, the guy who stuck up for Rob Bell, and the guy who created The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language : Numbered Edition
. In other words, three strikes against him.
But Peterson is also the guy who’s written books on the pastoral vocation that stand against the current of the North American church. Books like The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction
are gifts to the church and have much to teach us about the shape of pastoral ministry.
So who exactly is Eugene Peterson? The guy who endorses and produces suspicious books, or the guy who writes books that should be read by pastors everywhere?
It turns out that Eugene Peterson is both. In The Pastor: A Memoir
you encounter Peterson as the man who discovers that Henry Emerson Fosdick, a renowned liberal, isn’t so bad after all; who finds unity in a group of pastors who range “from Christian to Jew, from conservative to liberal, and nearly every shade in between.” If you go looking, there’s enough to get Peterson written up in a more than a few discernment blogs without much effort.
But you also discover Peterson as the man who has much to teach us about what it means to be a pastor. He doesn’t romanticize the pastorate; quite the contrary. But he gets it, and he helps me get it better than any other contemporary writer I know.
Peterson also understands that our culture is not a hospitable place for the pastoral vocation. He is almost seduced by the desire to become a therapist to his congregation, as some pastors do. He struggles with the desire to be a pastor who makes things happen, but is given a portrait that warns him against making this choice. Peterson gets that the church has “twenty different ways to kill you.” I can certainly relate to the pastor he describes why he can’t find time to talk at a deep level with people about spiritual things: “Because I have to run this d*** church!”
Even as I read over my highlights from his book, I realize that this is a book that I need to read again. Peterson has helped confront some wrong ways of thinking as I take my fledgling steps towards planting a church. He’s helped me identify some ways that I’m tempted to abandon the pastoral vocation for something more seductive. He offers correctives that are desperately needed, as well as sustenance for pastors who are weary and exhausted.
I needed this book. I’m grateful for what Peterson continues to each me about pastoring. If you, like me, are tired of being told how to pastor by the “sociologists and academics, the psychologists and business executives, the talk-show gurus and religious entrepreneurs,” then let Peterson have a turn. You won’t be sorry. I promise.
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