Reading Peterson: “Discipleship”

Trying something new, sharing some of the salient quotes from my reading, chapter by chapter. This, after all, is what a commonplace book is–even when made digital.

LongObedience.coverA Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Eugene Peterson

Chapter 1: Discipleship

Peterson’s books bring his pastoral wisdom to bear in a way that is both challenging and affirming. I always close the book thinking “Thank you” and “Yowch.” This chapter is no exception to that rule (and neither is the book). Longer review of the book after I’ve finished.

What’s wrong?

“Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. … There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” (16)

To better explain discipleship, and to find the title of the book, Peterson quotes Nietzsche: “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is … that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”

In answer to the quick-fix, instant-growth approach to life and spirituality, Peterson quotes Thomas Szasz, who says that we need renewed respect for the “simplest and most ancient of human truths: namely, that life is an arduous and tragic struggle; that what we call ‘sanity,’ … has a great deal to do with competence, earned by struggleing for excellence; with compassion, hard won by confronting conflict; and with modesty and patience, acquired through silence and suffering.” (21)

Who are we, as Christians?

We are disciples, writes Peterson: “people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. … A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.” We are also pilgrims, “people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ.” (17)

“The ascent [to Jerusalem] was not only literal, it was also a metaphor: the trip to Jerusalem acted out a life lived upward toward God, an existence that advanced from one level to another in developing maturity.” (18)

What are the Psalms of Ascent, and how can they help?

The Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) he describes as a “dog-eared songbook,” full of psalms to be sung when we are “between,” “songs of transition, brief hymns that provide courage, support and inner direction for getting us to where God is leading us in Jesus Christ.” (20)

“The Songs of Ascents combine all the cheerfulness of a travel song with the practicality of a guidebook and map.” (21)


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