NEW YORK – Eugene H. Peterson, scholar, pastor and author of The Message, a translation of the Bible in modern English, asserted in a Q Ideas discussion with organization founder Gabe Lyons that Christians should not treat Scripture as a reference book to be dissected, but as the "living word of God" that bears relevance to the world today.
On the second day of the two-day Q Session NYC event, Peterson sat down with Lyons to discuss Scripture and offer advice to Christians seeking to better understand the Bible.
Peterson is most well known for The Message Bible translation, which was inspired by his desire to help readers get as close as possible to the original Hebrew and Greek texts.
The author told Lyons on Wednesday that The Message served to "get the world of the Bible into the world of today." Yet, he noted, The Message is not the only way to combine these two worlds, and creating that combination is the job of every pastor and the responsibility of every Christian reading their Bible at home. Peterson admitted that this is not the easiest task, but shared a few key ways to accomplish it.
Mainly, Christians must participate with the Bible to understand it rather than try to force meaning from it. Christians ought to embrace what they read and let the meaning come to them. As Peterson said of Jesus' parables, "If you ask the meaning of a parable, you've ruined it … the parables require an act – a life – of participation."
As for Christians who may feel lost when reading the Bible, or find it confusing – "stay lost, and you will find your way," Peterson suggested. "You cannot read the Bible by yourself, you have to let God speak. ... If you have doubts [while reading] let God answer them."
However, Peterson urged the Q Session audience, composed of 99 cultural leaders, to not just engage with God, but to also "talk to your pastor, and talk to your friends [about the Bible]."
As a pastor, Peterson preaches the same way he encourages Christians to read the Bible, sharing with Lyons and the audience that he tried to preach in a way that encouraged participation with Scripture. He would create a conversation about the Bible, as opposed to just providing all the answers to his congregation. He said of his sermons, "I don't try to explain too much, I don't define too much." When this leaves people asking for more, "I try to engage them in conversation and ask them to participate," he said.
In the end, Peterson said, the main way readers can participate with the Bible is to avoid regarding it as a reference book. "Don't treat the Bible as a thing to be dissected. It's not a thing. It's the living word of God," he said.