Eugene Peterson on literacy

I am reading through Eugene Peterson’s book Under the Unpredicable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Eerdmans, 1992).  Thanks Mark!  It’s actually a good time for me to be reading this book given my limited leadership and pastoral experience  – I have just enough experience in the ministry that I can identify with some of the things Peterson talks about but his is not the only book I am learning from.  I am sensing my heart that I need to be listening to people like Peterson, for if I listen I will learn from them and benefit from it greatly in the years to come.  

Anyways he has a great quote on literacy in America that I want to share:

Something similar took place in the field of education [meaning our question for education hasn’t turned out like we thought it would in similar vein to our failed experience in freedom of religion – we don’t really have freedom of religion but rather a culturally enslaved religion] Our educational priorities and practices have produced a population with a high degree of literacy so that virtually everyone has access to learning.  The reading skills that used to be the privilege of a few people are now available to all.  But with what result?  TV Guide is our highest circulation magazine, with Reader’s Digest a strong second.  Our nation of readers uses its wonderful literacy to read billboards, commercials, watered down pep talks, and humerous anecdotes {probably meaning mainly the comics section of the newsper].  I don’t think I would voluntarily live in a place where education was available only to the wealthy and privileged, but simply providing everyone with the ability to read seems to have lowered rather than raised the intellectual level of the nation (37). 

And you all thought NT Wright’s book on Justification was grumpy?  😉  I think there is truth to this – we teach people to read because we believe the ability to read empowers people to live.  I had a professor in my education program in college argue that to not teach a person to read was esentially immoral.    He believed teaching kids to read was a moral issue.   But his view is not an uncommon one.   But Peterson raises a good point here: to what end has the increase in literacy accomplished?   Is it so that can read the comics better or the want ads?  People Magazine?  GQ?  Fictional novels like Left Behind?

Is all the reading we do realy making us smarter?  Is the empowering of people by teaching them to read really occuring?

If we make the connection to the church – what good has our making biblical literature available to people?  How about all the Bible software people have on their comupters but don’t use?  All the books we have on our shelves that maybe we have read or haven’t read?   What about all the Bibles we barely read?  Are we just getting information or is the information bringing transformation? 

Peterson wrote this book in 92 but I don’t think things have changed much.  What say you all on this matter?


4 responses to “Eugene Peterson on literacy

  1. Brian, thanks for this. Well, my wife and I invested in kids’ programs to enable our kids to read. @4 my son was reading some of his night books already. It makes parents so proud. My 3yr old girl is on her way.

    As for me, I have to read for both education and empowerment. Reading has worked for me for years despite the theories. 🙂

  2. Brian, it is interesting you picked up how grumpy he was. I read it with our Elders (5 in total) and 3 of them thought the book was quite grumpy and negative. Nevertheless, they enjoyed the overall context for ministry.

    This book saved me and ministry for me. It gave me hope it could be done differently from what I had seen in the mega-churches. I read it at the beginning of every year!

    Peterson is incredibly prophetic in this book. I think every final year seminary student should read this book for ordination.

    I am glad you are enjoying it.

  3. Brian,

    This is an excellent post. I read Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles and he helped me understand the importance of the Psalms in the prayer life of the Christian.

    Thank you for this post again and maybe one day I will have time to read this book.

  4. Rod- thanks, I have Working the Angles too _ I’ll have to get to it after this one. I’ll look forward to his comments on the Psalms.

    Mark – I agree about mega-churches in general but I know there are quite a few that try the best they can to creat community – the one I attended when in Seminary ended their SS program and went with small groups to help meet the need for community. I agree too about the importance of books like this for seminarians – though in the AG ordination is strictly the decision of individual districts – seminary is no gaurantor of ordination.

    TC – I think the point was that we’re teaching people to read but not the right stuff.

    Thanks for commenting.

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