Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

Eugene Peterson begins his multi-volume magnum opus on “spiritual theology” with a book that is far too long for what it intends to do, and discerning what exactly that intent is, is a rather difficult task. Spiritual theology, according to Peterson cannot be put easily into a book and cannot be reduced to abstractions. This perhaps explains why Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places is as awkward to read as it is. For Peterson, spiritual theology is embedded in the biblical narrative– astory (a word used many times by Peterson)–that communicates the messy though essential truths about God, creation, history, and salvation that ultimately define what and who we are.

I listened to the audio version of the book and was annoyed by the slowness of read. The reader made sure to quote every bible verse in the “[Book] chapter [number] verse [number]” format that made for torturous listening when Peterson cited a litany of verses that contained some special word he was expounding upon.

The book meanders between the Pentateuch and the four Gospels drawing all kinds of parallels that seem unnatural, forced, and implausible. A case in point would be Peterson’s use of Jesus’s overturning the money changer’s tables to supposedly echo Yahwey’s deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt. This type of comparisson isn’t clearly found in text, nor does it compare all that well.

Peterson is a good writer and has lots of wisdom to offer. His strongest section is his exposition of Exodus and the parallel to what he calls “exorcism” in the Christian life. His emphasis on the material world as God’s good creation is a much needed correction to the dualism many Christians fall into believing our natural world is somehow not spiritual. His criticisms of consumer religion are right on the money, and if taken seriously, very provocative. But the length of which he goes to flesh these things out with very little explanation of how they relate to a “spiritual theology” leaves the reader (or listener) with the challenging task of figuring out what the exact point Peterson is trying to make.

Peterson obviously has a disdain for pragmatism, and in many cases one could imagine it being warranted. But what is so wrong with being practical? Why is it wrong to take a simple straightforward approach to a topic like this? Why be so elusive? This rebelliousness against making a notion like “spiritual theology” practical or accessible, or God forbid, “systematic” is the book’s central weakness. Much of its contents could have been boiled down to 75 pages, and there would have been no loss of insight. Those that decided to make the trek through Peterson’s first volume will reap the rewards of discovering his insights, but they will have to pay the price of an inescapably dull read. Readers may want to forgoe the first volume and read the shorter subsequent works that seem to be more to the point.

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