Further Along The Road Less Traveled:
by M. Scott Peck, Simon and Schuster, 1993, 255 pp.
This book is a sequel to M. Scott Peck’s influential book, The Road Less Traveled, published in the early 1980s. In that earlier book his first sentence of the introduction stated that “Life is hard.” Throughout that work he brought his experiences and insights gained through his work as a psychiatrist to his readers, challenging them to meet the difficult challenges of life by daring to take pathways left untraveled by most people.
Peck begins this work with the sentence, “Life is complex,” and then proceeds to address questions of personal growth and spiritual development that affect us all. He openly admits that between writing these two books he embraced the Christian faith because he felt Christian doctrine takes the realities of evil and the complexities of life more seriously than most other religions. I am only sorry that it has taken me more than a decade before I began to explore this highly readable and challenging work.
Far from being a step-by-step manual to counteract the complexities that face us, this book probes the misty regions lying behind our complex existence, helping the reader understand why simple formulas simply don’t work. Life seldom follows a predictable script as each unique life unfurls its own kaleidoscope of pain and joy.
In his first section, Growing Up, Peck insists that if we are to become bona fide adults we must move beyond the black and white world of childhood. The problem is that that road takes us into the desert in which our growing consciousness produces pain, which once acknowledged, can lead to joy. He defines evil as “our refusal to meet our shadow.” When we insist on remaining ignorant of our faults we become “people of the lie” and forfeit the possibility of forgiveness and healing. And when we do not openly acknowledge our inevitable death we rob ourselves of the motivation to grow before it is too late. According to Peck, growing up does not mean an increasing clarity of vision but an increasing acceptance of mystery and unknowing.
For me, the most helpful insights in his second section, Knowing Yourself, were that of Peck’s notion of the normal stages of spiritual development. In summary, stage one is the pre-faith stage where no formal commitment to faith exists. Stage two begins with a conscious commitment to embrace a particular faith and continues with an insistence on black and white answers and a resistance to change. A person moving into the third stage begins questioning the assumptions of stage two and embarks on a desert road of searching for deeper insights. Gradually this desert road leads such persons into a mature faith – the fourth stage - where inter-connectedness, paradox and mystery abound in sweet communion. Most churches, says Peck, are filled with stage two persons who condemn those moving on to stage three and are threatened by those who have arrived at stage four. Most die before reaching the maturity inherent in this final stage.
In his final section, In Search of a Personal God, Peck documents his journey toward faith and his reach for stage four of his faith development. He asserts that if we would proclaim the real gospel of the New Testament most stage two Christians would flee their sanctuaries. And that we must recapture an integrated approach to life which the compartmentalization of modernity has taken away from us. That will mean learning to be comfortable with paradox, because running with only one side of paradox always leads to heresy and stagnation of growth.
You will not want to give away your last copy of this book. You will want to keep it within arm’s reach to allow you to reflect, in an on-going way, on the many insights Peck offers to those interested in moving beyond stage two of their faith journeys. This book would make a great resource for in-depth dialogue with persons willing to join you on such a journey.