Peterson and McGrath–Two of Your Best Friends

Eugene Peterson tells us about a little dog he once owned that loved to drag up big bones.

“In his forest rambles he often came across a carcass of a white-tailed deer that had been brought down by the coyotes. Later he would show up on our stone, lakeside patio carrying or dragging his trophy, usually a shank or a rib…. Anyone who has owned a dog knows the routine: he would prance and gambol playfully before us with his prize, wagging his tail, proud of his find, courting our approval. And of course we approved: we lavished praise, telling him what a good dog he was. But after awhile, sated with our applause, he would drag the bone off twenty yards or so to a more private place, usually the shade of a moss-covered boulder, and go to work on the bone. The social aspects of the bone were behind him; now the pleasure became solitary. He gnawed the bone, turned it over and around, licked it, worried it. Sometimes we would hear a low rumble or growl, what in a cat would be a purr. He was obviously enjoying himself and in no hurry. After a leisurely couple of hours he would bury it and return the next day to take it up again. An average bone lasted about a week.”

Dr. Peterson has written a book with the intriguing title “Eat This Book,” which Bible students will recall is what the angel commanded of John in Revelation 10:9-10. Peterson wants you and me to learn to savor the Word of God, to do with Scriptures what his little dog used to do with that bone: spend time with it, enjoy it, work on it at a leisurely pace, and get all the good it contains, to leave it for a day and return tomorrow to see what else we can get from it.

That, you will agree, is a far cry from the hurried way many of us rush through the few verses we scarf down in the morning on our way out the door.

Peterson gives a wonderful insight from the Hebrew. “As a lion or young lion growls over his prey….” (Isaiah 31:4) The word translated “growl” is the Hebrew “hagah.” That’s the same word found in Psalm 1:2 “In that law doth he meditate day and night,” translated as “meditate.” It’s also “meditate” in Psalm 63:6.

So, how is it “meditate” in some places and “growl” in another? Peterson points out that when the Old Testament uses “hagah” to describe a lion growling over his prey the idea is the very same thing his little dog was doing with that bone: worrying it, savoring it, getting everything it had to offer. He was lost in the enjoyment of it.

And that, Eugene Peterson admits, is the crusade he is presently on: to rally the people of God to a new appreciation of the Word of God. There is a good reason many of the Lord’s people are either ignorant of Scripture or see reading it as their daily chore: they’re not doing it right. God’s Word was never meant to be consumed in massive quantities at one sitting, but in smaller portions which one mulls over and ponders and savors. “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

Scripture was never intended to produce bumper sticker slogans, a cute line here and a zinger there. It was meant for thoughtful believers who are willing to sit before the Word and let God teach them. We are not to approach the Word to “get it into our lives,” but to get ourselves into its life. Not to get some key verses into our heads but to get our heads into the Kingdom.

“Eat This Book” is published by Eerdmans, 2006, and it will be the best 20 bucks you’ve spent in a while. Yes, this is the same Eugene Peterson who gave us The Message and so many other great writings.

Alister McGrath is on campus.

This Oxford professor–holder of doctorates both in microbiology (if I heard right) and theology–is speaking at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus as a part of an annual lecture series in which the seminary brings in an opponent of traditional Christianity and a defender of same and let them have at it. The subject this weekend is Atheism/Theism and McGrath is the good guy, if you’ll allow me to use that term. (Anyone interested in DVDs on the entire proceedings should visit the seminary’s website

Friday afternoon McGrath spoke to a hundred students and theology professors from around the nation in Leavell Chapel on the subject of Richard Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion.” Now, I’m not up on my apologetics (the defense of the faith) and no longer know who’s doing what, but McGrath says Dawkins is the current leading spokesman for atheism. At the age of 65, Dawkins has written perhaps a dozen books, with each one becoming more anti-religious than the last.

In “The God Delusion,” Dawkins writes, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers…will be atheists when they put it down.” At least he’s clear in his dastardly intent.

McGrath does not think he’s going to win any converts.

Dawkins’ five major thrusts are: 1) Belief in God is irrational. 2) Science shows there is no god. 3) Faith in God can be explained away on scientific grounds. 4) Faith in God leads to an aesthetically deficient interaction with the natural world. 5) Faith in God leads to violence.

Here are a few insights from my notes on McGrath’s talk. I regret not being able to reproduce his intriguing British accent, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Dawkins says belief in God is infantile, like a belief in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy which you should grow out of. McGrath asks, “How many people do you know who start out in life not believing in Santa or the tooth fairy and who become convinced later in life they exist and live the rest of their days as confirmed believers? Yet, they do with God.”

Can God’s existence be proved? Or disproved? McGrath says arguments about God have stalemated for generations. Neither can prove their case with total certainty. Both theism and atheism are faiths. So, the question about God’s existence will have to be resolved on other grounds.

Dawkins insists that no scientist is a Christian. When McGrath points out that there are many believing scientists, Dawkins simply dismisses them as not real scientists. How convenient. Anything that doesn’t fit my system I deny.

Dawkins says anything worth knowing can be proven scientifically, and everything else is just a delusion. Again, how convenient.

Among the scientists who have achieved greatness in their fields and who leave no question as to their credentials or their IQ are many who believe in God and the Scriptures. These are quick to announce that science has great limitations, that it cannot answer the most childlike questions: How did everything begin? Why are we here? What is the point of living? Science is helpless before these issues.

Furthermore, many “truths” which science lives by today will be proven to be false or just theories in the future. Even Dawkins has admitted this, to the point of saying that Darwinism may be in that group.

Dawkins says man creates a god because he needs to believe in one. McGrath counters that man is predisposed to believe in God. “He has put eternity in their hearts,” according to Ecclesiastes 3:11. As Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself and we are restless until we rest in Thee.”

Dawkins says there is a psychological need to believe in God, that people invent God to meet that need. That belief in God is a projection of humans. Wish-fulfilment. A virus of the mind.

McGrath responds that it is nonsense to say things exist because we want them. Nowhere else in the universe do we see anything existing because people desire it. This argument works against both theism and atheism. Are all beliefs viruses of the mind or is it just belief in God that is the virus?

It is true that religion has caused violence in the world and so has atheism. Beliefs make people do good and bad things. Stalin used vigorous anti-religious oppression to get rid of millions of Christians. The problem with violence is not religion but human nature.

One of the strongest tenets of belief in God is that human nature need redemption. That’s where the Gospel of Jesus Christ comes in.

Alister McGrath doubts that Richard Dawkins wrote “The God Delusion” in order to convince believers of anything. His arguments just do not stand up. He wrote the book, McGrath says, for the benefit of atheists, to convince them that they still have a message to defend.

McGrath welcomed questions at the end, and several from the audience started moving toward microphones. Had I stayed to speak, I would have pointed out to him that few people in this city subscribe to Dawkins’ line that “belief in God causes violence.” Some 18 months after Hurricane Katrina devastated this city, the people who have consistently put their lives on hold and journeyed to New Orleans to help us rebuild–often at great personal expense and with great difficulty–are the believers. We know of no instance of atheists lifting a finger to help anyone down here.

By their fruits you shall know them, the Master said. We’ll stand by that.

1 thought on “Peterson and McGrath–Two of Your Best Friends

  1. Someone needs to write a book entitled

    “The Dawkins Delusion”…please…

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