Takeaway: There are no quick fixes for spiritual growth. Growth happens as a result of interaction with the church. That is how God set it up. This is a book that should be read by every seminary student. I have not read a better book on why the church is important to spiritual growth.
Eugene Peterson is as much mentor to me as any other author I have read. I love many authors. But no others really have offered me the deep wisdom and theological meat that Peterson has. I have read many of his books. I think eight in the last two years if my count is right. This recent series of practical theology is something that should be required for all seminary students and none more than this book. I think it is helpful for many Christians, but seminary students in particular would benefit from the long form narrative discussions about what living life as a Christian really is about. Each of the books are about different parts of the Christian life. Eat This Book is about reading scripture. Tell It Slant is about the use of prayer and stories to fully understand how to communicate the gospel. The Jesus Way is about the concept of exclusivity in Christianity. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places is about what practical theology is all about.
Practice Resurrection, the most recent in the series, is about developing maturity as a Christian. It is not about spiritual disciplines (he touched on those in Eat This Book) but about what it takes to focus on and really grow as a Christian. This is an area that I think too many books try to talk about and fail. The root problem is that growth as a Christian is not simple, it is not easily talked about and it is not the same for one person as another.
Peterson starts with (and spends a long time discussing) the church. And he is clear, as messy and uncomfortable a place as the church is (not can be, is), growth as a Christian cannot happen away from the church. He follows that thought through from a variety of angles. Essentially almost a full half of the book talks about how the church is the root of growth in Christ. I think this emphasis is important particularly for those that work in the church world and for those that would like to leave the church world (and even more for those that are in both groups.)
The essence of the book is wrapped up in a short section on works. Peterson says, “Fundamentally, works are not what we do. We are the work that God does. We are God’s workmanship.” This leads to a very good section on work (our daily regular 40 hour a week type of work). Peterson is very concerned that we do not spiritualize our work or romanticize our work. This section is very good for those in the church world. It speaks strongly about the fact that work is hard, it is not always rewarding, it is not always fulfilling, but it is incarnational. I think this balances an improper teaching in the church that says “if you are in the work God has for you it will be easy.”
As always, Peterson is eminently biblical. No book of his that I have read is not at heart a theological explication of a particular passage. For Practice Resurrection, that passage is the book of Ephesians. And he spends a lot of time working through the scripture of Ephesians. If you want to learn how to think about learning from scripture and applying it, there are few pastors that I have heard that come anywhere close to the skill of interacting with and applying scripture as does Peterson.
To me Peterson is one of the saints that is along the road ahead of us. When we follow them, it is not about raising up Peterson, but about Peterson pointing to Christ. Read this book.
My review of other books by Eugene Peterson
Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers by Eugene H. Peterson
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene H Peterson
Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene H Peterson
The Pastor: A Memoir (Audiobook review)