Eugene H. Peterson on helping others to repentance

The kingdom of self is heavily defended territory. Post-Eden Adams and Eves are willing to pay their respects to God, but they don’t want him invading their turf. Most sin, far from being a mere lapse of morals or a weak will, is an energetically and expensively erected defense against God. Direct assault in an openly declared war on the god-self is extraordinarily ineffective. Hitting sin head-on is like hitting a nail with a hammer, it only drives it in deeper. There are occasional exceptions, strategically directed confrontations, but indirection is the biblically preferred method.

Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, 31-32.

2 comments on “Eugene H. Peterson on helping others to repentance

  1. Ann F-R says:

    I’ve been mulling over this insight of Peterson’s, Ted, since I saw Scot post about something similar. In reconciliation work, truth does need to be spoken gracefully and openly. Sometimes, it’s very uncomfortable and painful to hear, but we need to keep our hearts soft and tuned to ensure we do. (the last couple of verses of Psalm 139 come to mind)

    As far as Peterson’s thought that, “Hitting sin head-on is like hitting a nail with a hammer, it only drives it in deeper”, my experience has been qualified to some extent. Those who genuinely seek the truth with humility receive clear truth well, but those who are doing their level best to run the other direction really hate the direct approach — and those are the ones to whom we may need to “tell it slant” as I think Scot’s quote of Emily Dickinson mentioned. (Augustine said something along the lines that, “the criticism of my enemies is more truthful than the flattery of my friends”.)

    The worst that can happen seems to fit this scene: the ones who are insecure and struggling to find any foundation, still, are hit head-on with the truth by someone claiming to follow Christ – and indeed is speaking a portion of biblical truth – but speaking it in such a harmful, ungraceful, mocking &/or demeaning way that the receiver’s reaction is to retrench, defensively.

    What think you? 🙂

    • I think you’re right, Ann. I also think the way truth was expressed in scripture was more parabolic and with the insight, “Let those who have ears, hear.” I think the prophets and Jesus tended to get more direct only toward those who seemed hardened and were entrenched in their rebellion such as in Jesus’ address to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. Contrast that to Jesus’ time with the woman at the well in John 4. He brings her along. God meets people where they’re at in grace, to bring them along to that point where they are ready to repent. Though sometimes it is true that the change is sudden. But usually conversion has stages over time. Well, a few of my thoughts.

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