good books

Under the Unpredictable Plant :  An Exploration in Vocational Holiness.

By Eugene H. Peterson

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992)  

I came across this book as I was preparing to preach a series on the book of Jonah. I found it very helpful and enlightening. This is the third of three books on the work of pastors. The first two books in the series are Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work and Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity.

This is a book for "speeding pastors." Eugene Peterson ‘arrests’ speeding pastors and urges them to slow down, yes indeed, to slow down and pray. But this is not a book about how to deepen our prayer life.  It is a book about how to dive deep into prayer with our whole life.

Under the Unpredictable Plant is a series of stories from the writer's life, wisdom from his ministry, and prophetic oracles about the state of pastoral ministry today. The book follows the story of Jonah. We are treated to witty chapter titles, quite in keeping with the Peterson’s artistry with words: "Buying Passage to Tarshish, Escaping the Storm, In the Belly of the Fish, Finding the Road to Nineveh, and, Quarreling with God under the Unpredictable Plant."

We are through salient moments in the story of Jonah and along the way we discover that this is also the story of our life! By the end of the book, we feel quite in league with the reluctant prophet.

The first chapter, "Buying Passage to Tarshish" (pp. 9-32), is about our perverse attraction to places other than where God has called us. Peterson combines deep insights with a wonderful way with words. He asks (p.11): “But why would anyone flee the presence of the Lord? The presence of the Lord is a wonderful place: an awareness of blessing, a personal affirmation.” He went on to explain by using the analogy to a baby gazing up into the face of his parents in infancy: so we, early in our spiritual life adore God and are committed to Christ. In doing so “we escape the narcissistic isolation of gazing into our ego mirrors” (p.12). But like Jonah, Adam & Eve, and others, “the experience of God ... is accompanied by a temptation to reproduce the experience as God. The taste for God is debased into a greed to be God. Being loved by God is twisted into a lust to God-performance.... I flee the shining face of God for a slithery world of religion that gives me licence to manipulate people and acquire god-like attributes to myself” (p.12) 

So it "is necessary from time to time that someone stand up and attempt to get the attention of the pastors lined up at the travel agency in Joppa to purchase a ticket to Tarshish.… what I want to say is that the pastoral vocation is not a glamorous vocation and that Tarshish is a lie” (p.16)

But we are often convinced that the grass is greener on the Tarshish side, our churches are a lot like Nineveh. Nineveh, Peterson writes, "was an ancient site with layer after layer of ruined and unhappy history.  Going to Nineveh to preach was not a coveted assignment for a Hebrew prophet with good references. But Tarshish was something else.  Tarshish was exotic. Tarshish was adventure.  Tarshish had the appeal of the unknown furnished with baroque details from the fantasizing imagination. Tarshish in the biblical references was a 'far-off and sometimes idealized port'" (p.15).

Peterson does not write only of Jonah. As in his other books, he is often refreshingly and brutally autobiographical. In chapter 2, "Escaping the Storm,” he relates the story of himself as a child of five or so  years accompanying his evangelist mother to gospel meetings in one-room schoolhouses in the mining and logging camps of northwestern Montana in the late 1930s and early 1940s. She would lead "her small congregations in country gospel songs, religious folk ballads, and old hymns…. The lumberjacks and miners in their clomping boots, big overalls, and flannel shirts loved it. She sang the sentimental old songs and they wept, honking into their red bandannas, wiping their tears without embarrassment"  (p.42).

Let me pause at this juncture to say that as I  read this book, I got the sense that Peterson was preaching at me. He was preaching with all his might, with no uncertain urgency, for the revival of the pastoral ministry in our day. I must admit that I felt called again and again, in every story he told, to recommit my life to a ministry that is nothing but following Jesus Christ.  

This is the first of a two-part review of Peterson’s provocative book by Dr John Lim.It is too good to lay down after one reading and we hope that you will derive much enjoyment from this Good Book.

  1. On April 30 Matthew Yap (Dip CS, ‘03) shared his testimony and work experience. He received Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord in 1986 through a classmate when he was studying at Beatty Secondary School. He has worked as an IT teacher and a system engineer and is now serving at Promised Land Evangelical Centre while pursuing the Master of Christian Studies at BGST.  

  2. Chapel on May 7 was taken by Mr Mathews Abraham from Kerala, India. The report will be given next week.

  3. Chapel on May 14 will be taken by Ms Aye Hukali from Dimapur Sumi Baptist Church, Nagaland, India.

  4. Please note the Chapel Schedule below:  
    May 21 Rev Adrian van Leen
    May 28 Rev Eman Kumar, Mt Carmel BP Church Villivakkam (Chennai, India).
    June 4 Mr Edwin Tay, Telok Ayer Methodist Church
    June 11 Rev Kim Young Hak, Jong An Central Presbyterian Church (Seoul, Korea)
    June 18 Mr Timothy Lim, Evangel Baptist Church

News Bits

  1. A warm welcome to Rev Adrian van Leen, our Visiting Lecturer. May the Lord bless your continuing ministry in Singapore, at Perth and wherever the Lord may lead you. Those who wish to contact Rev van Leen may leave a message for him at the BGST Library counter. 

  2. BGST Library closes at 2:30pm this Saturday, 10 May, instead of 6pm in preparation for the Public Lecture by Rev Adrian van Leen. We hope you can attend this public lecture which will be held at the Sanctuary, Zion B-P Church, from 3:30pm to 5:00pm. Admission is free! Call to register.

  3. Registration for “New Age Spirituality”. This is the last call for this course, which will commence this Saturday. For those who cannot attend the full course because of time commitment or other reasons, please note that you may register for this course as a seminar comprising only the first session, which is held on Saturday, May 10, 7.30-10.00pm. The fee is only $30 and it will cover the first Session only. The course fee is $150.

  4.  “Religious Confusion in the Age of the Internet” - registration for this 1.5 credit course is still open. It will commence on Saturday, May 17, 7.30-10pm. The remaining sessions are on May 19, 21, and 22, 7-10pm at our Bishan campus.   

  5. We rejoice with our alumnus, Mr Quek Tze-Ming, who graduated with the Master of Divinity from Regent College on 28 April 2003. To add to our joy, he was awarded three prizes: The Board of Governors’ Prize for Proficiency in the MDiv Program, The New Testament Prize and The Biblical Studies Prize. To God be the glory! A copy of his prayer letter may be found at the Library counter.

  6. BGST Lecturer, Rev Ng Seng Chuan, will be preaching at Faith Mission Home, 14 Lorong 11 Geylang, this Sunday at 8:30am.

  7. We would like to recommend an excellent book on mission work in Japan by Singapore’s first OMF missionary, Mr Melville Szto. It is entitled, Where Your Treasure Is, and is available at $12 (normal retail: $14). You may place your order with our Library by 19 May.

A Blessed Birthday to ...

Ms Carolyn Gan  5/5

Ms Iris Lee  5/5

Mrs Low Bee Hong  5/5

Mr Alvin Tey  5/5

Ms Rosalind Lee  6/5

Ms Yeo Kim  6/5

Mrs Susan Jenkins  8/5

Mr Daniel Jew  8/5

Dr Atomic Leow  8/5

Mrs Emily Yap  8/5

Mr Joshua Cheng  9/5

Mdm Marietta Randolph  9/5

Ms Tamilarasi  9/5

Mr Lim Hong Kian  9/5

Mr Richard Lim  10/5

Mr Daniel Wang  10/5

Dr Lawrence Ng  11/5

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This page is updated on 9 May 2003 by Leong Kok Weng.
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