Back in 2005 Christianity today interviewed Eugene Peterson. The interviewer said this during the course of the interview: "Many Christians
would look at this church and say it’s dead, merely an institutional
expression of the faith.” Peterson responded:
other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t
have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But
there’s no other place to be a Christian except in the church. There’s
sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really
don’t understand this nave criticism of the institution. I really don’t
von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the
tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the
life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and
grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration,
So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when
you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It
disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy,
my writing, I hope to recover a sense of the reality of congregation –
what it is. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Why are we always
idealizing what the Holy Spirit doesn’t idealize? There’s no
idealization of the church in the Bible – none. We’ve got two thousand
years of history now. Why are we so dumb?”
I love it! But I wonder how others respond. Is Peterson an important, strong prophetic voice to the modern church, or is he just a grumpy old man? What do you think?
Zachary Kaufman says
More often than not, I think the grumpy old men are still on to something.
Peterson may well be a prophet, but I wonder if all churches are meant to be great oaks protected by a thick ‘bark’ of institutionalism. It seems the woods have room for some smaller plants that have less invested in structure and even longevity, but which do play a role in the kingdom…
i like it too. i like the idea of a safe place, a place i can be protected long enough to grow–which will take the rest of my feeble life. and grumpiness might be a prerequisite for prophets.
Brad Ruggles says
Come on, Eugene Peterson is just too likable to call him a “grumpy old man!”
I like a lot of what he has to say and tend to agree with his attitude on the criticism of the church. The Church is called the “Bride of Christ” and fortunately He loves us flaws and all.
For my part, I try to learn to love the church the way God does. But I also love it too much to leave it the way it is. Like any good marriage, we can always improve our relationship.
That’s a great quote Ben. Thanks for sharing.