Book Review: Working the Angles by Eugene Peterson

Pastoral work is no easy task. Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles focuses on three angles—prayer, scripture, and spiritual direction—that are directed toward those who are pastors, whether vocationally or bi-vocationally. Upon reading the book it appears that Peterson’s main purpose in writing Working the Angles is to prepare pastors to not just do the work that the office of a pastor requires but to be effective in that calling to a high level of excellence that brings much glory to God. What Peterson is ultimately addressing in the book is the fact that so many pastors are “abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate.”[1] Many pastors have not physically left their churches but have gone, as Peterson states, “whoring after other gods.”[2] The support Peterson gathers for such statements is likely the amount of broken families, marriages and homes all throughout America. Many that hold the office of a pastor are simply good at wearing the pastor hat and putting on a good act. Peterson aims to address this in Working the Angles, desiring to see pastors who, like centuries past, do pastoral work and not act like they are only to fool themselves and others. They can never fool the Lord.

Peterson reaches a conclusion concerning pastors putting on this facade and he does so by diving into three angles that help shape true pastoral work. As already mentioned they are prayer, scripture, and spiritual direction. These also function as the main ideas or concepts the reader must grasp in order to bring about the resolution to the problem he sees happening with many pastors. From reading Working the Angles it appears that Peterson does not think every pastor has proper training. It appears he understands some have seminary training while others appear to just put on the pastoral hat and learn the lingo to slide by—and unfortunately many churches seem completely content with such behavior. Peterson does not find that sort of behavior to be honoring to the position of the pastoral office.

Peterson argues “pastoral work has no integrity unconnected with the angles of prayer, scripture, and spiritual direction”[3] and throughout the book he delivers his thoughts on these matters from his own life’s work of pastoral work. He also pulls in historical evidence and church tradition, Scripture, and observation of society in order to build his argument.

Peterson argues that if many pastors were polled they would agree prayer is not “the essential act that keeps pastoral work true”[4] but he is not suggesting pastors never pray. Many pastors do indeed pray but if prayer was viewed as essential as Peterson argues the percentage of pastors praying would be pretty high. “How do ministers spend their prayer time? For the average minister, it looks like this: 32 percent in petition/requests, 20 percent in quiet time or listening to God, 18 percent in thanksgiving, 17 percent in praise and 14 percent in confession.”[5] The evidence Peterson presents on prayer being essential, as just one example in the book, provides adequate strength to support his argument. Judging by the percentages given by the Baptist Press, though published in 2005, provides support to the reality that pastors may pray but due to many pastors feeling dissatisfied with their prayer life they perhaps do not view prayer in the same light as Peterson does in Working the Angles.

Peterson is quite clear on his view of the three angles (prayer, scripture, and spiritual direction) being connected to what is considered true pastoral work. As the book unfolds, Peterson is open and honest, diving into experiences taken from his own life that enhance the concepts he is presenting. Peterson states: “climbing a mountain has been a metaphor for the developing life of faith…aware of the danger of the enterprise and my own ignorance of the mountain, I decided that I must have a skilled guide, a spiritual director.”[6] He proceeds to share, after praying it over, how he found a spiritual director.

From his experiences mentioned in the book it is evident he knows what he is talking about in regard to the three angles he presents, which is why Working the Angles is a book that should certainly be read by pastors-to-be, pastors in training, and pastors currently in the pulpit. He is not writing without experience. He is writing from the trenches, from the mountain, and aims to help other pastors navigate the journey.

Peterson’s Working the Angles provides practical advice that will aide any pastor; ensuring the office of the pastor is upheld with much integrity. Due to that very reason this is a book that should be read by all pastors, not just those in seminary or training. Pastors in centuries past have, according to Peterson, understood the importance of prayer, scripture, and spiritual direction. Perhaps the amount of news and distractions that are at pastor’s disposal in the modern world has influenced the abandonment of the posts as Peterson points out in the book’s opening pages. That is all the more reason why pastors today should pick up this book and read it. It will benefit them and those whom they have been given the task of shepherding and leading. The difference Working the Angles will make in a pastor’s life is worth the time it will take to read the book. Drawing from life experience, Peterson delivers a well-thought out approach to the ways of pastoral integrity by delving into prayer, scripture, and spiritual direction as non-negotiables in the call to be a pastor.


Works Cited

Baptist Press. “Most pastors unsatisfied with their personal prayer lives.” Last modified June 6,   2005. https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/most-pastors-unsatisfied-with-their-personal-prayer-lives/.

Peterson, Eugene. Working the Angles. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.

Footnotes:

[1] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 1.

[2] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 1.

[3] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 18.

[4] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 26.

[5] “Most pastors unsatisfied with their personal prayer lives,” Baptist Press, accessed October 2, 2020, https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/most-pastors-unsatisfied-with-their-personal-prayer-lives/.

[6] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 168-169.


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