Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, by Eugene Peterson

I must be on a roll because I just finished another book from the "Currently Reading" pane: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, by Eugene Peterson.

I received a copy of the book at ONS (Orientation for New Staff) this year in Madison, Wisconsin. I was suspicious of the book because I struggle with Peterson's magnum opus: The Message Bible paraphrase. It has been my opinion that in The Message Peterson takes undue liberties with the Biblical text to make them fit his theological structure and methodology.

While I do not like this in relationship to the text itself, I find I rather enjoy it in reflection on the text.

A Long Obedience is an extended reflection on the Psalms of Ascent (Psalm 120-134), and Peterson uses each Psalm to reflect Christianly on topics like repentance, providence, worship, and service.

What I found disconcerting at first was just how Christian these reflections were. I was taught in exegesis courses that one must first establish what a biblical text meant for the original audience before trying to transfer that meaning to today, and that a text cannot mean today what it did not mean to its original audience. I found myself wanting to limit and sometimes exclude distinctively Christian readings of the Old Testament.

Peterson just assumes the weight of the Christian message of the divine-human Jesus sent from the Holy Trinity as the Savior of the world, and his Christian assumptions weave their way through his appreciation of the Psalms and their application to Christian lives. His prose is bracing...and refreshing. He takes for granted the amazing grace of the Father shown and enacted in the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit.

This book is a response to grace, and an infectious joy seeps through the pages, even the pages that deal with sadness and suffering. It sings joy to people in hard times and good times. It reminds everyone in every situation of life that, while the Christian life may be at times difficult (a long obedience in the same direction) it is still a life lived in response to the wonderful love given to us in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

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