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

Professional Reader

Eugene Peterson is best known for The Message, his paraphrase of the Bible into modern language. That work had not been completed when A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society was first published close to forty years ago.

Peterson used scripture from The Message in the 20th Anniversary Edition of A Long Obedience, but he found little else to change beyond a few references to current events. This Commemorative Edition of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction includes a touching poem by Leif Peterson about his father. Eugene Peterson died this past October after 85 years of obedience.

This book has stood the test of time; it has inherently proven itself.

Peterson set the track for the journey by focusing on the 15 Psalms of Ascents, Psalms 120-134.  The Psalms were likely sung during the thrice yearly pilgrimage (distinctly not a tour) on the way up to Jerusalem to the worship festivals. As they ascended to the highest city geographically, the worshipers also, “acted out a life lived upward toward God,” as Peterson put it.

This idea dovetails nicely with the title of the book which Peterson derived from a passage by Friedrich Nietzsche:

The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is…that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.

Peterson got a chuckle from the irony of using the words of Nietzsche, an atheist who pronounced the death of God and predicted the quick demise of Christianity. We can join in Peterson’s mirth with the newly printed Commemorative Edition rolling off the press some 40 years later and Christianity now being the world’s largest religious group with 2.3 billion followers.[1]

Peterson’s insights on scripture are paired with the 15 Psalms of Ascents. To familiar readers, portions of his prose are like the well-worn knob atop the stair rail post: enduring, endearing, and true.

There are many passages where you might linger, and return again; it’s hard to choose just one such snippet to share, but let this passage paired with Psalm 127 suffice:

By joining Jesus and the psalm we learn a way of work that does not acquire things or amass possessions but responds to God and develops relationships. People are at the center of Christian work. In the way of pilgrimage we do not drive cumbersome Conestoga wagons loaded down with baggage over endless prairies. We travel light. The character of our work is shaped not by accomplishments or possessions but in the birth of relationships: “Children are GOD’s best gift.”We invest our energy in people.

Peterson believed the gospel should be lived out, and our scripture reading should become our prayers. To that end he recommended we read scripture slowly, imaginatively, prayerfully, and obediently.

I hope the latest release of this classic Christian work will help a new group of disciples chart a course of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

  • [1] C.L. Illsley, ‘Largest Religions In The World’, WorldAtlas.com, Rachel Cribby – Managing Editor, 10 September 2018, p. 1, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/largest-religions-in-the-world.html, (accessed 27 April 2019).
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