Peterson, Eugene H. The Invitation: A Simple Guide to the Bible. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2008.
I was a member of (and ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament at) Christ Our King Presbyterian Church, founded by Eugene Peterson where he ministered for 29 years. Our family joined during the interim after he had left.
Brief Overview of the Book (Theme, Perspective, Approach):
No matter what you think of Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible — The Message — you will like this invitation to read the Bible. The Invitation uses quotes from The Message and actually consists of Peterson’s introductions to those books from The Message. It begins with some thoughts “On Reading the Scriptures” that apparently are compiled from another book he has written — Eat This Book. There is an overview of the Scriptures describing it as five acts: Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus, and the New People of God. There are also introductions to sections of Scripture — “The Books of Moses,” “The History Books” (Joshua-Esther), “The Wisdom Books” and so forth. This also shows that his approach is to treat the Old Testament Books in the English Bible order (rather than the Hebrew canonical order). He only combines the most obvious books (like First and Second Kings or Chronicles and the like) in the Old Testament — books that really were one book in the Hebrew anyway. But in the New Testament he lumps together some of the shorter writings. This is a book written for everyone in our culture.
Critique (strengths and weaknesses):
The opening essay is great and makes me want to go out right now and buy and read Eat This Book. The Invitation is a simple introduction and does not pretend to be comprehensive but accessible and practical. It does this quite well. The greatest weakness of the Old Testament treatment is its slavery to the English order of the books. Peterson is aware (as his other books demonstrate) that the Hebrew canon follows a different order and that this makes a difference in our interpretation, but he follows the English order in this book. This was a good book, but that would have taken it to a whole new level of helpfulness. It also would have been helpful to see the differences in perspective of some of the smaller New Testament books that were lumped together whereas he could have combined Ezra-Nehemiah (one book in the Hebrew) and solved some of the introduction complications he ran into by not doing so. Using quotes from The Message was refreshing because I did not find myself skimming over them as often is the case with familiar passages in similar books. He does come across as having missed some things though — like the narrative analogies in Judges comparing each character to Saul in unflattering ways.
Application (specific, shows just how valuable & relevant the book is):
Peterson encourages us not to be led to see God in our stories but instead to find our place in God’s story. This introduction/invitation to the Bible is good because it gets us into the Bible and its big story. It is not an introduction that gives lots of background information or outlines or other common introductory issues. Instead the book is much more practical and pastoral. Even the analogy of the Books of Moses to human development stages is helpful — Genesis is conception, Exodus is birth and infancy, Leviticus is childhood schooling, etc. These kinds of observations help us to see the bigger context of God’s story in terms that are familiar to our own stories.
In order to read the Scriptures adequately and accurately, it’s necessary at the same time to live them. Not to live them as a prerequisite to reading them, and not to live them as a consequence of reading them, but to live them as we read them.
Reading the Scriptures isn’t an activity discrete from living the gospel; it is integral to it. … (9)
When we submit our lives to what we read in Scripture, we find that we’re being led not to see God in our stories but to see our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves. (11).