September 23, 2020

Sabbatical Journal 1/Peterson seminar (continued)

epeterson_200x142.jpgIt’s am amazing privilege to spent this time with the man who has been a spiritual director in absentia to so many of us. Based on what I’m hearing in this sessions, Peterson’s next two books should be real expressions of his heart. No one anywhere has a more encouraging message on the possibilities within any church for being God’s people.

Eugene Peterson was back leading our seminar this morning, and a night’s rest put him back on his game.

He spoke from some of the material in his upcoming book Tell It Slant, which is about the language of Jesus in Luke’s parables. He divided all pastoral-ministry language into the kerygmatic, the didactic and the pericletic. It was this third kind of language he was most interested in today.

Pericletic language is hard to define. It is not the announcement and pronouncement of the preacher and it is not the systematic teaching of the teacher. It is the language of the “between.” It is the place that words are formed and we meet God in the empty place between the angels at the ark. It is the language of coming alongside. It is the language of conversation, not the delivery of content. It is primal language, the domain of children and the old. Peterson is fascinated by the connection between breath, Spirit and words in scripture.

In other words, it is the language we as ministers are the least comfortable with, and need to be the most aware of.

Peterson was very generous in his description of a church he visited with loud music and terrible preaching, but which had conversations happening everywhere. This was a work of the Spirit, as people told their stories and invited each other into their lives.

He sees Jesus doing all three kinds of speech, but it is the pericletic speech, so often at the edges and even unreported, that made such a significant difference in the lives of individuals. He told a remarkable story about a spiritual seeker friend who he recommended talk to a pastor for an hour a week. Her pastor agreed, and then talked TO her for the entire hour. It was a painful reminder that we are very poor at going into the “in between” places of life, but instead want to use language to create control and security.

Peterson recommended that we read the parables and prayers of Jesus in Luke for examples of this kind of speech, and that we consider the wisdom of saying little, not knowing what to say and using communication with minimal “wordiness.” He quoted Dickinson that the truth must dazzle gradually.

Lots of great question and answer today, some of which dealt with Peterson’s aversion to technology and how this relates to a life ordered around sabbath, silence and spiritual disciplines. While I’m not quite the Luddite that Peterson flirts with being, I do believe that all technology has sinful as well as beneficial uses, and any minister is naive to buy into the “wired age” with complete abandonment.

Peterson said that we need to study the poets as our mentors for using language, and especially for learning the limits of kerygmatic and didactic communication.

More later tonight….


  1. Absolutely. If you spell everything out for someone in the most blatant language that person does not have to make a leap at all, does not have to try to understand the deeper meaning, the truth behind the words. The mysterious is where “bullet point theology” breaks down. That is not to say that it doesn’t have a place, but to disregard the third division of language strikes me as a terrible waste of our God-given imagination.

  2. David Babikow says

    “…using language to create contol and security.” Boy is that ever the truth. One positive aspect of getting to be an old guy is I’m not that good at it anymore.

  3. Neat comments. I just spent 45 minutes with a woman who recently retired at 52 from a major pharmaceutical company because she felt God calling her elsewhere–to her children, to a deeper walk with Jesus, and perhaps to starting a group, or maybe even something else. After reading Peterson’s story about talking with her pastor for an hour, I am glad that I spent much of the time listening. You can learn a lot by doing so.

    May the time in Louisville and at the seminary go well. I had a great experience there in the ’80s with Will Willimon.

  4. I’d add to ryan’s comment above that conversational speech respects the need and the right of the individual to arrive at his own beliefs. Truth which is forced on someone who is not ready to receive it usually ends with resentment and rejection (experience speaking here). To me, the ideal discussion is “This is the way I went; maybe you can go this way, too.”

    Maybe our failure (one of them?) is reading our understanding of the Bible dogmatically, instead of letting it speak dogmatically when it wishes.

    Sounds like I need to go find some of Peterson’s books…

  5. Is there honestly any example of Jesus giving a lecture/sermon where people were not expected to raise questions and comment?

    I don’t think that His culture allowed for that, but it is intertesting that we accept the shut up and listen mode of teaching as the norm.