Eugene Peterson on Liturgy

The following is an excerpt from Eugene Peterson’s book “Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading”

“To ward off confusion let me first say what I don’t mean by liturgy. I don’t mean what goes on in the chancel of high Anglican church; I don’t mean an order of worship; I don’t mean robes and incense and genuflections before the altar. Liturgy is properly used in all those settings, but I am after something else, I am after something deeper and higher and wider.

What I want to do is to recontextualize our reading of Scripture, our eating of this book, into a huge holy community of others who are also reading it. There is a millennia-deep and globe-encircling community of others who are also at the table eating this book. Each time this book is assimilated formationally, the entire community – it is no exaggeration to say the entire world – is involved and affected. The biblical story pulls the holy community – not just you, not just me – into the story in a participating way.

Liturgy is the means that the church uses to keep baptized Christians in living touch with the entire living holy community as it participates formationally in Holy Scripture. I want to use this word ‘liturgy; to refer to this intent and practice of the church insofar as it pulls everything in and out of the sanctuary into a life of worship, situates everything past and present coherently as participation in the revelation written for us in Scripture. Instead of limiting liturgy to the ordering of the community in discrete acts of worship, I want to use it in this large and comprehensive way, the centuries-deep and continents-wide community, spread out in space and time, as Christians participate in actions initiated and formed by the words in this book…

The task of liturgy is to order the life of the holy community following the text of Holy Scripture. It consists of two movements: First it gets us into the sanctuary, the place of adoration and attention, listening and receiving and believing before God. There is a lot involved, all the parts of our lives ordered to all aspects of the revelation of God in Jesus. Then it gets us out of the sanctuary into the world into places of loving and obeying, ordering our lives as living sacrifices in the world to the glory of God. There is a lot involved, all the parts of our lives out on the street participating in the work of salvation.

Understood this way ‘liturgical’ has little to do with choreography in the chancel or an aesthetics of the sublime. It is obedient, participatory listening to the Holy Scriptures in the company of the holy community through time (our two thousand years of responding to this text) and in space (our friends in Christ all over the world). High-church Anglicans, revivalist Baptists, hands-in-the-air praising charismatics, and Quakers sitting a bare room in silence are all required to read and live this text liturgically, participating in the holy community’s reading of Holy Scripture. There is nothing ‘churchy’ or elitist about it; it is a vast and dramatic ‘story-ing’ making sure that we are taking our place in the story and letting everyone else have their parts in the story also, making sure that we don’t leave anything or anyone out of the story. Without sufficient liturgical support and structure we are very apt to edit the story down to fit our individual tastes and predispositions.”

I want to add this quote on liturgy from Stanley Hauerwas:

“One of the things I don’t like about the church growth movement (there are a lot of things I don’t like about the church growth movement), but in particular I don’t like how it creates a very homogeneous congregation… and I think that has to do with the worship being primarily a form of entertainment, in which the congregation doesn’t do any work. Liturgy literally means ‘the work of the people.’… so the Greeks said, ‘Oh, liturgy. So you Christians are going to dig ditches for the thirsty.'”


  1. I miss, “the work”, of litergy! My teens love the Lord passionately and are extremely involved in church.It’s a wonderful church home but they don’t do liturgy as such.Our family is from an Episcopal background.You can imagine why we are elsewhere right now.That said , I know we are where God wants us to be but I will always miss litergy.


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