A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene H. Petersonis one of Eugene Peterson’s earlier books, published about twenty years ago. During a lecture in May of 1999 in Vancouver, he remarked that many people had said to him that they loved the title, but hadn’t quite gotten around to reading the book. This, of course, might be a sign that it’s a bad book. Or it could be an indication that it simply doesn’t deliver what some folks are looking for. I would suggest that it’s a very good book indeed, but that you need a certain orientation in order to read it.
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 18th 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”.
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. 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, but 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 recognise. 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.
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 dialogue with a wise, seasoned pastor in the fine art of theological reading, this book has little weaknesses.
Peterson is no enterprising preacher repackaging his sermons in volumes for eager visibility in the local Christian consumer shop. He is at once an authentic pastor and a poetic, writing scholar.