Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Eugene Peterson, Pastoral Work and Eschatology

“Pastoral work devoid of eschatology declines into a court chaplaincy — sprinkling holy water on consumerist complacency and religious gratification.”
— Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant
Eschatology for the uninitiated is about the end; ultimately death, judgment, destiny of soul and humankind.  But there’s a nuance of eschatology in pastoral work that Peterson identifies as crucial in the journey beyond the grips of ‘religion’ that stifles all spiritual progress.  We have to get beyond legalism, but we also need to get beyond a comfortable never-comes-the-end spirituality.
As Jonah advanced into Nineveh he was steeled in his approach: the people were shortly to be overthrown if they didn’t repent.  And his rebuke was heard even by Nineveh’s king.  He repented.  As did the whole city.  That didn’t make Jonah happy, but that’s a story for another day.
It should make every pastor’s day when he or she witnesses the repentance of a person with which they have some influence.  The Holy Spirit has convicted the person, sometimes with the pastor’s help, sometimes without.  Any change amid repentance is a miracle of God’s willing and working grace.
The people of Nineveh had forty days to mend their ways.  Purpose at the forefront.  The end in sight.  Suddenly there’s an imperative.  A cosmic size nine boot.  Immediately there’s attention given to the enormity of the work at hand.  It’s the pastor’s dream that people around them are caught in the full beam of God’s headlights — stunned from frozenness into action.
Many pastors abandon their calling because they find themselves ineffective in changing people’s lives, when that’s the Holy Spirit’s job alone.  They get burned out doing anything in their power to give the Holy Spirit a leg up.  They finish frustrated, because they still took on too much.  That’s why pastoral work can seem to be a mystery.  It’s not our effort that brings results, but we must certainly do all we can to biblically position a person’s thinking.
Peterson suggests that “Without eschatology the [fishing] line goes slack and there is nothing pulling us to the heights, to holiness, to the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus.” (p. 144, Under the Unpredictable Plant)
Pastoral work must have some urgency about it.  The Christian journey is impelled better by no other force that by thought of the imminent end.
The end will come eventually; of our careers, our lives, of life.  We have now the choice.  To do God’s will, His urgent will for now, not for tomorrow.
Spiritual progress is about being uncomfortable without feeling forced; relying on God without becoming bound by rules.  That’s a balance the pastor is trying to facilitate in lives within their influence.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

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