It’s been in print for a while, but the March issue of Christianity Today has a fine interview by Mark Galli with pastor and author Eugene Peterson, "Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons." An excerpt:

Galli: Repentance, dying to self, submission–these are not very attractive hooks to draw people into the faith.

Peterson: Repentance, dying to self, submission—these are not very attractive hooks to draw people into the faith.

I think the minute you put the issue that way you’re in trouble. Because then we join the consumer world, and everything then becomes product designed to give you something. We don’t need something more. We don’t need something better. We’re after life. We’re learning how to live.

I think people are fed up with consumer approaches, even though they’re addicted to them. But if we cast the evangel in terms of benefits, we’re setting people up for disappointment. We’re telling them lies.

This is not the way our Scriptures are written. This is not the way Jesus came among us. It’s not the way Paul preached. Where do we get all this stuff? We have a textbook. We have these Scriptures and most of the time they’re saying, "You’re going the wrong way. Turn around. The culture is poisoning."

Do we realize how almost exactly the Baal culture of Canaan is reproduced in American church culture? Baal religion is about what makes you feel good. Baal worship is a total immersion in what I can get out of it. And of course, it was incredibly successful. The Baal priests could gather crowds that outnumbered followers of Yahweh 20 to 1. There was sex, there was excitement, there was music, there was ecstasy, there was dance. "We got girls over here, friends. We got statues, girls, and festivals." This was great stuff. ….

So how should we visualize the Christian life?

In church last Sunday, there was a couple in front of us with two bratty kids. Two pews behind us there was another couple with their two bratty kids making a lot of noise. This is mostly an older congregation. So these people are set in their ways. Their kids have been gone a long time. And so it wasn’t a very nice service; it was just not very good worship. But afterwards I saw half a dozen of these elderly people come up and put their arms around the mother, touch the kids, sympathize with her. They could have been irritated.

Now why do people go to a church like that when they can go to a church that has a nursery, is air conditioned, and all the rest? Well, because they’re Lutherans. They don’t mind being miserable! Norwegian Lutherans! …

But many Christians would look at this church and say it’s dead, merely an institutional expression of the faith.

What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naïve criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it.

Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death.

So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.