Practicing the Resurrection

Practice Resurrection is the fifth and final installment of what Eugene Peterson calls his “conversations” in spiritual theology.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of the books in this series; it wouldn’t be strange to immediately revisit these books from the beginning.

In this book, Peterson takes a somewhat different approach from the previous four volumes.  Rather than drawing from the scope of Scripture, the author mostly limits himself to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church and does so in a generally linear fashion.  It’s not quite a commentary, but it’s close, and I’ll certainly consult the book’s index in the future.

There’s no use attempting to summarize Peterson.  Each section of Practice Resurrection resembles a small pond, lovely on the surface and surprising in its sudden depth.  In broad terms, the author is most interested in what it means for a converted person to mature in the faith, to “grow up in Christ.”  Given the context of Ephesians, he’s especially concerned with how the church- the local, tangible, complicated church- contributes or hinders the processes of maturity.

Peterson seems to me a gentle person, but in this book, he makes known his frustrations with quick fix approaches to discipleship.  In his view, there are good reasons Christian maturity is a life-long process.

It is understandable that we will carry old cemetery habits and assumptions into this resurrection country.  We have, after all, been living with them a long time (if you call it living).  And so we require a patient, long-suffering reorientation in the resurrection conditions that prevail in this country, living into the ‘full stature of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:13), our resurrection pioneer and companion.

In his approach to maturity, Peterson will diminish neither the power of the culture and customs that shape us nor the power of the resurrected Jesus to transform us.  We pastors can lose this balance- leaning too far in one direction diminishes the active reality of the other- and this book is a strong encouragement to keep both in view.

Pastors will especially appreciate Peterson’s emphasis on the irreplaceable role for the church: “a creation of Christ for growing up in Christ.”  It’s not a glossy or an ideal view of the church presented here.  In fact, it is the presence of Christ among groups of incredibly ordinary and sometimes ornery people that is so important to Christian maturity.  In contrast to a culture that “keeps us in a perpetually arrested state of adolescence,” Peterson views the church as “immersing us in the conditions of becoming mature to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

It will take some time to make your way through Practice Resurrection, but I hope you will.  There are no quick fixes, easy solutions, or secrets revealed in these pages, just imaginative approaches to the truths held by the church since the beginning.  Thanks to Peterson, we have a timely reminder of how these truths, how the resurrection itself, can be practiced.

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A review copy of this book was sent to me by Eerdmans Publishing.

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David Swanson
David Swanson is the pastor of New Community Covenant Church [Bronzeville] on Chicago's South Side. He blogs often and has authored countless articles for prominent Christian publications.

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