Alright, I’d like to wrap up my reading of Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, with a brief summary of the epilogue that is included in the 20th anniversary edition, published in 2000. I enjoyed working through the book in the morning men’s groups at my church and posting thoughts on here as well.
The epilogue strikes me as written for pastors. That said, Peterson seems committed to speaking frankly about the experience of pastoral life with anyone who will listen, be they pastoral colleague or interested layperson.
Eugene Peterson describes his motivation in writing the book: “I was doing what pastors do–trying to get this gospel of Jesus Christ into the lives of these men and women with whom I was living, and doing it the only way I knew, through Scripture and prayer, prayer and Scripture.” (p. 201) In this endeavor, “Two convictions undergirded my pastoral work. The first conviction was that everything in the gospel is livable and that my pastoral task was to get it lived. (p. 201) …The second conviction was that my primary pastoral work had to do with Scripture and prayer.” (p. 202)
He reflects further on Scripture and prayer: “Scripture and prayer are not two separate entities. My pastoral work was to fuse them into a single act: scriptureprayer, or prayerscripture. It is this fusion of God speaking to us (Scripture) and our speaking to him (prayer) that the Holy Spirit uses to form the life of Christ in us. And it is this fusion that I was trying to get onto the pages of A Long Obedience.” (p. 202)
Peterson is serious about our following Jesus and “living out the gift of his life in detail in our bodies and circumstances” and so is interested in helping us work against the current of modern American culture that is self-centered and in which most if not all of life is self-referenced. What is of greatest importance is me. “The reading style employed more often than not by contemporary Christians is fast, reductive, information-gathering and, above all, practical. We read for what we can get our of it” rather than to encounter God, who might be more interested in getting something out of our reading and praying Scripture than he is in teaching us how to deal with a bad day. Certainly God speaks to us where we are, but much of modern Western Christianity seems stalled out at that initial point of contact and uninterested in moving beyond a milk-diet of faith and into solid foods.
So Peterson offers a different way to read Scripture: “We…[read] our Scriptures slowly, imaginatively, prayerfully, and obediently. Each adverb is important.” I look at each briefly here.
1. Slowly. The depth and breadth of the strange and wonderful world of the Bible is simply too great to skim over. I would add for myself that I find a combination of reading relatively quickly (to feel the flow of the larger narrative of the Bible) and reading slowly in order to meditate on the Word. His point about reading slowly is quite helpful because truly hearing the message of the text requires practicing good listening skills, which almost always involves slowing down.
2. Imaginatively. This is what some folks nowadays–including myself–call “inhabiting the narrative of Scripture.” Peterson puts it this way: “We depersonalize the Bible into abstractions or ‘truths’ that we can reconfigure and then fit into the plots that we make up for our lives. …Imagination is the capacity we have of crossing boundaries of space and time, with all our senses intact, and entering into other, God-revealed conversations and actions, finding ourselves at home in Bible country.” (p. 205)
3. Prayerfully. This is the antithesis of Bible reading that is solely focused on learning information. Information can be quite useful, “but the Bible is not primarily a source of information; it is one of the primary ways that God uses to speak to us.” We call Scripture “God’s Word,” which is another way to allude to the fact that God’s voice speaks from the pages of Scripture to invite, call, promise, bless, confront, command, and heal us. (p. 205) “Bible reading is prayed reading.”
4. Obediently. James captures this when he implores his readers, “Do not merely listen to the word… Do what it says.” (James 1:22 TNIV) Again, Scripture is not about giving us information that we can make useful in our lives. Scripture’s aim is to form us in the likeness of Christ. This assumes and requires a much more robust experience of the Word, one that can only really happen when Scripture is not just read but practiced, lived. Peterson quoted John Calvin in one of these chapters as saying, “True knowledge of God is born out of obedience.” Scripture aims to reveal to us true knowledge of God. To hear Scripture well, obedience is a must.
Thanks again for sharing this journey; hope you’ve enjoyed it.