A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Eugene H. Peterson. (2000) A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 2nd. ed. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.

It was the title of Peterson’s book that caught my eye. “A long obedience in the same direction” is a line taken from Nietzsche, ironically. According to Peterson, it was the eighteen publisher that finally accepted his book idea. The first seventeen had rejected it because there was no “niche” for a book on “discipleship in an instant society” (p. 202-203). There is a reason IVP is a great publishing company and that they printed Peterson’s book not only once, but twice, exemplifies that.

Summary:

This book is built on the fifteen Songs of Ascent (Ps. 120-134) that scholars believe to have been sung by Jewish pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem (p. 12). Peterson provides “theological” commentary from a pastoral perspective. Each chapter is like a self-contained sermon. The book as a whole is an amazing journey into discipleship.

Peterson uses these Psalms to take us into the pilgrimage motif. We join bands of wandering Jews toward Jerusalem, singing their songs, pondering our shared God. As Peterson notes, Christians have always used the Psalms (p. 12). There is nothing quite like taking the canonical prayer book as one’s own!

The outline of subjects is as follows: Repentance (Ps. 120); Providence (121); Worship (122); Service (123); Help (124); Security (125); Joy (126); Work (127); Happiness (128); Perserverance (129); Hope (130); Humility (131); Obedience (132); Community (133); and Blessing (134).

Each of these chapters interweaves the text with life that any sermon hearer would recognize. The need to repent, a lifestyle of worship, security in insecure times, the sanctity of work, hope for the future, obedience in our world, and blessing God and being blessed by God.

I am sure that anyone who has read this book or that will read this book will find many gems throughout. I would keep a pen handy if you like to underline. This is the type of book that you mark your notes in order to return at a future point like one marking a spring for the impending times of drought.

Strengths:

The strength of this book is the strength of the Sunday sermon: We expect to hear God in Scripture speaking to the world in which we live. Peterson incorporates historical and linguistic insights at various points (which he is well qualified to do) without letting the meat spoil as you wade through the details. If you are a pastor or preacher of any type this would be a great book to read in order to learn how to formulate the research you do during the week into a sermon for your church on Sunday.

Weaknesses:

I can see where some may think of this book as being a bit devotional. Some don’t like Peterson because they think he plays with the text too much (usually the same people who hate  The Message not realizing the intent of that project). If this is you then this isn’t your book. For the rest of us who want to dialog with a wise, seasoned pastor in the fine art of theological reading, this book has little weaknesses.

Conclusion:

Let me say this from experience: do not let theology become dry and dead. Do not regulate Scripture to the sovereignty of historicism. Maybe Peterson is not the author for you, but do remember the church has read the Bible on it’s knees in prayer listening for God for centuries. To depart from this altogether will leave you wondering why you study Scripture and not mathematics. Find someone like Peterson who enters into dialog with the text asking the text to consume us instructing us as citizens of the Kingdom.