"Language," Eugene Peterson writes, "is constantly at risk." We put it at risk when we dissect it, picking it apart and placing it in the smallest units possible. When we do this, we may gain knowledge, but we lose wisdom.
Peterson, a Reformed pastor-theologian best known for The Message, is currently writing a five-volume series on spiritual theology. Tell It Slant (Eerdmans), the fourth volume, starts by asserting that all language is a gift God uses "to create and command us." The language of the Bible, Peterson argues, is not special, lofty, or technical, but is the language we use in conversation, business, and other everyday tasks.
"I want to tear down the fences that we have erected between language that deals with God and language that deals with the people around us," writes Peterson. The God "we address in prayer and proclaim in sermons" is fundamentally involved in our lives and does not compartmentalize our activities into sacred and profane.
Peterson deftly uses personal experience to flesh out his argument. For instance, he tells of once contracting an iatrogenic infection during a hospital visit for knee surgery. Just as humans can contract an infection in the hospital while being treated for something else, we can fall victim to sins possible only in the church. "Only men and women who become Christians are capable of and have the opportunity for some sins, with self-righteousness at the top of the list," he writes. Peterson believes "chattering God talk" often abets the churchly sin that vexes many individuals and congregations.
Peterson's argument about language comes through clearly in his discussion of the parables, which takes up the first half of the book. "Why," he asks, "does Jesus answer questions about ...1