Wednesday, 1 May 2013

My First Message by Eugene Peterson

As I mentioned earlier I'm not a huge fan of dynamic equivalence or paraphrase type "translations" of the biblical text. They do bring the text into contemporary language and make it more understandable in some respects, however they also guide interpretation to a significant degree, thus limiting the depth and breadth of meaning we can receive from a text. For this reason along with the fact that paraphrases often become dated quickly, I'm not a fan of Peterson's The Message. However, virtually all children's storybook Bibles are paraphrases and since I have valued Peterson's work generally in books like Under the Unpredictable Plant and Eat this Book , I actually find that I do appreciate some aspects of the children's version of his paraphrase entitled My First Message.

  Gifts I see in My First Message:
  • Peterson sticks relatively closely to the actual biblical text and at times it is evident he is attempting to respect the character or contextual aspects of the original Hebrew/Greek. 
  • The devotional format follows the ancient practice of lectio divina (holy reading). Questions in the midst of the story and at the end are designed to guide the readers through four movements gradually deepening their understanding and reflection -- Read. Think. Pray. Live. 
  •  Peterson provides brief definitions for some of the more difficult words (ark, grace, saviour, messiah, holiness etc.) in a neat format along the side of the page so you can look at them if you wish, but they don't interrupt the text. 
  • There is consideration in the illustrations for both context and ethnicity of characters (attempt to make people and environment congruent with an understanding of the ancient near east).
  • Illustrations are active and filled with energy and emotion (perhaps a bit overdone, but clearly engaging). 

Some concerns I have:
  • There are virtually no stories of girls/women. Not even the ones that most frequently are included such as Ruth or Esther. Women frequently appear in illustrations, but are not the central characters in the stories. 
  • The atonement stories only really allow for the idea that Jesus died in our place (substitutionary) and for the suffering servant. 
  • Very poor coverage of the Bible as a whole. No stories from wisdom literature and almost nothing presented from the prophets or the letters. Though Acts does get a fair bit of attention which is sometimes not the case. 
  • Illustrations are Disney-esque, which is to be expected since the illustrator(s?) used to work for Disney (stated in promo material). So the illustrations tend to be quite distorted, characters have massive eyes or are overly muscular at times. As is usually the case in contemporary animation, people (regardless of ethnicity) tend to be caricatures. 
  • Everyone is very very clean and brightly clad. Jesus washes some pretty pristine looking feet! I love bright colours and bold lines, and I do find myself drawn into the pictures, however, I think we have enough trouble trying to see our own messy world in the Bible, without the Bible stories looking like they didn't actually happen in the same messy space. 

My First Message is in a somewhat more evangelical vein than the books by Tutu and Milton that I looked at previously. It is designed for children ages 4-8 and it would probably suit that age group fairly well. I certainly do have concerns about some of the content in this book, however, I also appreciate some of what it does have to offer, especially the lectio divina format.  

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