January 19, 2021

Eugene Peterson: “Nothing disembodied, nothing impersonal, nothing in general”

Neighborhood church

Theology is about God, and God is Spirit — so why the adjective [“spiritual” theology]? Maybe because we have accumulated a lot of experience in the Christian community of persons treating theology as a subject in which God is studied in the ways we are taught to study in our schools—acquiring information that we can use, or satisfying our curiosity, or obtaining qualifications for a job or profession. There are, in fact, a lot of people within and outside formal religious settings who talk and write a lot about spirituality, things of the spirit or the soul or “higher things,” but are not interested in God. There is a wonderful line in T. H. White’s novel of King Arthur (The Once and Future King), in which Guinevere in her old age becomes the abbess of a convent: “she was a wonderful theologian but she wasn’t interested in God.” It happens.

So—spiritual theology, lived theology—not just studied, or discussed, or written about; not “God” as an abstraction but God in a participating relationship; not God as a truth to be argued; not God as a weapon to be wielded in the culture wars. Rather, the conviction that everything of God that is revealed to us is to be lived relationally in the dailiness of our human lives on this local ground on which we have been placed. Nothing disembodied, nothing impersonal, nothing in general.

Eugene Peterson


  1. The highly gnostic environment of the internet is not the place to have this conversation.

    • It’s certainly not what I’m doing via the Internet, but perhaps a word of encouragement from this “gnostic” space can lead to embodied conversations elsewhere.

      • Mule Chewing Briars says

        I’m sorry.

        i didn’t mean to be so terse. I too often sacrifice good manners for a quick quip.

        There is something that has been intriguing me for some time, called “The Orthodoxy of Here and Now”, in the sense that there is a specific theologia which corresponds to this particular place and this particular time which would not be appropriate fifty miles away or twenty years later. Among Orthodox converts, it is a growing sense among converts to Orthodoxy that American Orthodoxy will necessarily be different from Serbian Orthodoxy or Greek Orthodoxy, although Serbian Americans and Greek americans will certainly play a crucial role in defining it. This is the exact opposite of the “one size fits all” approach most of us , including myself, prefer. i have to admit that such a thought goes far deeper than I can trace it.

        I think Mr. Peterson gets close to that idea here, but I am not yet slow enough for that kind of wisdom.

        • It seems to me you are thinking about a different matter, Mule. Peterson is not contrasting universal vs. particular in terms of theological beliefs or even traditions, but rather is discussing the disjunction between the theoretical and the personal in terms of pastoral practice.

          • love that word “personal”; for all the blather about “personal relationship with Jesus”, we seem to have a humongous deficit in really personal relationships with each other. I think the trinitarian GOD has other ideas, and certainly how pastors pastor should feel the effects of HIS goal(s). Much, much easier and safer to stay on theoretical ground and pontificate…

  2. He’s right (Peterson).

    God came to us in a real person. And He still comes to us in our hearing. In bread and wine. In water. In the words of comfort, one to another.

    So we should make ourselves available. To others who need us. And, more importantly, who need Him.

  3. br. thomas says

    Some quotes from a very thought-provoking book I am reading on this topic:

    ” … religious truth is thus that which transforms reality rather than that which describes it.”

    ” … God cannot be reduced to our understanding or experience …”

    ” … we must worship while being careful not to make God into the object of our worship: for God is the subject before whom we worship.”

    ” … even the revealed side of God is mysterious.”

    ” … the presumptions of those who would seek to colonize the name of ‘God’ with concepts.”

    “That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking.”

    • Rick Ro. says

      I like those. A few of them even hit upon my own discoveries of late, such as the more I learn about God the more mysterious He becomes (which I’m finding is actually cool, not frustrating), and not making God into the object of my worship, which of late seems to me to be a form of idolatry. What’s the book?

    • Is that last quote a reaction/retort against Wittgenstein?

      • br. thomas says

        Glenn: the author (Rollins) does mention Wittgenstein; I believe Rollins would say that just as Wittgenstein’s view of God as unknowable is too exclusive, so is the modern evangelical’s view of God as knowable and thus needing to be shared (often with a “brutality of words”). The quote you refer to is Rollin’s attempt to express the union of the best of what both perspectives have to offer. I “think” that is what Rollins is attempting to say.

  4. Jesus was SBNR

  5. Where is the John Frye quote on the margin from ?? Would love to read the surrounding thoughts and words. Excellent stuff.

  6. Awesome article it’s really useful.

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