On Living Well by Eugene Peterson — Book Review

Eugene Peterson, well-known author and Presbyterian pastor, died in 2018. In this book editor Paul Pastor has compiled unpublished material from Pastor Peterson’s archives. Much of it comes from a weekly letter he sent to the members of his congregation. All the entries are short, ranging from several pages to less than one page. It could easily be used in a daily devotional time.

On Living Well: Brief Reflections on Wisdom for Walking in the Way of Jesus

As always, Peterson’s work does not disappoint. He had a way with words and the ability to use fresh analogies and creative ways to illustrate biblical truths. He challenges the reader to examine his or her life in the light of the Gospel and to grow more and more Christlike. These essays are brief and easy to read, but deep, and they are filled with the hope and excitement that should characterize the Christian journey.

The writings are grouped into five themes:

*On Beginnings

*On Simplicity

*On Prayers and Praises

*On Mercies

VERDICT: 5 STARS. I loved it!

The Lutheran Ladies received a free e-copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.. Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CPR 255.

For more by Eugene Peterson see:

Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson–Book Review

A Quote by Eugene Peterson

A Long Obedience In the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson — Book Review

Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson–Book Review

I have read other books by Eugene Peterson and generally really like his style.  I have to admit, however, that I slogged through this one.  It is dense and fairly academic, not a quick or easy read.  You may even want to take notes!

If you do make it through the book, you will probably learn some big words you didn’t know before, such as kerygma (the proclamation of the gospel) and perichoresis (the relationship between the three members of the trinity).  Peterson’s premise is that God is present in all areas of life (I certainly agree).  He structures his discussion around these three:  creation, history and community.  For each section, he parallels a book from the Old Testament with a book from the New Testament, and also discusses a common threat or heresy that often arises around the concepts presented.

Section 1:  Creation

  • Kerygma:  Birth of Jesus
  • Texts that parallel:  Genesis/Gospel of John
  • Threat:  Gnosticism

Section 2:  History

  • Kerygma:  Death of Jesus
  • Texts that parallel:  Exodus/Gospel of Mark
  • Threat:  Moralism

Section 3:  Community

  • Kerygma:  Resurrection of Jesus
  • Texts that parallel:  Deuteronomy/Gospel of Luke & Acts
  • Threat:  Sectarianism

Everything is well thought out and researched.  I found the connections between the Old and New Testaments particularly interesting.  According to Peterson, this is an exploration of “spiritual theology” which he defines as:

“a cultivated disposition to live theology, to live everything that God reveals to us in Scripture and Jesus and then live it in the neighborhood, in our neighborhood.”

There is a section at the end with a list and description of other books that have informed his thinking about spiritual theology.

In short, we often know a lot about God, but fail to live in obedience to the things we know.  He also spends time discussing how often technology removes our everyday life even further from an actual experience of God.  (The book was written in 2005, but this point seems even more relevant today with the coronavirus encouraging more and more use of technology which minimizes our contact with others).

I agree with Peterson’s premises;  I admire his research;  but somehow I still found this book difficult to get through.

If you are interested in purchasing it, I noticed that the kindle book is available from Amazon for only 1.99!

VERDICT:  Content 5 stars, readability 3 stars

For more on Eugene Peterson:

A Quote by Eugene Peterson

A Long Obedience In the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson — Book Review

 

Being a Family Blessing

In Sunday School recently, we had a discussion about our church family, and how we should relate to these people who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are meant to be a blessing to the family of God, and that isn’t always easy.  I found this quote from Eugene Peterson’s book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, and I think it addresses the situation well.

 But of course, the fact that we are a family of faith does not mean we are one big happy family.  The people we encounter as brothers and sisters in faith are not always nice people.  The do not stop being sinners the moment they begin believing in Christ.  They don’t suddenly metamorphose into brilliant conversationalists, exciting companions and glowing inspirations.  Some of them are cranky, some of them are dull and others (if the truth must be spoken) a drag.  But at the same time our Lord tells us that they are brothers and sisters in faith.  If God is my Father, then this is my family.

 So the question is not, “Am I going to be a part of a community of faith?’  but “How am I going to live in this community of faith?”  God’s children do different things.  Some run away and pretend the family doesn’t exist.  Some move out and get an apartment of their own from which they return to make occasional visits, nearly always showing up for the parties and bringing a gift to show that they really do hold the others in fond regard.  And some would never dream of leaving but cause others to dream it for them, for they are always criticizing what is served at meals, quarreling with the way the housekeeping is done and complaining that the others in the family are either ignoring or taking advantage of them.  And some determined to find out what God has in mind by placing them in this community called a church, learn how to function harmoniously and joyously, and develop the maturity that is able to share and exchange God’s grace with those who might otherwise be viewed as nuisances.

Which kind of a family member are you?  Do you bless others, or do you just want to be blessed?

