“As I look back on a lifetime in the pastoral vocation what I remember most is a kind of messiness: a lot of stumbling around, fumbling the ball, losing my way, then finding it again. It is amazing now that anything came of it” (314-315).
Eugene Peterson, author of over 30 books, including The Message, former professor at Regent College, and founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Maryland, where he pastored for 29 years, has written an excellent memoir of his life and experience as a pastor. I must admit that I began reading this book with the similar feelings towards Peterson as Peterson admits having towards Harry Emerson Fosdick during his early seminary days. Peterson said that he had grown up thinking that Fosdick was the enemy, even referring to him as the “antichrist,” until he had a chance of meeting him and talking with him in person. While I have never had such strong feelings against Peterson, there has admittedly been a hesitancy towards him, for one reason or another. While all of those hesitancies definitely have not disappeared, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir and came to respect Eugene Peterson as a pastor, a professor, and a believer as I progressed through the book.
Part one serves as the introduction to the book where Peterson talks about his time at the ranch in Montana and discovering himself spiritually.
In part two the reader gets a glimpse into some of the very formidable events in the young life of Peterson, events that would go on to shape who he was as a man, but more specifically, who he was as a pastor. He shares some very intimate stories of his childhood, from working in his father’s butcher shop and learning what community truly looked like, to his experiences with the school bully and the treeless Christmas of 1939. Each of these stories shows itself in who Peterson is as a pastor, a Shepherd, a husband, a man.
In part three, which constitutes the largest portion of the book, Peterson recounts his journey of receiving and accepting his identify as a pastor. Since he had grown up with a sort of disdain for the pastorate, which was not helped by the sectarian part of pentecostalism that he came out of, it took a long time and a lot of ups and downs for him to learn the ropes of the life of a pastor. Reflecting on the church culture that he was brought up in, Peterson says, “I had grown up on preaching that was a mixture of cheerleading and entertainment with a lot of Scripture verses thrown in at random. I was rarely bored, but I was also aware that it was pretty thin soup” (86). From meeting in his house’s basement with 65 people, to working with the congregation to develop a plan for building a church that satisfied all, Peterson tells his story of becoming a pastor at heart with vivid detail and appreciated honesty. The life of a pastor is not an easy thing, but when it is a call from God on your life, all of the trials and hardships seem to take a backseat to the wondrous calling which you have received. However, Peterson does not sugarcoat the hardships and the personal struggles that he experienced, which is one of the things that made reading this book so enjoyable (along with the excellent, engaging writing that one would expect from Eugene Peterson).
The final part, part four, served as a conclusion of his story as a pastor and a transition to a writer and professor. While he is still a pastor at heart, he tells of other engagements and opportunities that the Lord has given to him since his resignation at Christ Our King Presbyterian, the most notable of which is the publication of his translation of the Bible, The Message.
Eugene Peterson’s memoir as a pastor is a very enjoyable and helpful read for any person who currently is a pastor or is in the process of training to be a pastor. While I did enjoy the book and have not sought to analyze Peterson’s theological convictions (or lack-there-of) due to that not being the nature or aim of his book, I did find this review by Brian Croft extremely helpful at pointing out not only the strength’s of Peterson’s book, but also some potential concerns. The one that stuck out to me most noticeably in my own reading of the book was Croft’s warning to “Be discerning about you associations in pastoral ministry.” As I was reading of Peterson’s networking and partnering that he discusses, I was struck by the broadness of those men with whom he was partnering (Catholics, Jews, Lutherans, etc), and the pastoral advice and direction that he received from these men.
I would encourage you to pick up a copy of this book for the sake of, if nothing else, seeing some of the background events that shaped Eugene Peterson as a pastor and a writer. It is, indeed, a well-written and entertaining read.
Other reviews of The Pastor: A Memoir:
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank HarperOne publishes for providing me with a review copy in exchange for a fair and honest review