest of spiritual and doctrinal fruit for all the church and evangelicals are at the forefront of this recovery.
Who Is a Church Father?
St. Vincent of Lerins, in his famous work Commonitorium (A.D. 434) gave us an accurate and useful description when he said: “The Fathers of the Church are those alone who, though in diverse times and places yet persevering in the communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, have been approved teachers.” Modern writers follow the same course and believe that a Father of the Church must have been faithful to sound doctrine who lived a godly life.
Add to this things like the following; e.g. the writer is cited by a general council, referenced in addresses to the whole church or included in the public readings of the early church and you get the general idea.
But do all the Fathers teach the same truth? The answer is clearly no. On those matters that are universally believed by every part of the church they are, in general, of one mind and spirit. But the Fathers clearly held to very different ideas on some matters. To cite but one example, the Fathers were not one on their beliefs about eschatology. Their views of hell, for example, were diverse. They also held very different views of the millennium. Both Tertullian and Origen, as examples, taught things that many Christians did not believe. A consensus of the Fathers, in all doctrinal teaching, is simply not to be found. This alone should say something to schismatic Christians who think that we must all agree on every point of ancient Christian teaching or we are heretical.
Must We Agree with the Fathers?
The answer to this is more complicated than might be understood by ordinary readers. The witness of one Father never made a truth universally valid. Their words carried weight, and thus had great influence. But the Fathers were not apostles! Some teaching of the Fathers became normative for the whole church and thus is still held by orthodox believers to this day; e.g. St. Augustine’s teaching on the Trinity and St. Athanasius on the divinity of the Son of God come to mind here.
Both piety and good judgment suggest that we proceed with caution if we disagree with the general consensus of these Fathers. This is why the early Protestant writers studied and cited the Fathers far more than their heirs do today. They did not see themselves as creating a new church or simply throwing off all the core beliefs of previous Christians and the entire Catholic Church. This is one reason, among a number I might cite, for why the fundamentalist Protestantism’s rejection of the Catholic Church, ipso facto, is ludicrous. We who are not Roman Catholics did not get here without a Christian family in history and that family is not rooted solely in Geneva or Wittenberg.
The Fathers include the Apostolic Fathers, thus those second century writers who were closest to the apostles, and the Greek apologists of that same era. These include men like Irenaeus and Justin Martyr. The Western apologists include Tertullian. By the third century we have the Alexandrian writers and people like Hippolytus in Rome. The great African writers include names like Cyprian. By the fourth century we have Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa. And in Antioch we have the greatest preacher of them all, John Chrysostom. I could go on but this gives you a general sense of some of the greatest thinkers of the early church.
Why Are These Writers Important to Us?
We desperately need a growing sense of who we are and where we came from. We live in a world going global and viral. Should we be rooted in modern readings of the Bible without these great thinkers of the early church? Do the dead matter to the way we read the Bible that they read long before us? Amazingly, there are Protestant fundamentalists who mock this idea of the importance of reading and listening to the Church Fathers. This response not only reveals immense ignorance but incredible arrogance. Should I be led to believe that an English Bible reader living in the 21st century is to be preferred in every way to an ancient writer who lived closer to the time of Jesus, to his culture and to the Holy Scriptures and the acceptance of the Canon? If you listen you will hear current some very conservative (popular) evangelicals making this kind of argument regularly. I am appalled by the short-sightedness and arrogance of this response. I also believe it harms the faithful in profound ways, especially when people actually begin to believe that right interpretation lies within their own minds once they have read a text for themselves. This was never Luther or Calvin’s idea, but that of radicals who wanted to throw out the past entirely. Avoiding extremes is never easy but we must try or we will surely fall. The Fathers provide a great blessing and are also a great aid in this process of how tradition and the Bible serve one another.
I was not always a hockey fan. I grew up in the South when there were only six NHL teams thus I had no understanding of this great sport. My dad took me to my first game at age 8 or 9. It was in Chicago when we visited the city in February of one year. I thought, as only a little boy, “This is a rough and fast game.” I was right. It is the fastest thing on ice.
