Many Evangelicals have been positively impacted by the work of Eugene Peterson. One of the Church’s modern sages, Peterson is the author of many books that occupy the shelves of pastors, church leaders, and laypeople alike. His Bible translation, The Message, has been read and used by many. His writing ministry’s influence is pretty much undeniable.
As a reader of Peterson, though, I have always wondered what his preaching was like. I read from his memoir and writings about serving in the “catacombs” of Baltimore, Maryland at Christ Our King Presbyterian Church. He was pastor there for nearly thirty years. That’s well over a thousand sermons, and very few of them have made their way to the online world. Much of his preaching has been virtually unknown. In reading Peterson, one wonders whether the man is as able a preacher as he is writer, or, perhaps more inconceivable, if he is as able a writer as he is preacher. One does not have to wonder any longer.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God is a collection of forty-nine sermons, never before published, offering us a glimpse into the Sunday dialogue of Pastor Peterson. Brilliantly organized, there are seven sections that walk the reader through a biblical theology of Peterson’s sermons, with sections of sermons on the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the prophet Isaiah, Wisdom Literature, the Gospels, the Pauline Epistles, and the apostle John. Being sermons, they make for fairly short chapters. For the slower reader, here could be your next “chapter a day” devotional.
As for the actual content of the sermons, anyone familiar with Peterson’s work will not be surprised to find that these sermons are poetic in nature, inviting us into the biblical narrative, beckoning us to touch and smell and see the environment of the text. Peterson’s astute understanding of the biblical languages is evident in his preaching and exegesis. But Peterson is not aloof to the needs of today’s hearers. Like his other books, he is always thinking of and focusing on the Christian life. After all, if we preach with no attempt to leave our hearers changed, what have we accomplished? Peterson’s sermons are not mere cold and lifeless explanations of the text. They are full of relevant challenges and encouragements, helping us to see the Bible as speaking to us today.
I’ve really enjoyed getting a small taste of Eugene Peterson’s preaching ministry. It has helped me, in some ways, to understand the rest of his books. To know that Monday through Saturday, his writing was living in tandem with the preparation of these sermons, for his people. To know that Sundays for Pastor Peterson were opportunities for him not to sell a book, but to engage with his flock and offer them words of life. Pastors will find these sermons especially helpful, as they only help to model some important aspects of preaching. I’m grateful to Waterbrook Multnomah and Eugene Peterson for these wonderful sermons. Here is another volume belonging to an already-stellar catalog.