Review: The Message 100

Just a few years ago, I was not a fan of The Message, Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible. I could never put my finger on it. Perhaps I found its vocabulary a bit too colorful. Perhaps I thought one man surely couldn’t “write the Bible.” I’m not sure. I just knew I didn’t like it.

But then I met Eugene Peterson.

I didn’t meet him in person. I met him watching an old pastor share stories in YouTube interviews. I met him at the gym on my iPod in seminary guest lectures. I met him on vacations and on cold, dark mornings in books on pastoral ministry and prayer. I easily noticed that he always exalted Jesus, never failed to remind me of the earthiness of Scripture (it’s a raw, honest, messy place), and imaginatively articulated that God is always up to something in the world.

I started reading The Message. And I came to see that it was produced by the hands of a blue-collar pastor. No, not a guy who also swung a hammer for a living, but a faithful minister who worked hard to get the message of the Bible into the hands and hearts of his congregation. As a pastor myself, I identified with this. Is there anything more important? Peterson’s solution was to produce a translation that fit the language of the world in which his congregation lived. He became a bridge-builder between two worlds, the world of the Bible and the world of today.

The Message 100 is Peterson’s latest effort to get the Bible into the hands and hearts of God’s people. In the preface, he writes about his translation process as a pastor:

Out of necessity I became a ‘translator’ (although I wouldn’t have called it that then), on the border between two worlds, getting the language of the Bible that God uses to create and save us, heal and bless us, judge and rule over us, into the language of Today that we use to gossip and tell stories, give directions and do business, sing songs and talk to our children (A8).

Peterson calls his translation a “reading Bible.” It’s not mainly a Bible to study (though Peterson admits that is important and his work does not replace other versions). Instead The Message is designed to get you lost in the text so that you are awakened to God and his story.

And that’s where The Message 100 is especially helpful.  It is the entire text of Peterson’s The Message divided into 100 readings—100 chronological sequences—of God’s story. Each reading covers anywhere from a few to several chapters of the Bible. The readings are chronological according to when they were written (so, for example, Readings 1-4 consist of Genesis; Readings 5-8 covers Job; the Apostle John readings round things out in Readings 97-100 ).

The Message 100 will help you experience the Bible the way it was intended to be experienced—it’s more like reading a novel than a series of propositional truths or Aesop’s Fables. The Bible is the “unfolding story of God revealing himself to the people he dearly loves” (A15).  The Message 100 will help you see this with minimal distractions (chapter and verse numbers are in small print in the margin). The readings are divided up and sectioned-off based on author’s intent and literary contextual clues. You could easily work through the entire Bible in 100 days by reading through this work.

Let me add one more thing you might like to know.. While Peterson himself wrote The Message, he isn’t accountability-free. In the forward, U2 frontman Bono writes, “Peterson is upfront with us in saying that his own translation…is a paraphrase. That we should receive it as through the filter of his own life as a pastor” (A5). That’s important and encouraging. But more than that, page A13 lists twenty translation consultants from respected seminaries, colleges, and universities who have reviewed Peterson’s work to ensure that it is accurate and faithful to the original languages. There are times when Peterson appears to do more interpreting than translating (e.g. Genesis 3:16). But there is never a major doctrine in question and it happens too infrequently for me to throw the whole Message baby out with the linguistic bath water. Besides, Peterson began as a biblical language scholar. With academic accountability, a reverent approach to Scripture, and a pastor’s heart, Peterson is someone I can trust.

I heartily commend The Message 100 to you. If you are skeptical, then read it with a standard Bible version close by. But read The Message and get lost on that bridge Peterson has kindly built for us, the bridge between the language of then and now. Find yourself in between the two worlds of the Bible and Today. While you are there, hear the God of the universe (and the bridge) speak, and discover his world, his plan, his beauty, his salvation. And enjoy him there.

Life Theology

Psalm 88: A Paraphrase

This Sunday I’m preaching from Psalm 88. Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase of that chapter inspired me to take a deeper look and draw out some of the obscurities of this ancient Hebrew song. Here is my best Petersonian effort at my own paraphrase.