Since I’ve never had a huge love affair with Chicago teams I saw a few Blackhawks games over my 41-plus years in Chicago. But I never got into the team or the sport that much. Then I met a Christian brother in the mid-1990s in Vancouver while doing a weekend conference in a church. Later that brother (Paolo, at the far right in the photo with me, my daughter Stacy, and my son Matthew, on Easter Sunday afternoon this week) became a good friend through an Internet relationship that then turned into a close face-to-face friendship. I was stunned when I found out that my friend was one of three brothers who owned the Vancouver Canucks. (I had not known this at all when we were getting acquainted. Paolo is not proud nor does he act like a “big time owner” of a major sports franchise. He is a deeply serious Christian but enjoys life, is very creative, and cares about people.) We then spent some time together in our home in May, 2009, and I was invited to see my first Canucks game an evening later. I was hooked on the sport and the team immediately. I have a signed jersey from 2009, with a photo of me and Paolo inside the box frame, mounted on a special "sports" wall in my home. Over the last two years I’ve followed the Canucks with a growing passion. I saw them play at the Rogers Arena in November 2009. I’ve seen them play the Blackhawks six times over the last three post-seasons in Chicago. (My record is 3-3.) I saw Game Three and Game Six this year. Last night was the decisive Game Seven. My friend had to be away from home all day on Easter Sunday (there was a game in Chicago) so took the train from the city to Carol Stream and worshiped with us on Easter and came to our son’s home for our family lunch. We again enjoyed the sweetest of Christian friendship together.
So, with all this in mind you might now realize why I was rooting, I mean really rooting, for the Canucks to win last night. Just near midnight Chicago time Stacy and I almost went into fits of delirium when the Canucks star Alex Burrows scored the overtime winning goal to eliminate Chicago, their playoff nemesis. (Anita was in dreamland!) It was really sweet. In fact, it was one of my happier moments in my long interest in sports. Why? I have a real personal interest in a team that I have come to know a great deal about and in a person who I count as my friend, a friend who is deeply related to his city and their beloved hockey team. Vancouver will be a happy place today. I wish it to them. They hosted the Olympics and won the Gold Medal. Now if they can win the Stanley Cup it will be true delight for so many.
So if you heard a huge sigh of relief last night, and a big yell that rocked a house, it likely came from our home in Carol Stream when the Canucks won 2-1 in sudden death overtime in one of the more thrilling hockey games I’ve ever seen. Chicago has every reason to be proud of their champions. Now I hope my team wins the coveted Stanley Cup this year. It would be Vancouver’s first in their 40-year history as a franchise in the NHL. There are three more series to go so it is a big hill to climb but I will be rooting seriously for a team that I actually know a lot about from a very unique and wonderful perspective: “Friendship.”
Many evangelicals know little or nothing about the Church Fathers (and in a few cases Mothers). These ancient writers were the early Christians who taught and wrote about Christ and the sacred truths of the faith in the first centuries after the death of the apostles. I was asked once, in a public dialog with Catholic peers, why this was so. I answered, “Because we think that citing the Fathers is a Catholic practice and, furthermore, we think that trusting in the authority of the Scripture means we don’t need to read these Fathers.”
I still think that response is warranted, at least in general. But more recent developments, which are now beginning to spill over into the wider church among non-professional readers, is to place increasing value on reading and understanding the patristic writers. We can thank scholars like Thomas Oden, Christopher Hall and Daniel Williams, among others, for these developments. I believe reading and using the Fathers is important for personal reasons. It is also extremely productive for missional-ecumenism.
Pope John Paul II said, “There can be no true formation of Christian understanding without constantly drawing on the tradition of our Fathers in the faith . . . . The Fathers of the Church did not cease to meditate upon the Mystery of Christ and seek to transmit to their contemporaries what they themselves received. . . . They were the first theologians, for they were able to examine the Mystery of Christ by drawing on ideas borrowed from the thought of their time, formulating them with no hesitation to give them universal meaning.”
Whether or not your view of authority begins and ends with the canonical Scripture, and mine does in a very carefully and narrowly defined way, you should read and honor the writings of the Fathers. Why?
1. The Fathers were the first Christians after the apostles to comment on biblical texts in a context still like that of the original writers. We should listen to all faithful teaching rooted in Scripture. These were (generally speaking) faithful teachers in every way that is important to our faith today. And they inspire and encourage true faith, writing as they do out of the context in which they lived.
2. The earliest Fathers knew some of the apostles and for several generations this knowledge impacted the lives of leaders who had a “living memory'” of what the earliest churches and teachers were really like and how they understood the life of Christian faith under trial and the nature of the church.
