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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" (Eugene Peterson)

TITLE: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
AUTHOR: Eugene Peterson
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019, (220 pages).

This is one of the classics of the late Eugene Peterson. The book title has become one of the most popular in Christian circles promoting unity and commonality. The phrase originated from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil." Peterson uses this to contrast the challenges of discipleship with the culture of instant gratification in our society. Twenty years later, when attempting to revise the book, he realizes that much of the content are still relevant. So changes were limited to things like the Bible translation used at the beginning of each chapter, and the addition of an epilogue to reinforce the essentials of prayer and Scripture in the field of spiritual direction. Readers will also learn that the use of Peterson's paraphrase of Ps 120-134 inspired the eventual translation of the MESSAGE translation. Convicted that people need to pray the psalms, he translates the Scriptures with the focus on vigorous engagement with the Word. His son, Leif summarizes Peterson's consistent message in his works: "good news always plays out best in relationships." This book is about centering our relationship with God and to relate better to people in Christ.

Fifteen chapters span the book, with each chapter led by a reflection on the Songs of Ascent (Ps 120-134). There are many beautiful metaphors used to show how Scripture engages the world at large. We are urged to be pilgrims and avoid the tourist lifestyle. The latter wants things quick but the former takes the path that is long and slow. Such spiritual travel advisory is crucial for the modern Christian living in an instant society. We learn about the need to connect our Sundays with the rest of the days to make our faith an everyday religion and not limit it only to one holy day each week. For pastors, Peterson shows us that we ought not to be discouraged nor distracted by people offering reasons NOT to go to Church. Instead, a "long obedience" is about praying and waiting that one day, the person of concern would find a reason to go instead of inventing other reasons not to go. These songs of ascent highlight a whole potpourri of Christian disciplines from discipleship to worship; service and work; providence and security; help and happiness; repentance and obedience; and several more. As a master wordsmith, Peterson crafts out Christian living concepts after helping us amalgamate prayer and scripture into one. This is one book which could be read quickly for information. However, if one is keen on spiritual formation, take time to pause, make notes, re-read, or simply reflected on. Peterson's gentle and persuasive style is inviting. He does not force his words into us. We can choose how to respond. More often than not, there would be "aha" moments written on each chapter. I wouldn't be surprised if readers would find more "wows" especially upon re-reading.

My Thoughts
This book is anchored on Scripture and baked in prayer. Peterson's knowledge of the Word shines through as he boldly lets his imagination runs free. Along the way, readers are invited into the journey of a "long obedience." As I read the book, I feel like a little child in the school of spiritual direction. Slow reading will make us more sensitive to the spiritual nudges within the covers of the book. The songs of ascent are popularly used by worship leaders in calls to worship as well as devotional literature. The way Peterson has been able to do is to use it toward spiritual formation toward the various Christian disciplines of discipleship. The author is spot on when he writes about the dangers of living and acquiescing to the demands of an instant society. In order to better appreciate this book, I would recommend the slow reading of each chapter. Better still, alternate between the reading of the psalm and the chapter. Pray. Apply it accordingly. Compare and contrast our Bible translation with Peterson's THE MESSAGE. The goal is not to get the message into us, but to let the Word open us up so that our souls would ascend toward God according to the leading of the Spirit.

This book is still a classic after all these years. Few authors could write like Peterson. Don't just take my words for it. Read the book and decide for yourself.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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