In July of 1994, I drove to a cinema in Tucson, AZ to watch a new Tom Hanks movie called “Forrest Gump”. I watched as Forrest, an average and perhaps less than average man weaved his way into and out of the halls of history and in the midst of that journey, also watched him love, learn, create, succeed, fail, and become a person who helped me to learn a bit about myself. Forrest never had any intention of becoming anything grand, he just was, and in the midst of being Forrest Gump, in the movie anyways, he changed the world. I left the theater as a 19 year old in tears and yearning to just be me.
This week I read an early copy of the new authorized biography of Pastor Eugene Peterson by Winn Collier. I finished yesterday and need to tell you, specifically if you’re a pastor or have a pastor’s heart, you need to read this. Admittedly, I knew little about Peterson before I read the book other than how most people know him – He authored “The Message” translation of the Bible.
Like that evening walking away from the 1994 Academy Award winner, I walked away from “A Burning in my Bones” both thrilled that I learned more about Eugene Peterson, and sullen that I never had the opportunity to meet the Pastor/Author. (Yes, I know that Forrest was not real) He clearly made an impact on the world larger than we can even know, yet constantly pushed away the accolades when they drifted his way. Humble and sweet and in some ways, naive to the world, yet profoundly impacted people to worship God like few who have gone before him. Now moving away from the Forrest Gump analogy, a few points I must address about the book and its contents:
Winn Collier’s writing frankly is out of this world. He allowed the reader to understand that this was his project, and he was permitted to enter into the Peterson’s world without coming off pretentious or preachy. His general flow is brilliant, using deep words and in some ways, I get the feeling that Collier’s love and appreciation for Peterson is every bit as deep as my love for Andy Stanley. What’s better though, is how Collier grabbed throughout the pages of this book and made me want to devour everything Peterson wrote. Currently I’ve only read “Eat his book”, which I truly loved. I congratulate Winn for his book and for being an introduction to a pastor I knew very little about before I read his biography.
In recent years, I’ve found the evangelical world, as you may have read in the Holman Report, distasteful. When someone comes out and asks questions or makes statements, no matter how humble that differ from their preferred systems, they lash out as a community, on blog posts and facebook threads, telling everyone they know how horrible that person or their work is. Peterson was not an exception here. One of the reasons why I never read Peterson or even his “Message” translation was because years ago, someone I respected came out and talked down to the work and its translator. That’s all I ever knew about Peterson until I read “Eat this book” which someone gave to me. I enjoyed the work, but not enough to get to know the author in any way. Collier does a fine job talking through Peterson’s Assembly of God background, his Presbyterian ordinations, and the world he eventually ended up in, as a respected and rejected author and mentor. I too, have been caught up with the temptations of being critical of those I don’t know, or those who may have wronged me. I am inspired by Peterson’s reactions and desire for inclusivity into the those who he knew worshiped God. There is one group of people who Jesus judged and drove out and that was those who thought themselves the most spiritual and closest to God through scripture. If it don’t change the heart, it ain’t from God.
By far the most important thing about this book is Eugene Peterson’s Legacy of being a pastor who wanted desperately to shepherd his local church and push away any notoriety that came with his books or academic prowess. In a world where pastors have desired in their hearts to be more (I have sinned in this way so much) and to have more, whether more is influence or money or numbers, Peterson’s humble qualities fund him very uncomfortable with any fame that his work brought his way. He simply wanted to pastor. That has been a lost art in recent days, and if the Christian church is going to thrive in the future, it will be because of gifted people who don’t use their gifts to take photos with celebrities or to talk down to anyone with a differing opinion, but because of honest, humble men and women who love Jesus and truly desire to lead people to worship God in a deeper way.
Thank you Winn Collier for your gift to pastors and Christians everywhere, and thank you, Eugene Peterson for living a life worthy of being the subject of that gift. I highly recommend the book, “A Burning in my bones”. which comes out in March of 2021.