3. The Fathers were martyr theologians. Martyr theologians are generally the best theologians! I was reminded of this recently which Dr. Richard Pratt reminded me that America has not done theology in the context of martyrdom for well over two hundred years. I have to believe this is one reason why we can use theology as a club to land blows on our Christian opponents.
Why do so many evangelicals not receive the Fathers as sacred teachers of the faith?
1. They are reacting, often in prejudice alone, to the practice of non-Protestants because Catholics and Orthodox Christians both use them fluently and regularly.
2. They do not know the Fathers from reading them, thus they fear them in some odd way and see no spiritual and formative value in reading them. Ironically, they know the sermons of a few modern pastors and writers and assign overwhelming value to them, the living. I am reminded of G. K. Chesterton’s comment about the “democracy of the dead.” (These writers should at least get to vote on what we believe and why.) In some cases these modern teachers are rigid fundamentalists, thus biblical literalists. They speak against the Fathers out of this understanding. Again, few of them have really read and studied the Fathers at all.
3. They are completely unaware of how important these Fathers were to the magisterial Protestant Reformers; e.g. Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Melancthon, etc. The Reformers knew the writings of the Fathers, in Latin, and routinely cited them in scores of contexts in their struggle for reforming the church.
For most fundamentalists they have traded a pope in Rome for a pope in their pulpit or on the radio. In the end the trade is not healthy at all. Any abuse of power, Roman or Protestant, is an abuse of power. We have a lot of spiritual and emotional abuse in our Protestant churches today. Most of it is done with proof texts and great fanfare but it still ends up being abuse. “A rose by any other name is still a rose!”
Of Gods and Men is one of the most moving and tender Christian films that I’ve seen in several years. It is understated, in terms of its Christian witness, and profoundly human. There is no great display of heroism here, just a group of devoted Christian men living courageously for Christ and peace in a violent place and time. The soundtrack is in French, with English subtitles. Please do not let this keep you from seeing this moving depiction of the very real world in which Christ has called some of his people to both live and die.
Based loosely upon real events that happened in 1996, seven French monks in Algeria are kidnapped by Islamic terrorists and disappear. (The reason that we know the story as well as we do is because two men escaped capture and told the story!) The circumstances of the murder of these seven brothers, which is clearly based upon facts, are still shrouded in a degree of mystery. The film rightly leaves the circumstances of their end in doubt, at least regarding specifics. But the truth is these men knew their end would come, sooner than later, and they faced this possibility with their eyes wide open. They did not feel called to become martyrs but they felt they were to live well where they were and stay at their post.
Prior to their abduction, the monks in Of Gods and Men, did know that they were in real danger — even though they had lived in friendly harmony with their Muslim neighbors for years. The group had to make a collective decision of whether to leave Algeria or stay. Every man had to first decide for himself. The movie grants each the dignity of individual struggle, which is wonderfully portrayed in some of the best film I recall seeing. But in the end this was also a community decision since the men took their vows and community seriously. This makes the story entirely countercultural for an American audience, all the more reason for you to see it.
This film has received numerous international awards but was a surprising omission among this year's Foreign Language Film Oscar nominees. Anyone think that religion, and a stunning Christ-like conviction lived out powerfully in the midst of Islamic terrorism, could have influenced the Academy’s decision? I admit I lean that way rather strongly.
The cast is led by The Matrix Reloaded's Lambert Wilson as Christopher, the elected head monk. His role is played with a depth and tenderness that is memorable. Michael Lonsdale from Munich is the monastery's aging doctor. But it is shared strength as a band of brothers who are humble before Christ that has stirred many viewers to an awe that transcends skeptical opinions about religion or politics. This has happened in France, and across Europe, where Christian faith and belief remains at a profound low point in the popular cultural context.
The devotion of these men is not only remarkable but their way of facing their mortality is awe-inspiring. This inspiration is movingly expressed when the men join in the beautifully plain chant that fills the simple, but moving, soundtrack. The music of Tchaikovsky makes an emotionally climactic appearance in the sound when, having absorbed the consequences of their choice to stay in North Africa, the men share wine and listen to this music on an old tape deck.
I rarely see a movie that has been so undersold, even by the best critics. See Of Gods and Men if you want to consider what it means to live a peaceful life for Christ in the midst of terrorism and suffering. I am not likely to think about what it means to live and die for Christ in our world in the same way again, at least anytime soon.
