The Monastic Eugene Peterson
A reader points to this 2008 interview with Eugene Peterson, the Evangelical giant who died yesterday, as an exemplar of the Evangelical approach to the Benedict Option. Here is Peterson talking about how American Christians tell themselves that ours is a Christian culture, but when you talk to people from outside the West, they don’t recognize us as Christians. They want our materialism, not our spirituality. Peterson told the reporter that he preaches to his congregation about this:
How do you do that? I’m sure that’s not an easy thing for a pastor to handle.
Well, I’m one of them. I live in the same kind of house they do. I drive the same kind of car they do. I shop in the same stores they do. So I’m like them. We’re all in this together.
My job as a pastor is not to solve people’s problems or make them happy. The truth is, there aren’t very many happy people in the Bible.
It’s possible for a few people to break out of society and form some kind of colony, in order to challenge society as a kind of shock troop. But that’s not my calling, and I don’t find it credible to use the language of separatism in a congregation where we’ve all got jobs, where we’re trying to find our place as disciples in the society and do what we can there. If I do that, I lose credibility. I’m using one kind of language on Sunday and another on Monday.
So what I have tried to develop first of all, in myself, is the mentality of the subversive. The subversive is someone who takes on the coloration of the culture, as far as everyone else can see. If he loses the coloration he loses his effectiveness. The subversive works quietly and hiddenly, patiently. He has committed himself to Christ’s victory over culture and is willing to do those small things. No subversive ever does anything big. He is always carrying secret messages, planting suspicion that there is something beyond what the culture says is final.
What would you say are some specific acts of Christian subversion?
They’re common Christian acts. The acts of sacrificial love, justice, and hope. There’s nothing novel in any of this. Our task is that we develop a self-identity as Christians and do these things not incidentally to our lives, but centrally. By encouraging one another, by praying together, by studying Scripture together, we develop a sense that these things are in fact the very center of our lives. And we recognize they are not the center of the world’s life, however much cultural talk there is about Christianity.
If we can develop a sense that sacrificial love, justice, and hope are at the core of our identities, then go to our jobs each day, to our families each night—then we are in fact subversive. You have to understand that Christian subversion is nothing flashy. Subversives don’t win battles. All they do is prepare the ground and change the mood just a little bit towards belief and hope, so that when Christ appears there are people waiting for him.
Do we take seriously the prefix in the word subversive, the idea of coming up from under?
I think so. We’re working the depth, the heart of things. The gospel images are images of growth that comes from underneath. A seed, for example, is subsoil and subversive.
I have a friend, about 33, who is a pastor. He’s tall, good looking, a strong personality—the sort of person who could do well on television or with a famous church. But he talks about taking steps off the ladder, and he’s settled in little Victor, Montana. Maybe we need more pastors like him, and more churches that want pastors like him: the pastor who wants to be local, to take seriously a place, and the church that wants to be a community, using the simple materials of its locale.
At least that’s how I understand the pastoral life. I’ve been at Christ Our King Church for 23 years. All William Faulkner knew was two or three square miles of Mississippi, and I guess that’s what I want to do. I want to know two or three square miles of Christ Our King, just know it and keep on knowing it.
Read the whole thing. The piece is brilliantly headlined, “A Monk Out Of Habit”.
Here’s a beautiful short tribute to the beloved pastor: