Unbusy, Subversive and Apocalyptic: Three Big Eugene Peterson Words
By: Brian Harris
One of the joys of teaching theology is that I get to engage with many student projects. Some remind me of things I have forgotten, others introduce me to ideas I have not previously considered.
At present I am supervising a project which highlights the importance of the work of Eugene Peterson. One of his books The Contemplative Pastor suggests that pastors should be unbusy, subversive and apocalyptic. The only change I’d suggest is that we don’t limit this to pastors – but advocate it for all followers of Jesus.
Why do I think Peterson’s selection of unbusy, subversive and apocalyptic remains pertinent?
I think it was Carl Jung who said: “Hurry is not of the devil. Hurry is the devil.” Hurry means we don’t notice things. It sees us confuse the pressing with the important. When we hurry we usually operate at a surface level – sometimes as a defence against asking much harder questions which would take too much time. Hurry can make us feel important – surely our busyness is a sign that we are in demand and really matter? And yet it is our busyness that sees us dash past things that could make a real difference.
Busy pastors have, according to Peterson, betrayed their calling. They are paid to pray and to pastor – to be there for God and for others. When we fill our time with things that make those two callings near impossible, we have deserted our post. We might well have gone awol from the real work of ministry.
Thoughtful people might push back against Peterson. Even against the standard of our current age which places a high emphasis on productivity (do you know your circadian rhythm so that you can optimise your work output?) Peterson’s output is impressive. I’ve managed to publish six books, so don’t expect me to believe that anyone who has published over 30 – including the hugely influential paraphrase of the Bible, “The Message” – has done so by sauntering through life at the slowest of paces. He must have been busy to achieve so much.
Perhaps being busy is then less about pace, and more about mindset. Perhaps it is about not being so busy that it is unthinkable to stop and have a genuine conversation. Perhaps the fruit of that openness to life, and especially life’s “interruptions” (or the belief that God is providentially involved in all aspects of life) means that there is much to reflect upon and much to say. Less is more when it is deeper and richer. Very busy trivia is still trivia.
Today there is much being said about the need for Christians to be subversive. However, though the word is the same, I sense that it is often used in a different way to the one Peterson suggests.
We often try to subvert alternate thought forms which challenge our own – aggressively knocking down straw men of our own creation, and declaring them ridiculous, without actually listening to what the other party is saying or to the concerns they are trying to express. You spot this view of subversiveness by the shrillness of its tone and its thinly masked anger and self righteousness. It is very different to the subversiveness (or subversive wisdom) spoken of in James 3:1 “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” – as the Kings James Version so beautifully puts it. How about we aim to be subversive by being pure, and peaceable, and gentle and full of mercy. I think it could make a real difference, and even if it doesn’t, it’s still the right thing to do…
The third big word Peterson champions is apocalyptic. For Peterson this means having an eschatological mindset, or, more simply, one that remembers that God is in charge and that God’s purposes will prevail. It means that evil will be destroyed – and that not because you or I willed it to disappear but because God is good and powerful and does what is right. To be apocalyptic is to live in the light of ultimate reality – for it will surely come about. It means I remember to pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It reminds me that if the first will be last and the last first, I should start noticing the last now. It reminds me not to be taken captive by this present age.
So there they are: Three important Peterson words: unbusy, subversive, apocalyptic. May you have a gloriously unbusy, subversive and apocalyptic week.
Article supplied with thanks to Brian Harris.
About the Author: Brian is a sought-after speaker, teacher, leader, writer and respected theologian who has authored 6 books. After 17 years as principal of Perth’s Vose Seminary, Brian is now founding director of the AVENIR Leadership Institute, fostering leaders who will make a positive impact on the world.
Feature image: Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash