The Taser's Edge

Book Review: Working the Angles by Eugene Peterson
November 11, 2008, 9:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I turned to this book with a lot of trepidation.  I first became familiar with Peterson through The Message, the Bible paraphrase which I have (perhaps unfairly) hated since I first heard it.  Of course, I’ve never actually read much of it.  Then my first semester at Duke, I had to read Eat This Book, about the centrality of the Bible in ministry and the image of eating the Word of God.  It’s a nice Biblical image, but then Peterson just repeats himself over and over, never really moving beyond the basic meaning of the title.  I also saw him speak at Duke, and it was a similar experience—nothing all that new, inspired, or inspiring.  (It is, of course, possible that I didn’t give him a fair chance.  But it’s hard to forgive someone who murders the poetry of the Psalms for the sake of straightforwardness of meaning.  Again—probably an unfair statement.)


But Working the Angles is one of the required readings for the Anglican Missional Pastor, the pastor training program in which I am enrolled through the Anglican Mission in America.  During the next two years, I will have to read all five of Peterson’s books on pastoral ministry.  The other four are Under the Unpredictable Plant, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, The Contemplative Pastor, and Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work.  I am not sure of the order, but they apparently don’t need to be read in order either.


I began with Working the Angles because I randomly was given a copy this summer, among 300-400 other books from a pastor’s and a church’s libraries.  But if I had not been assigned to read it, I do not know that I would have.  I’m incredibly glad that I did, however.


The title comes from an image that Peterson creates in the opening section of the book: “I see [the] three essential acts of ministry as the angles of a triangle.  Most of what we see in a triangle is lines.  The lines come in various proportions to each other but what determines the proportions and the shape of the whole are the angles.  The visible lines of pastoral work are preaching, teaching, and administration.  The small angles of this ministry are prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction…Working the angles is what gives shape and integrity to the daily work of pastors and priests.  If we get the angles right it is a simple matter to draw in the lines.”


As in Eat This Book, Peterson draws the whole book around a central visual metaphor.  Here, however, it is not annoyingly repeated on every page, but is fleshed out.  In my understanding of pastoral ministry, there is a way in which the parts he names are arbitrary.  What I like about the book, however, is not that I think he nailed the three essentials, but that he speaks about them as very important parts of the pastor’s life, and that he has insights to offer about each one.  I look forward to reading the next one in the series, and I just-a-hair-less-than-loved this book, but I would say that it (like Eat This Book) struggles to offer anything particularly original or insightful when Peterson writes about Scripture and its use in pastoral ministry.  You may disagree.

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