Working the Angles

Working the Angles: A Trigonometry of Pastoral Work

Eugene H. Peterson, Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, (1-800-633-9326), 1987, 266 pages, $7.95, paper.

Reviewed by Harold Perdue, senior pastor of the First Methodist Church, San Angela, Texas.

This is not a "how-to" book. It is a "what and why" book. There are many how-to books on everything from church management to dealing with conflict and teaching Bible. But this book focuses on the essential realities of pastoral minis try. Concerned about the casualties of ministry--both those that leave and those that stay--Peterson, a pastor him self, questions the very nature of the ministry. This book is the fruit of his personal search.

The author notes three basics of pastoral work--prayer, scripture reading, and spiritual direction. But these are strange experiences for too many pastors in today's consumer, business-oriented church. Peterson has discovered a new metaphor in the triangle. Most view triangles as the lines and the shape of the lines. For the mathematician, however, it is the angles that are essential. No matter how straight or how long the lines, when the angles are correctly structured, the lines will always connect.

Rather than give specific helps in mastering the three angles of prayer, scripture reading, and spiritual direction, Peterson writes about the nature of the angles and their necessity for effective ministry. And, of course, there are three chapters devoted to each of the angles.

First there is a contact between the Greek story and the Hebrew prayer. One describes what has been, the other what can be. A second chapter reflects on the Psalms as the heart of the Judeo-Christian experience and challenges the pastor to pray the Psalms. In a call to use time effectively for prayer, Peterson re views the biblical understanding of the Sabbath.

The angles for scripture reading are also three. Approaching the Bible as an oral document to be heard rather than seen is first. The second angle is "contemplative exegesis" that leads the pastor beyond the Bible as a sourcebook for sermons toward using it for prayerful personal reflection. The third chapter in this section is cryptically titled "Gaza Notes." It begins with a description of Philip assisting the Ethiopian on the road to Gaza. A methodology of scriptural interpretation is formed from the questions of the eunuch and the disciple's response.

The final angle is spiritual direction. Based on the fact that pastors are them selves spiritual directors, Peterson questions why there is so little attention given to this reality either in theory or in practice. A second section describes the necessity of each pastor having a pastor a spiritual director. The final chapter gives some practical guidance in this area.

This is a book that challenges and chastens. And it is one that will benefit any pastor captive to twentieth-century living, a captivity none of us can completely escape.


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Reviewed by Harold Perdue, senior pastor of the First Methodist Church, San Angela, Texas.

July 1988

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