Eugene Peterson should need no introduction – though I confess that I am late coming to this excellent book. With all the recent noise about spiritual formation and rhythms of grace, I thought I’d go pseudo-retro and dig out this classic. I’m very glad I did. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society is superb. First written years ago, Peterson has updated it lightly, but the core remains the same. And I’m convinced that it is as necessary as ever in the era of Coronavirus, and the years preceding (and hopefully succeeding it), because the underlying weaknesses of our culture(s) are being exposed, and only the way of Jesus offers hope.
Peterson’s opening to the second chapter sums up why this book is so timeless: “People submerged in a culture swarming with lies and malice feel as if they are drowning in it: they can trust nothing they hear, depend on no-one they meet. Such dissatisfaction with the world as it is is preparation for travelling in the way of Christian discipleship. The dissatisfaction, coupled with a longing for peace and truth, can set us on a pilgrim path of wholeness in God“. That is what this book, powerfully and profoundly and even practically, is all about. Broadly rooted in the Psalms of Ascent, this is a book that invites deep and careful engagement with God and His Word, and also marries this with penetrating pastoral insight and emotionally healthy spirituality.
I’ve written a whole ‘nother blog post on what Peterson writes in this book about worship, hope and wholeness, but it is worth saying generally that this is book for disciples of Jesus, and has a wonderful view of the Church. This last point is one I particularly appreciated, and made me so grateful to God for the churches I’ve been privileged to be a part of. Peterson writes:
“Whether we like it or not, the moment we confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, that is, from the time we become a Christian, we are at the same time a member of the Christian church – even if we do not permit our name to be placed on a church roll, even if we refuse to identify ourselves with a particular congregation and share responsibilities with them, even if we absent oruselves from the worship of a congregation. Our membership in the church is a corollary of our faith in Christ. We can no more be a Christian and having nothing to do with the church than we can be a person and not be in a family. Membership in the church is a basic spiritual fact for those who confess Christ as Lord. It is not an option for those Christians who happen by nature to be more gregarious than others. It is part of the fabric of redemption”
I close on that not because this book is beautifully old-fashioned, even as it is timeless in looking forward with great hope. Following Jesus is a journey, that takes in all (and more than!) the aspects that Peterson touches on in this book. I’d commend this book warmly to every disciple of Jesus, and even if you’ve read it before, I think it is a powerful pause for our present cultural moment.