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Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity / Eugene H. Peterson, William B Eerdmans Publishing, 1987 (137 pages)
Review by Mrs Pauline Koe

If you're not a pastor (and I doubt many reading this review are) you'd probably wonder why you should look up this book. If you are one, you may not want to read it! Now having piqued your interest let me just say that we all need to read this little earth-shaking volume of spiritual correction. While it is delivered with a devastating honesty that takes our breath away it also resuscitates us with fresh insights into the essential truth of what it is we ought to do to retain our spiritual integrity.

The prophetic voice of Petersen reverberates throughout the book from the word go: "American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right and at an alarming rate ... They have gone whoring after other gods." Pastors are shamed for having become "shopkeepers", intent only on keeping their congregations happy and growing their churches on marketing strategies in much the same way as in secular organisations. And it's not really their fault because ordinary church members like you and I expect pastors to "perform" a variety of duties that take them away from paying attention to God in prayer and study. So what we get are emaciated hand-holders who have little spiritual depth out of which they may bless our lives.

Pastors have forgotten the three pastoral acts that are so critical in shaping their ministry: praying, reading Scripture and giving spiritual direction. Petersen likens these acts to "angles" of a triangle for they determine the proportions and the shape of the whole which, in the pastoral ministry, are preaching, teaching and administration. If the work of the ministry is disconnected from the angles there is no longer a triangle; there is only a mess of lines without shape and integrity. Thus the crucial need to maintain the angles.

Petersen helps us understand what went wrong in our understanding of prayer and then proceeds to draw for us a powerful picture of what prayer really is as well as what it is not. In identifying that when we pray we are only "answering" God who has already spoken, he returns us to the Bible (and specifically, the Psalms) for the ground of all our utterances to God. Unless we realise that in our encounter with a holy God we are engaged in a life-shaping activity we will persist in making prayer verbal idolatry, demeaning the sacredness of the act. Pastors, above all, have to regain a rhythm of life that allows them time to ponder God and be in touch with themselves. They need their sabbaths to pray and play!

Petersen's reflections on studying Scriptures are among some of the most original one could find for personal guidance. In directing our attention to the need to "hear" God's Word he warns against treating it as print and commodity: to read only at our convenience, to extract what is deemed useful, to treat it as something external. Rather as an act of communication, God's Word draws us into relationship with Him; it is revelation, not information. It must, therefore, be contemplatively exegeted in order to yield our honest, obedient response. Having drawn together the twin strands of the spiritual disciplines of prayer and reading Scripture Petersen then describes spiritual direction as both a pastoral task as well as a pastoral need and gives practical guidance on how to satisfy both.

The book is shot through with startling paradigm shifts that are grip our attention, fire our imagination and certainly give us very much food for thought. Petersen's concern is to have us look again at the malady that ails the pastoral ministry, and to do it with a penetrating analysis of what has gone wrong. He has no compunction in wielding his scapel like any well-trained surgeon, making precise incisions and lifting up layers of tissue to reveal the tumours that need to be excised. To taste the fullness of Petersen one has to encounter his words personally. The book is not an easy read but it's one worth reading many times over.

 

CHAPEL NOTES

The speaker at today's chapel (5 April) was Pastor Gerard Seow. The speaker read from portions of Acts 2, as well as Luke 24:49.

The sermon was largely an excursus on notable movements of the Holy Spirit in times of revival spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, and ranged from England and Wales, through India and Korea, to the Azusa Street outbreak in Los Angeles, California, in 1906.

What I found interesting as a speech enthusiast of sorts was Pastor Gerard's style of delivery. Even though he did warn us at the beginning that a person (whose identity shall remain undisclosed!) with whom he rehearsed the sermon actually fell asleep, his manner of speaking was such as to make it impossible to fall asleep. I noted that nobody at chapel fell asleep!

The speaker had a slow and deliberate, yet easy style, and spoke in near faultless English. The other notable feature of his sermon was that he concluded with an equally wide ranging reflective prayer that was nearly as long as the sermon. The sermon lasted 20 minutes; the prayer 15. (Yes, this penchant for timing is a legacy of my involvement with the Toastmasters movement).

All in, chapel today was a refreshing change. For me, apart from content, there was much to learn as to what might be achievable with variations in tempo and style.

Chapel speaker on 19 April will be Mr Teng Kay Sing.

 

 

NEWS BITS
  1. Congratulations. We congratulate Chng Joo Ching on receiving his speech diploma (ALCM, Spoken English in Religion) from the London College of Music & Media last month. Joo Ching, who completed Year One of the Speech Communications programme at BGST some time back, is the second student to receive this award.
     

  2. New Admissions. The following have been accepted as candidates for the Graduate Diploma in Christian Studies Programme.

  • Joe Sim, a logistics manager with a Master of Engineering from Cambridge University, worships at the Covenant Evangelical Free Church. Having come from a Christian family, he professes to a renewal experience, at the age of 20, that changed his life. He is seeking to build, through BGST, a firm theological foundation for understanding and glorifying God.

  • Jimmy Yun holds a PhD from the University of New South Wales. A member of Queenstown Baptist Church, he teaches a Bible study class there. He was converted while a student in Sydney, and wishes to equip himself for possible Christian ministry later.

  • Michelle Liew, a senior manager in the chemicals industry, graduated in 1992 with a PhD from the University of New South Wales. She is married to Jimmy (see above), and teaches a Youth/Adult class at Queenstown Baptist. She recalls being moved by a demonstration of Christian love at a winter retreat when she first arrived in Australia, and subsequently finding the power of Christ ameliorating her character and transforming her personality

  1. Closure for Good Friday. BGST library and offices will be closed on 14 April as it is a public holiday. Library resume operation on 15 April (Saturday) while BGST offices on 17 April (Monday).

A BLESSED BIRTHDAY TO....

Therma Cheung 17/4

Ms Chan Hsiao Yun 17/4

Mr David Chan 18/4

Mr Kang Cheng Guan 18/4

Rev Goh Yong Kuang 18/4

Mr Chew Soon Lee 19/4

Mr Lee Soon Yong 19/4

Dr Lee Soon Tai 19/4

Ms Rose Faquir 19/4

Mrs Thankip Zahau 21/4

Mr Gregory Ng 21/4

Dr Peter Wang 22/4

Mr Peter Tang 23/4

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This page was updated on Tuesday, August 01, 2006
  2006