Bob and Weave

Musings of an impostor. Welcome to the masquerade.

Peterson Ch. 4: The Apocalyptic Pastor

Posted by flyingbk on 05/10/2016


The famous words of the legendary basketball coach John Wooden come to mind while reading the fourth chapter of Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” (And there may not be a better example than Steph Curry’s overtime blitz last night. My, my goodness.)

Referencing Revelation, Peterson names St. John his “patron saint for pastors.” There is a similar vein to chapter 3 about we all just want to live ordinary, crisis-proof lives and simply desire for pastors to serve as “checkout clerks” of religious goods. The prescription in that chapter was subversion. In this chapter, it’s apocalypse:

Apocalypse is arson – it secretly sets a fire in the imagination that boils the fat out of an obese culture-religion and renders a clear gospel love, a pure gospel hope, a purged gospel faith.

Peterson writes about apocalyptic prayer, poetry, and patience. He notes how John is praying in the Spirit in Revelation 1:9-10 and is in fact praying throughout the entire book up to 22:20: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” There is listening, silence, constant alertness.

One danger as a pastor is to provide silver, bite-size linguistic bullets. To share a thought, provide an insight, but to keep it short and palatable so that the listener feels fixed up and we both walk away all warm and fuzzy.

No. We must pray. One way I’ve been challenged recently is how often I tell people that I will pray for them, but then I really don’t (don’t tell anyone). Of course, a remedy is to pray on the spot, right then and there. Now that’s apocalyptic and urgent. After all:

Prayer is the most thoroughly present act we have as humans, and the most energetic: it sockets the immediate past into the immediate future and makes a flexible, living joint of them.

Next up is poetry. Again, there are similarities from last chapter in using parable as subversion. He reiterates the power of words to encourage, empower, heal, restore. It is such a high privilege for a pastor to take time to craft his words carefully when he preaches, teaches, leads, counsels, even socializes. We get to assemble sounds and images on a regular basis and they will pack quite the punch if we learn how to deploy them.

John certainly utilizes his entire toolbox in Revelation. It’s a book that is meant to be fully engaged by our imagination. In his wonderful book Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, Tony Reinke writes about the power of a sanctified imagination, and uses Revelation as his primary example:

The imagery in Revelation was written to make us holy…
The imagination-stretching images are God’s way of sliding the spiritual defibrillator over the slowing hearts of sluggish Christians. The images are for Christians who are growing lazy and beginning to compromise with the world, Christians who are allowing their hearts to become gradually hardened by sin. The answer is a spiritual shock. It is God’s way of confronting worldliness and idolatry in the church…
This explains how the images in Revelation are heeded. The images give us eternal focus and cause us to reevaluate our priorities. The images fuel our zeal to kill personal sin, keep us alert to the purity of the local church, inform our counsel for fellow sinners, deepen our love for the lost, make us diligent in prayer, disgust us with personal idolatry, dissatisfy us with worldliness, and stir a longing in our hearts for Christ’s return. Revelation invites us to see ultimate reality through our imaginations, in breathtaking, earth-scorching, mind-stretching, sin-defeating, dragon-slaying, Christ-centered, God-glorifying images that change the way we think, act, and speak. To view imaginative literature as a genre fit only for the amusement of children is an act of spiritual negligence.

(Yeah, definitely read this book if you haven’t.) Bible reading tip: Whenever you come across any word image, take time to visualize it just right, and get lost in that image. Then you witness the power of a sanctified imagination. We lose so much today in our image-based society when movies and TV shows and video games do all the work for us.

Now we get to the Wooden flourish. John writes in Revelation 1:9 (NIV): “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus” (emphasis mine). This is a super duper long patience (hypo is the Greek root here). Pastors need to be exceedingly patient with all people. There is ever urgency, but the work of God’s kingdom takes time. Peterson wryly notes that “an impatient person never finishes [Revelation].”

Sadly, that’s why we often institute programs. Programs are more facile and miles less messy than people. It’s easier to measure the success of programs than the growth of people. But a pastor must never lose sight of his main calling as a shepherd.

In the end:

Apocalypse ignites a sense of urgency, but it quenches shortcuts and hurry, for the times are in God’s hands.

Amen. May we strike that right balance, and always keep in mind that the ‘earth is a tomb.’ Take it away, Islander:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: