Eugene Peterson on Whether We’re Tourists or Pilgrims

Eugene Peterson on Whether We’re Tourists or Pilgrims October 17, 2016

An excerpt from Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), pages 16-18.

peterson-longOne aspect of the world [an atmosphere, a mood in opposition to the kingdom] that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once. We assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently. Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials. Our sense of reality has been flattened by thirty-page abridgments.

It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terribly difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.

Religion I our time has been captured by the tourist mindset. Religion is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure. For some it is a weekly jaunt to church; for others, occasional visits to special services. Some, with a bent for religious entertainment and sacred diversion, plan their lives around special events like retreats, rallies and conferences. We go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience and so somehow expand our otherwise humdrum lives…The Christian life cannot mature under such conditions.

Frederich Nietszche, who saw this area of spiritual truth at least with great clarity, wrote, ‘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 results in the long run, something which has made life worth living.’ It is this ‘long obedience in the same direction’ which the mood of the world does so much to discourage.

For recognizing and resisting the stream of the world’s ways there are two biblical designations for people of faith that are extremely useful: disciple and pilgrim. Disciple says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. We are in a growing-learning relationship, always. A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.

Pilgrim tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ. We realize that ‘this is world is not my home’ and set out for the ‘Father’s house.’ Abraham, who ‘went out,’ is our archetype. Jesus, answering Thomas’ question ‘Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?’ gives us directions: ‘I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me’ (John 14:5-6). The letter to the Hebrews defines our program: ‘Do you see what this means – all those pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running – and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in’ (Heb 12:1-2).”


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