Psalm 88

O Yahweh, you are my savior;
   All day and night I’m praying to you.
Please listen to me;
   Don’t plug your ears!
My life is a wreck,
   And I’m standing in my grave.
I might as well be in hell;
   I am weak and helpless,
like one freed to play on a dead-man’s playground,
   like a rotting corpse in a trash pile,
like those you’ve forgotten,
   because you’ve cut them off like an orphaned child.
You’ve put me in a dungeon,
   in a black hole with no exit.
And it’s because you’re angry with me,
   You’re waterboarding me and I can’t breathe.
You’ve made my friends leave me;
   I make them want to vomit.
I’m like a prisoner in my own body;
   I’m blinded by my tears.
I’m not giving up praying, O Yahweh;
   My hands are pleading with you to answer.
Do dead people marvel at your miracles?
   Do dead people sing your praises?
Is the sound of your never-ending love heard 6-feet under,
   or your faithfulness in the land of doom?
Can people see your works when it’s dark,
   or your perfections in the land of no memory?
But I’m not giving up praying, O Yahweh,
   Every morning I’m confronting you.
Yahweh—why are you pushing me away?
   Why are you hiding from me? Is this a game to you?
My life has been a wreck since I was a kid;
   I’m suffering from your beatings; I can’t stop them.
Your hot anger rips me to shreds like a tornado;
   You’re bomb blitzes are destroying me.
They are drowning me in a raging river all day long;
    I can’t look anywhere without seeing them.
And on top of all this you’ve made my lover and my friends run away from me;
    Darkness is now my only friend.
Life Ministry

What Eugene Peterson Wants to Hear In a Sermon

“If the pastor is mostly talking about what I’m supposed to be doing I quit listening.”


Pastoral Ministry and the Practice of Prayer

“Lord, teach us to pray.” This request from the disciples (Luke 11:1) is quite puzzling. These were Jewish men–men who from the time they could speak were taught how to walk and talk with God. They knew the Psalms–the prayer book of Israel. Perhaps not all the disciples had them memorized like the religious leaders of the day. But they knew them. They loved them. They sang them. If anyone knew how to pray, it would be these Jewish men who were instructed in the way of the Hebrew scriptures.

Because of this reality, the question is also quite humble, quite profound. It was a blow to the ego to ask for help.

In my short time as a pastor in a local congregation, I have found that many people, like the disciples, are saying, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It makes good sense, of course. If the disciples, who spent time with the Incarnate Son of God, needed to be taught how to pray, we probably need it, too. Many people find themselves at a loss when it comes to conversation with God. It may be because they don’t know some basic things about God. It may be because they are not immersing themselves in the Scriptures. It may be because they were concerned about having “bad theology” when they pray. It may be because they don’t make time for it. The list goes on and on.

Whatever the reasons, I’ve come to see that one of my primary roles as a pastor is to be a praying man and help others pray. It’s been a grace-wrought burden for several months now. I’m still learning how to pray; yet at the same time, I want to lead like Jesus and help others pray.

I first felt the weight of this when I read The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson last summer on vacation.  Peterson writes about how his perspective on helping people pray changed when he moved from seminary into the pastorate:

My secularized schooling had shaped my educational outlook into something with hardly any recognizable continuities with most of the church’s history. I had come into the parish seeing its great potential as a learning center, a kind of mini-university in which I was the resident professor.

And then one day, in a kind of shock of recognition, I saw that it was in fact a worship center. I wasn’t prepared for this. Nearly all of my preparation for being a pastor had taken place in a classroom, which chapels and sanctuaries ancillary to it. But these people I was now living with were coming, with centuries of validating precedence, not to get facts on the Philistines and Pharisees but to pray. They were hungering to grow in Christ, not bone up for an examination in dogmatics. I began to comprehend the obvious: that the central and shaping language of the church’s life has always been its prayer language.

Out of that recognition a conviction grew: that my primary educational task as a pastor was to teach people to pray. I did not abandon, and will not abandon, the task of teaching about the faith, teaching the content  of the gospel, the historical backgrounds of biblical writings, the history of God’s people. I have no patience with and will not knowingly give comfort to obscurantist or anti-intellectual tendencies in the church. But there is an educational task entrusted to pastors that is very different from that assigned to professors (p. 89).

Indeed, my task is much different than a seminary professor. So in the coming days/weeks, I hope to write several posts reflecting on the intersection of pastoral ministry and the practice of prayer.

In the meantime, whether you are a pastor or not, ask yourself, “How vital is prayer to my life with Christ? Am I doing as Jesus did and leading others toward a life of prayer?”