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The Wisdom of Each Other
Author: Eugene H. Peterson
Publisher: Zondervan (1998), 110pp.
Review by Rev Ng Seng Chuan
  

This innocuous-looking little book is a mine of theological gems. Subtitled "A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends", it brings to the forefront of our consciousness the nuggets of profound wisdom that we sometimes are capable of producing in the course of a caring conversation. This then underscores the need for more careful listening as we talk or write to one another. The Almighty may well be addressing us through the "wisdom of the other"!

In this book, Peterson picks out issues on spirituality and repackages them as letters to one Gunnar Thorkildsson. But these are also, at some time, genuine letters to different people on a whole range of matters pertaining to faith and sanity. Gunnar is, of course, a fictional name. Gunnar is everyman, you and me. Allow me then, in this review, to polish up a few of the gems for your viewing pleasure, that readers might be inspired to visit Petersonís storehouse of spiritual jewels.

Many of us are frustrated with the church we belong to. Some feel it is moving too fast. Gosh, where have all the "hymn-books" gone? (This genre of literature has to be within inverted commas because some of our younger worshippers donít actually know what they are!). But some feel the church is not moving fast enough, if at all. Peterson argues quite simply that the church is "Godís thing, not yours" (p.26)! He goes on to point out that the church is a "super-natural community". And Ďsuperí "does not mean that it exceeds your expectations; it is other than your expectations (p.27)!

And then you can get excited about the wrong things. Peterson envisages Gunnar getting hot about attending spiritual conferences (the latest fad, "spirituality"); and he pooh-poohs the whole idea. "If they become a staple in your spiritual formation, they only distract and dilute." (p.33). And further on, "Authentic spirituality is not transferable." Well, if you want to get your pastor off your back about attending the June church camp, you must get hold of Peterson!

And while we are on pastors, they do create problems for the laity in ways they themselves do not even realise! For a start, they make us feel bad about not getting more involved in church. If they had their way, they would want us to be as busy as they themselves are! Peterson flatly warns us against emulating our pastors. "Pastor is not an advanced form of Christian" (p.58). Most elegantly put!

Shiok, huh? Peterson has more tricks up his sleeves for dealing with pastors! After all, he had been a pastor (as has the present writer!) Ė and we both (pardon the audacity of coupling my name to his!) are still "pastors at heart" (I think). But he envisages Gunnar being offered a leadership role because of his prominence in secular society (p.75). Peterson counsels Gunnar to decline the offer, and actually teaches him how to turn the pastor down diplomatically! (Now, youíve got to read the book, havenít you?). The issue at heart really is that some of our church members ought to be liberated from "church-duties" to be the effective witnesses they could be in the course of their secular calling (p.76).

Well, what then does it mean to be "spiritual", if it is not getting more "churchy"? Is it to work miracles, or testify to "answered prayers" or "signs and wonders"? None of the above! We may envy people who claim a monopoly on God via getting the parking lot they prayed for (p.45)! Peterson views that with pathos, and comments that the problem with such people is not "small prayers, but a small life" (p.46).

How about "signs and wonders"? Are they big enough for Peterson? To Peterson, the signs of Godís working are not in mega-interventions, but in the "mangers and crosses" (p.53). That is theology as profound as you can have it. All else he calls a "boutique spirituality" (p.53) that only satisfies our "feverish spiritual voyeurism" (p.56).

The essence of spirituality, as Peterson would have it, is having "God as our presupposition". We need to think about where God is, in all that we say and do (p.49). In order to do that, we need to pray. But if most of us find it difficult to pray, it is because most of our praying is ludicrously and inordinately directed to our own needs. We are narcissistic (self-loving) even as we pray! For Peterson, prayer is "paying attention to God" (pp.49, 50). And to help us do that, we need a friend who is a "theologian".

We tend to view other professions as having more value. We would love to have lawyers as friends, just in case we need legal aid. And we count it a privilege to have access to counselors or therapists. To Peterson, the one who can help us figure God out is a theologian Ė someone trained to think intelligently about God.

And this is where BGST comes in. I hope and pray that our school would turn out theologians. And what might our "theologians" do? We shall let Peterson have the final word:

"The task of the theologian is not primarily to teach us to think about God but to help us to pray to God Ė pray to the God revealed biblically in Jesus, and not just piously grovel around some figment of our idolatrous imaginations." (p.61)

 

NEWS BITS
  1. The following courses due to start next week have attracted only a few registrations. If you are keen to join these classes, do register now so we have enough participants to form a class. Call us on 62276815 to register.

  • Interpreting Judges (OT355, 1.5 credits), starting April 11. Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

  • Communication Skills for Speakers & Church Leaders (AT232, 1.5 credits), starting April 12. Lecturer: Rev Ng Seng Chuan.

  • Counselling Skills: Grief Work (CO237, 1.5 credits), starting April 12. Lecturer: Mr Song Cheng Hock.

  1. Qualitative Research & Christian Ministry (CE151). This course has been cancelled due to low registrations.

  2. Chapel speaker on 12 April will be Mr Yue Fah Yong.

  3. Tentmakers Equipping Ďní Training (TENT 2006). This is a part-time modular course specially designed to equip and prepare professionals for ministry and service in a cross-cultural context. The following modules will be conducted from June-Nov 2006:

  • Biblical Basis for Tentmaking Mission

  • Theology of Work

  • Religions of Asia

  • Tentmakers & Ethical Issues

  • Coping with Stress

  • Personal Ministry Skills

  • Understanding Culture

  • Seminar: Tentmtmaking Types

Participants who complete the entire programme will receive the Certificate of Tentmaking. Visit our website for details or call us on 62276815 for the Tent brochures.

A BLESSED BIRTHDAY TO....

Alan Tay 10/4

Mr Peter Wong 10/4

Mr Jimmy Boh 10/4

Ms Tan Khai Nee 10/4

Mrs Pauline Kwek 11/4

Mr Daniel Lau 11/4

Ms Grace Chng 12/4

Mr Samuel Soong 12/4

Ms Goh Li-Ern 13/4

Rev Joseph Dakhum 14/4

Elder Yong Teck Meng 14/4

Mdm Grace Yap 14/4

Mr Ng Beng Hong 14/4

Ms Lim Keng Hee 15/4

Ms Chew Chee Kuan 16/4

Ms Low Wai Leng 16/4

Mrs Reine Teo 16/4

Mr Leong Che Yeong 16/4

Mr Paul Seah 16/4

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