A Long Obedience In the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson — Book Review

Psalms 120-134 are known as “Songs of Ascent.”  They were sung by Hebrew pilgrims as they traveled the road to Jerusalem, the highest city in Palestine, for the great worship festivals.  Eugene Peterson uses each of these songs to describe a portion of what takes place along the walk of faith, as we travel upward toward God.  The chapter titles include:  Repentance, Worship, Service, Security, Joy, Perseverance, Humility, Community and more.  I love Eugene Peterson!  He never fails to engage and enlighten me.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society / Edition 20

In the updated edition, Peterson uses his modern version of the Psalms, from his translation, The Message.  Many will like this, but I preferred to go back and read from the NIV, as I enjoy the familiarity.  His goal is to encourage people to once more pray the Psalms, as an encouragement to pray all their emotions, good, bad and messy.  We can take it all to God, in fact we must if we want to progress in the Christian life.  According to Peterson we won’t change overnight:  it takes “a long obedience in the same direction.”  This is not a popular idea in our “give it to me now” culture.

“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.”

This book was recommended to me in a comment by my friend, Nancy, and I heartily recommend it as well.  It’s not a difficult read, and the chapters could easily be read one per day, as part of a devotional practice.  Has anyone else read this book, or others by Eugene Peterson?  If so, let us know what you think, we’d love to hear.

P.S. Check out the archives for another Peterson book I reviewed, Eat This Book.

What is Our Daily Bread?

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  Matthew 6:11

This well-known and much used phrase comes from what Christians call The Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus taught to His disciples.  I was just reading about it recently in Eugene Petersons’ book about the Scriptures, “Eat This Book.”  Evidently at one point in the history of Bible translation and interpretation, the word used for daily(espiousion) was not found in very any other ancient document written in classical Greek;  many scholars assumed this meant it was a very unusual word, and must refer to some deeper, uncommon, probably spiritual meaning.  However, after the discovery of a number of ancient “housekeeping” documents they realized that the word was actually one used in the everyday language of normal life.  It means exactly what it says:  bread produced today;  fresh bread, ready for consumption.  The word wasn’t in any literary documents, because it was too ordinary, too unassuming for a real author to use.  It was a word meant for housewives and shopping lists.

So when Jesus told us to pray for daily bread, He did, indeed mean we should pray for things that are real and physical.  Martin Luther casts a wide net for the term when he explains it in the Small Catechism:

What is meant by daily bread?

Everything that is required to satisfy our bodily needs;  such as food and rainment, house and home, fields and flocks, money and goods;  pious parents, children and servants;  godly and faithful rulers, good government, seasonable weather, peace and health;  order and honor;  true friends, good neighbors, and the like.”

Wow!  That’s a lot to ask for, isn’t it.  Many are things we accept from God without much thought at all.  Yet they are all gifts, gifts we should reflect on, and be thankful for.  So this month of Thanksgiving, let’s each make time to give thanks for those everyday blessings from our good God.

 

Eat This Book

“I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll;  and he said to me, ‘Take it and eat;  it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.’  And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it;  it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.”  Rev. 10:  9-10

If you’ve never read anything by Eugene Peterson, you should.  Peterson is professor emeritus of spiritual theology at Reagent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.  He is author of the popular modern paraphrase of the Bible, The Message.  

Eat This Book, has been sitting on our bookshelf for some time and I decided that as it went along with our November theme, now was the time to delve into it.  As usual, I’m not disappointed with Peterson’s work.  It deals with the topic of “spiritual reading.”  According to Peterson we need to read the Bible not just for information;  not just for inspiration and comfort; not just as a guide for ethical living.  We need to “eat” the Bible –digest it, and take it into our lives so that it nourishes us and affects us on a very basic level.  Most of the time, we use the Bible to help us in our life;  we need to take the Bible in so that it uses us — instead of making the Bible part of our lives, we need to become part of its’ life and narrative.

In the quote above from Revelations, an angel gives John a scroll to eat;  first it is sweet, but it becomes bitter.  According to Peterson, when we become Christians, our first taste of Scripture is wondrously tasty — however, as we continue in the Word, we find that there are many things that are hard to digest, understand and accept.

“We are fond of saying that the Bible has all the answers.  And that is certainly correct.  ….But the Bible also has all the questions, many of them that we would just as soon were never asked of us, and some of which we will spend the rest of our lives doing our best to dodge. …you can’t domesticate this book to what you are comfortable with.”  from Eat This Book

I hope some other authors and readers will take a look at Peterson’s book this month.  You’ll be challenged to a whole new level of reading the Scriptures.

 

How Do We Do The Lord’s Work?

goodnewsforabadworld

Eugene Peterson wrote a sentence in one of his books which the Church would do well to ponder. “You can’t do the Lord’s work using the devil’s ways.”  That seems like it should be pretty clear to us, but you would be surprised at how easy it is to get fooled into thinking that the ways of the world could ever properly serve the Kingdom of Heaven.

To see how easy it is for us to fail to see the difference let’s look at a parable Jesus told.  It’s the one about the farmer who had a bumper crop and found his barns too small to hold it all.  So he says he will build more barns, mete out the crop as he needs to and retire in comfort.  But then his plans are disrupted because his life would be demanded of him that night and the crop would do…

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