A Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of Simon Peter
by Michael Card
Who is Peter? Who is this man that so many Protestants ignore and Roman Catholics revere? If we strip away the myth and the tradition, what does Scripture say about him? In this book, Michael Card walks through what the Gospels, Acts, and Peter’s letters say about him. When he steps into imagination, he informs the reader, though that happens seldom. We see Peter as brash fisherman, growing disciple, fallen man, and the person Jesus used to help shepherd the church in its early years. Card highlights several times Peter said, “No!” to Jesus, and what they reveal about Peter. And in the end, he shows that Peter is a stone… just like we are, stones forming the building of the church.
I’ve enjoyed Michael Card’s music for a few years. His Unveiled Hope is fantastic, and I have a piano arrangement of “New Jerusalem” from that album that I’ve used numerous times in worship. He employs his poetry and musical talent to share Jesus. Card also wrote the excellent A Violent Grace that I recommend to just about anyone who’s looking for a good devotion book. With all that, I entered this book with high expectations.
For the most part, those expectations were met.
Card’s way with words and his employment of that talent to illuminate Scripture are on full display. He describes Peter’s calling at the miraculous catch of fish. When Peter sees Jesus’s power, he falls to his knees and begs Jesus to leave him, for he is a sinful man. Card writes:
There was nothing in [Peter’s] experience, nor in ours, that could have prepared him for this kind of frightening generosity. We are forever asking for the things we think we deserve. Simon knew then what we need to learn now: What we deserve is only death and separation from God and all his goodness. If we, for one blink, could step back and glimpse the awesome generosity of the One who should, by all rights, destroy us, we would join Simon on our knees with the same confession on our trembling lips. (40)
Card, as he does so often, shows great love for the broken: “When we are hurting we do not flee to the rich and healthy for wisdom and real comfort. We seek those who have fellowshiped in the sufferings of Jesus” (53).
I delight that Card preaches both Law and Gospel clearly. No, he’s not a Lutheran writer, and so there are some things a little muddled, but he understands and shares that love of Christ for sinners: “[Jesus] gazes at us with that understanding stare and sees all our potential, all our frailties and faults. And yet he was willing, even while we were still sinners, to take up that cross for us” (111)
Card connects scenes that I had ever before realized. For instance, Peter was present when Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead, saying, “Talitha koum” which means, “Little girl, rise.” Later, when Peter is used to raise Tabitha from the dead, he prays and says, “Tabitha, rise.” The only difference? One letter. Card points out that Peter must have realized and striven to be as close to Jesus as possible. I love these little connections.
Yet, for all these little things, Card keeps the main thing the main thing: What Jesus did for Peter, and how that reveals what he has done for us. How Jesus loved Peter and extended forgiveness, and how he does the same for us. How Jesus’s love changed Peter, and how it changes us. How Peter wanted to share that love, though he still struggled with sin, and how we are the same. We see Law and Gospel over and over again in this book, and it always comes back to: We are sinners that Jesus loves.
Is the book perfect? No. Card mentions decision theology (something I had thought he was usually more coy about) as well as his ecumenism. However, these are tiny little things in a book that generally shows us Peter and shows him well.
If you’re looking for a good book with some history of an apostle but don’t want to get bogged down in academics, if you want to see the story of how Jesus transformed a fisherman into an apostle, this is a fantastic work and one I’ll recommend.