Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant


Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. Eerdmans, 1994.

Referenced in: Summary

This was the third of Eugene Peterson’s work on pastoral theology. It was preceded by Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (1980), Working the Angles (1987), and The Contemplative Pastor (1989), and followed by Pastor: A Memoir (2011).

Written out of Peterson’s own experience of discouragement in the pastoral role in which he realized many pastors, including himself, give “lip service to the vocabulary of a holy vocation, but in their working lives more commonly pursue careers” that they can take charge of and manage. In the opening pages, he says

My impression is that the majority of pastors are truly good, well intentioned, even godly. But their goodness does not inevitably penetrate their vocations. Our actual work takes shape under the pressure of the marketplace, not the truth of theology or the wisdom of spirituality. I do not find the emaciated, exhausted spirituality of institutional careerism adequate. I do not find the veneered, cosmetic spirituality of personal charisma adequate. I require something biblically spiritual – rooted and cultivated in creation and covenant, leisurely in Christ, soaked in Spirit.” (4-5)

For help in finding this, Peterson turns to any unlikely place, the biblical book of Jonah, and weaves a strong practical theology of vocational holiness into the various movements of that story. We derive a kind of humility as we identify with Jonah’s failures and repeated disobedience and are both chastened and affirmed by God’s gracious dealings with him. Through this identification, we find our own road to Nineveh. Peterson believes ministers experiencing burnout usually have some issue with self-absorption, self-protection, and self-pity.

“The religious leader is the most untrustworthy of leaders: in no other station do we have so many opportunities for pride, for covetousness, for lust, or so many excellent disguises at hand to keep such ignobility from being found out and called to account.” (15)

This book will pierce deeply into these dark places of the pastoral soul, and help them emerge with a deeper and more enduring sense of call.

**For a summary, click here for the Kindle Version, go to right column, and download the free sample. If you don’t have a free Kindle Reader on your computer, there’s a link for that too.

From the Publisher

In this book Peterson clarifies the pastoral vocation by turning to the book of Jonah, in which he finds a captivating, subversive story that can help pastors recover their “vocational holiness”. Peterson probes the spiritual dimensions of the pastoral calling and seeks to reclaim the ground taken over by those who are trying to enlist pastors in religious careers.

About the Author

Eugene H. Peterson, author of the best-selling contemporary translation of the Bible titled The Message, is professor emeritus of spiritual theology at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.

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