Eugene Peterson meets Karl Barth
I'm very much enjoying Eugene Peterson's 2011 memior, The Pastor.Long quote from Chapter 13:
I entered seminary with little, if any, interest in theology. In my experience theology was too contaminated with polemics and apologetics to take any pleasure in it. It always left me with a sour taste. The grand and soaring realities of God and the Holy Spirit, scripture and Creation, salvation and a holy life always seemed to get ground down into contentious, mean-spirited arguments: predestination and free will, grace and works, Calvinism and Arminianism, liberal and conservative, supra- and infra-lapsarianism. At my university I had avoided all this by taking refuge in a philosophy major that gave me room and companions for cultivating wonder and exploring meaning. When I arrived in seminary, I continued to keep my distance from theology by plunging into the biblical languages and the English Bible.
And then I met Karl Barth.
But not in the seminary. I was introduced to Barth by one of the young men on the basketball team I was coaching. Jordan was a graduate student in English literature at Columbia University and about my age. He was Jewish hut not an observant Jew. All he had observed from his parents was their indifference to any and all religion. He had started coming to
the church because of the basketball team and in the process became a Christian. It was a new world to him, and he loved talking about every latest book discovery. After our Saturday ball games we often had long conversations over coffee—conversations about God, Jesus, and this Christian life that was opening into a world of wonders.
He introduced me to Karl Barth on a Saturday evening while we were showering after winning a close game. “Eugene, you’ve got to read this book. I just found it in a used bookstore. You would love this.” While we toweled ourselves dry and dressed, he described what he had been reading in Barth’s [amazon asin=0195002946&text=Epistle to the Romans].
Jordan’s excitement excited me. The first thing Monday morning I checked out a copy of the book from the library. I’ve been reading Barth ever since. He became the theologian I never had, a theologian who got me interested in God as God, not just talk about God. Franz Kafka in a letter wrote, “If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it?.. . A book must he like an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us.” This first book of Barth’s that I read was “like an ice-axe.”
What I had heard and read of theology up until this point was about God. God and the things of God as if they were topics for discussion, things to be figured out; there was no juice in them. What a contrast to the poetry of Whitman, the novels of Melville, the journalism of Chesterton. But there was juice and plenty of it in Barth. I couldn’t get enough of him.
In reading Barth, I realized that for most of my life the people I had been living with and who had taught me had been primarily interested in getting the truth of the gospel and the Bible right, explaining it and defending it. (My parents were blessed exceptions to all this.) Barth didn’t have much interest in that. He was a witness (a favorite word of his). He was calling attention to the lived quality of the Christian life, the narrative of the Bible, the good news of the gospel. Listening to God as God reveals himself in Christ and the Bible and preaching. Not taking the Christian life into a laboratory and dissecting it to figure out what makes it tick, but entering into God’s action of creation and salvation that is going on all around us and all the time and participating in it. Barth wasn't indifferent to "getting it right," but his passion was in "getting it lived"