In Memoriam: Eugene Peterson – The Man with The Message

Eugene Peterson, a man many pastors called their pastor, left his legacy here on earth and entered in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ on October 22, 2018.

Eugene Peterson, a man many pastors called their pastor, left his legacy here on earth and entered in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ on October 22, 2018.
Eugene Peterson

Peterson was born in 1932 in Washington State and was raised in Montana. He attended Seattle Pacific University, New York Theological Seminary, and Johns Hopkins University. He founded Christ our King Presbyterian Church in Maryland and pastored there for 29 years. From 1992 to 1998 he held the position of Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Peterson entered hospice care just seven days before he passed.

Those who knew him best – his family – said, “Every moment in this man’s presence is sacred.” David Taylor, a professor of theology and long-time friend of Peterson related how he would often lead theology classes in singing “long, theologically dense hymns” and seasons of silent prayer. “For him, the silence, the praying, the singing, the listening, the waiting, the being present were the teaching.”

Peterson preferred the pulpit to professorial life. He felt called to address the “messiology” of the local church more than the black and white of classroom theology.

A report in The Gospel Coalition reminded us that “He warned against those who see congregations with the impatience of those building a shopping mall rather than with the mindset of those cultivating a field. The end result is disillusionment with the church. What Peterson saw in the church, though, was what he saw in nature and in the Bible: an imagination struck with wonder.”

It was that wonder that Peterson wanted us to see rather than ourselves and our circumstances. His passion was to teach us to look at the Word of God, living and written, in awe, as we should.

Perhaps his greatest contribution, aside from his example, his teaching, his pastoral care, and his more than 30 books, was his 12-year-long project of writing The Message, a paraphrase of the entire Bible. It was also a project for which he received a great amount of criticism from those who prefer a precise word-for-word translation.

In the Preface to The Message, Peterson explained that “If there is anything distinctive about The Message, perhaps it is because the text is shaped by the hand of a working pastor. He witnessed people set the Bible aside over the years because they found it boring. “They found newspapers, magazines, videos, and pulp fiction more to their taste.”

From that perspective, he went on to say that “The Message is a reading Bible. It is not intended to replace the excellent study Bibles that are available. My intent here . . . is simply to get people reading it who don’t know that the Bible is readable at all . . . and to get people who long-ago lost interest in the Bible to read it again.”

His family’s statement following his earthly ministry concluded with:

After a lifetime of faithful service to the church – running the race with gusto – it is reassuring to know that Eugene has now entered into the fullness of the Kingdom of God and has been embraced by eternal Sabbath.


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