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Fallible apostle and his divine Master

08 March 2013

David Winter enjoys a bishop's study of a historic friendship


Jesus and Peter: Growing in friendship with God
Michael Perham
SPCK £9.99
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THE subtitle of this book is Growing in friendship with God. Michael Perham, the Bishop of Gloucester, uses the biblical accounts of the life of the apostle Peter as a matrix for examining what Gregory of Nyssa called "the one thing truly worthwhile" - becoming God's friend. He sees in the life of Peter, as recorded in the New Testament, a pattern of personal and spiritual growth: follower, disciple, servant, friend. The process where the mercurial Peter was concerned was never likely to be straightforward, but it is in the moments of failure, setback, and misunderstanding that the author discerns the building blocks of true friendship.

The book, which has many of the marks of a devotional biography, reveals the biographer's familiar infatuation with his subject. Peter was the disciple once labelled "Satan" by Jesus, the one who denied that he knew him with an oath, the one who came up with ludicrous suggestions on the Mount of the Transfiguration and had a head-to-head altercation in Antioch with his fellow-apostle Paul over the issue of circumcision.

For the author, all of these moments of human fallibility are simply transitional events in a developing friendship between Peter and the one he called Master, and between Peter and the one he calls God. Thus, more perhaps than John, he becomes a model for the ordinary follower of Jesus who, despite failures and falls, keeps on the path through discipleship to divine friendship.

Because of that, and because of the care with which the author delineates that path, this book would make a splendid resource for a home Bible-study group, or even a sermon series. It does not answer all the questions, of course. How, for instance, can we be "friends" (in any normal sense of the word) with the one who is our Master and Lord? But pursuing them with this wise and perceptive guide will surely throw more light on the road to that "one thing truly worthwhile".

Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former Head of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC.

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