This day (Easter) more clearly demarcates the dividing line between the world view of fallen human power from the world view of Jesus of Nazareth than any other. (This truth is asserted each Lord’s Day since it is Easter that makes the whole of the calendar change once and for all!)
While Jesus was alone in the garden, on Thursday evening of Holy Week, the army of the powerful came to take over. They represent a world which cannot tolerate the existence of another world than the world of the “big deals.” It was necessary for them to destroy the threat of uncontrolled goodness which was revealed fully in the man Christ Jesus.
The unbelieving world view says:
Big deals control the little people, the poor, etc.
Big deals want mercy for some, the good people.
Big deals want blessing for those who deserve it.
Big deals want to reserve privilege for the righteous, people like them.
Thus big deals believe the good news is for the rich and powerful.
Big deals trust human power to get the job done in this world.
Big deals promote the reign of death.
Jesus’ world view, as Easter demonstrates, was very different:
All people can become partners with God and share in his mercy.
God’s mercy is intended to bless all.
Forgiveness is for sinners, the worse the sinner the greater the display of real forgiveness.
Good news is for the poor and powerless who are pushed down by the world.
Good news teaches us to trust in God’s power, Christ’s reign of life, and his victory over death.
The big deal religious leaders and the Roman rulers collaborated to arrest and condemn God’s beloved One who represented the dangerous reign of love and mercy, of shalom. They sentenced him illegally, stripped him publicly, flogged him mercilessly and then crucified him.
Committing his spirit into the hands of the suffering God, the incarnate bringer of peace and righteousness died. All creation groaned in travail waiting for shalom, for the reign of God to come in grace and mercy. Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and buried in a borrowed tomb/stone grave. Guards were stationed there to seal it. The vote was in and the big deal power brokers had won. They had said:
No to the life and teaching of Jesus!
No to the proclamation of the reign of God.
No to Jesus’ good news of grace and mercy for all.
The rulers returned to “normal” and the disciples were disheartened.
But one vote had not yet been counted. And you know what, it was the only one that really mattered. Yahweh entered the tomb and cried “Yes.” God cried yes to Jesus, yes to his life, yes to his death and yes to the kingdom of God. God said, “Get up Emmanuel, Come forth Lord Jesus!” All creation shouted for joy. The trees clapped their hands. The stars danced and the angels sang. The reign of God had triumphed on planet earth. Life conquered death. Jesus, who had died because the big deal wanted him gone, was now alive. Then God chose to empower a small group of women to serve as his first preachers of this new arrangement. Empowered by joy and belief, they announced: "He is risen!"
Today, almost two thousand years after that day, we still celebrate the reign of Jesus who conquered the grave to give good news to all the earth. Be filled with joy. He lives!
My wife asked me, late last week when she saw our church sign, “What is the Triduum?” I thought some of you might wonder the same unless you grew up in a tradition that celebrates all the major portions of Holy Week.
Triduum is Latin for “three-day period.” The Triduum is a solemn celebration of the mysteries of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. It begins with the Eucharist on Thursday evening and concludes with what is called “the Evening Prayer” on Saturday. On Friday our own church will strip the altar of all symbols, cups, trays, candles, etc.
Holy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. Here the ritual of washing the feet is often included. This ritual had a profound impact on me when I first began to take part in it several years ago. This day is often called Maundy Thursday because Jesus gave his new commandment on this day. Maundy comes from the word mandatum, which means mandate or commandment. The celebration of the Lord’s Passion comes on Friday, traditionally during the afternoon of Good Friday. I attended a simple service, at midday, where the stations of the cross are each remembered in the liturgy. I often attend an evening service as well.
Today, Holy Saturday, commemorates Jesus’ burial and his “descent into hell.” Most ancient churches have no special liturgical service on Saturday during the day time hours but the Easter Vigil is celebrated tonight. In Orthodoxy the vigil leads right into Easter celebration just after midnight. In most Western churches Easter is held at sunrise, or during the morning hours, on Easter Day.
So if you hear the word Triduum, or see a sign today speaking of the Easter Triduum, now you know. May your hearts and lives be shaped by the sacred and holy mysteries of these hours.
Today, the world over, Christians remember the death of their Savior, Jesus Christ. We take part in various remembrances, some elaborate and some simple, even Puritan. Regardless, many of us will participate in some service of remembrance and express our thanks to God for the gift of his Son.
