With the news that Eugene Peterson has entered hospice, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what his writing has meant to me and see if you have any thoughts yourself.
I only heard him speak once in person. Heather and I were at a conference on spiritual formation and will always remember the few days when we got to listen to Peterson, Dallas Willard, and discover several other thinkers and pastors who were serious about the spiritual leader’s internal life.
What initially drew me to his books is what kept me coming back. So many materials written for pastors boil down to how-to advice. Especially if you pastor a small to average sized church, or if your pastoral gifts do not turn toward CEO-style leadership, you can feel a lot of pressure to be something you are not. Peterson’s writings were actually about pastoring and the pastor. They actually developed biblical themes on what it means to work with human souls and try to lead them into the presence of God. Any pastor can resonate with those themes, and maybe a lot of us need to be reminded of them from time to time.
There were a couple of times Peterson disappointed me. I didn’t like that he endorsed The Shack. And there were a few times he was too cozy with emergent pastor types (at least, too cozy for my comfort).
Overall, however, his contribution to my understanding of what it means to be a biblical pastor outweighs those moments. The longer I pastor, the more I treasure those who can talk about pastoring without relying too heavily on corporate or sports models. There are things to be learned in those models, but biblical pastoring is simply not the same kind of thing. There are not enough wise contemporary voices developing good pastoral theology, so I treasure it when I can find it.
These are some of his books that have been formative for me. Which ones have helped you?
Under the Unpredictable Plant
A Long Obedience in The Same Direction
The Pastor: A Memoir
As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God