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Craig Mattson

The Jesus Diet

Eugene Peterson's "conversations in spiritual theology."

Here's a story I'm not proud of. Once, in an effort to teach Marshall McLuhan's concept of integral awareness in my communication theory class, I put up a big-screen version of a Magic Eye photo.1 It was a faux sylvan scene, lots of trees and ferns and tulips and—if you scrunched your eyes and looked at it sideways—a 3-d recycling symbol. Some of my students saw it right away. I knew what they were seeing, because the website where I'd found the picture let me click the image into the foreground. But—and here's the embarrassing part—I couldn't make out the image.

Eugene Peterson is enough of a reader of Walter Ong to know that our Western ocular habits break things down—hence my seeing nothing but tulip petals and fern fronds. Peterson is also a reader of Albert Borgmann, whose books question whether my students' technological adeptness orients them for a life well-lived. These two concerns—how we read and how we live—inform Peterson's second and third "conversations in spiritual theology," Eat This Book, and The Jesus Way, in a series that will comprise five volumes when complete.

The title of the first work draws on the prophet Isaiah's word hagah, "to refer to a lion growling over his prey the way [a] dog worried a bone." In Peterson's gloss,

Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don't simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the word, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus' name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.

In other words, the Word of God digested as the bread of life becomes a part of us, or—to use McLuhan's imagery—an extension of ourselves. The virtue of this highly participatory understanding of reading is that it discourages our visualist tendency ...

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