I have participated in many different death rituals in various countries and cultures. The most unusual was in India. I will never get over what transpired on my second extended trip there in the 1980s. One of the leaders of the mission we worked with had come to meet us at the airport, a drive of about four hours or more. His van had run into the back of a large truck, stopped in the middle of the road in typical Indian fashion. He had been thrown forward off the back seat (where he was sleeping) and was internally injured and died after some hours of suffering by the side of the highway with no medical help. Our team picked up his body late in the evening, drove for hours to the town where we were to lodge and the next day, a Sunday, I did a funeral. We marched through town with the body and sang songs of Christian faith while the people watched us in some degree of astonishment, or so it seemed to me. The whole experience is rather surreal to me and yet I remember it as if it was just yesterday. Mourners were connected to their grief in open and tangible ways that shocked my Western understanding.
Our culture places little or no importance on funeral rituals and their importance. We want to get it over and done with so we can act as if death is not really the end. It is like a big denial of the awful reality of the grim reaper. We isolate the dying and rush through arrangements once the finality of it all sets in on us.
In our cultural context we have little real understanding and appreciation for the rich and amazing biblical texts that explain Christ’s death. We do not know how to grieve the death of the person we profess to love more than all other people. One has noted that because of this we consequently find ourselves too apathetic to the resurrection. But death should neither be ignored nor celebrated. I know that will not go down quite right with some Christians, especially since many of us were taught from childhood that the day Jesus died was a great day!
I remind you death is an enemy. It was such for Jesus on this day. His death, even more than yours and mine, was because of sin, not his but the sins of the world. The awful foe got his grips on him that day and broke him. The only problem was that by his death he broke the power of the foe. This we can celebrate but this is the result of the resurrection more than the death.
Alexander McLaren said, “The grave is in the garden because all our joys and works have sooner or later death associated with them. Every relationship. Every occupation. Every joy. The grave in the garden bids us bring the wholesome contemplation of death into all life. It may be a harm, a weakening to think of it; but it should be a strength.”
My dear friend Jim Packer puts it well: “We can face death knowing that when it comes we shall not find ourselves alone. He has been there before us, and he will see us through.” Amen.
May Good Friday be good for you because you come to his death in faith and hope knowing that by his stripes you are healed for here your sins are covered once and for all.
One of my favorite modern Protestant writers is Eugene H. Peterson. I’ve never met Eugene, though I’ve spoken to him on the telephone. I invited him to participate in a writing project and he phoned me to decline. He was the only person, in a long list of invited contributors, who did that. (Some didn't bother to even respond in writing.) I am still impressed. He owed me nothing but a polite “turn down” but he wanted to encourage me by telling me my goals were worthy but he could not help me. He was apologetic and gracious. It made an impression.
A number of friends know Eugene and some had him as a teacher at Regent College in Vancouver. They have shared numerous stories with me about this senior statesman of the faith. Peterson is one of those guys who makes me listen when he speaks, even though I do not always agree with him. (But then who do I always agree with anyway and who really cares?)
I thus eagerly awaited the newest Peterson book, The Pastor: A Memoir (Harper One, 2011). When my friend Mark Elfstrand, of Moody Radio (WMBI, Chicago), gave me a copy at lunch last week I was overjoyed. I began reading almost immediately. I am not disappointed.
In the introduction Peterson writes of his disdain for clericalism. I share that response deeply. “Somewhere along the way while growing up I developed a rather severe case of anticlericalism. I had little liking for professionalism in matters of religion. If I detected a whiff of pomposity, I walked away” (2).
But Peterson goes on to tell how people began to call him Pastor, and then the children called him “Pastor Pete.” He admits he loved it. He said, “Pastor sounded more relational than functional, more affectionate than authoritarian” (2). I profoundly agree. I loved being called “Pastor John.” Some of my former congregants still call me “Pastor John” and I admit I love it. I care not for titles like “Reverend” or “Doctor.” I’m not even enamored with “Professor” as such. But I love “Pastor.”
Peterson’s book is right from the heart. He writes about being a pastor and about the church and real ministry. He is human, insightful and refreshingly honest. This is a book every pastor ought to read. In fact, those who love pastors would get a great deal from it too. Why not read it and pass it on to your pastor. He, or she, would likely thank you with great love.