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Eugene Peterson and You

Eugene Peterson lectures at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Wash., in May 2009. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

By now you will likely have heard that Eugene Peterson has endorsed gay marriage.  And, if you are on Facebook, you will have seen the comments ranging from “it’s about time” to “we knew it was coming”; from “Can’t trust anything he writes” to “he’s the best thing ever.”

A few comments for thinking Christians.

1. In his comments to Jonathan Merritt of the Religious News Service, Peterson only references experiences he’s had and people he’s known, and not Scripture’s teaching. He does not say if he changed his mind, wrestled with the text, or sought the Church’s doctrine. He only says that he’s OK with it, and would perform a marriage ceremony for two same-sex people, and that the debate is pretty much over. This is not right. Scripture must be the starting point and finish line of our thinking & discipleship patterns. We have to begin where Scripture begins, and land where it takes us. Peterson–who translated & paraphrased all 66 books–should know better.

2. He is still a very good thinker, and has brought great pastoral help through his writings. They ought not all be set aside. Christians ought not cast him aside hastily or call his salvation into question. All of us are fallen, and the Fall affects every part of us (including our minds, and our changes in thinking over time). I read one FB comment, “I’ve been warning about Peterson for years.” Granted I don’t know what this person was warning, but the implication to me is “stay away from him.” I disagree. The fact that he’s wrong on this does not mean he’s wrong on everything. If it did, we should stop reading Martin Luther, whose anti-semitic comments make us blush! No one argues that we throw aside Luther, only that we read him judiciously.  We see this principle in play again with a contemporary pastor: read judiciously one who gets things right and wrong.

3. Read him judiciously I will. There’s no denying that it makes me read with a little less “Ahh, I’m at home with an old friend”, and a little more “this is good… hmmm, is this good?” I will likely recommend his writings more carefully, and will have to add a preface any recommendation.  I will still be blessed by the pastoral insights (Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work) and exegetical nuggets (Run with the Horses). But I will also grieve some as I read.

4. We can’t get through life only reading Christian authors who get everything right, or with whom we agree 100%. For two reasons: a) No author gets it 100% right. Each of them is wrong on one or more things they’ve written. Again, start and end in Scripture; and the Fall affects all of us.

b) It’s not about becoming “fans” of this author or that thinker, scholar or preacher. When you begin to think someone is totally trustworthy, you are putting more freight on them than they can bear. There are no perfect thinkers, preachers or writers outside of Scripture. (Plus, even the human authors of Scripture demonstrate that we cannot trust the person… only the Spirit’s sanctifying work of inspiration!).

Be ready in life to read people with whom you disagree. Indeed, expect that everyone you read will have gotten something wrong, and watch for it.

5. Do your homework and learn from those who are faithful to the Gospel. Ask your believing friends, your Church leaders or Pastor what they think about author X; listen to their counsel. Moreover, with any author, when you find you disagree, the Lord will tell you when you should “hold-your-nose and keep reading for the good insights” or when you should set them aside. I’ve done both with various authors. You have to seek the Lord and the wisdom of the Body of Christ as you read.

God may lead you to set aside your reading of Peterson. Don’t do it because of knee-jerk Facebook blow ups. Do it because of a grief over his departure from orthodoxy over marriage, and his leading of others to do the same. Or, God may lead you to the “hold your nose” side. But you’ll do so with a new level of guard in light of this article.

It’s sad and it’s messy. But that’s what being alive in the world means. Christ is changing lives for God’s glory. I’m disappointed (though not really surprised). I’ve been blessed by The Message and many of Peterson’s writings.  He’s walking away from God’s view of reality, and I’m grieved. But I also know that, ultimately, the Lord will bring all things to his greatest glory, and I can’t wait to reflect back on that in this case.

Keep thinking and never lose hope!

(You can click here to read what Peterson said to the RNS).

4 Comments

  1. Clyde Austin III

    July 12, 2017 at 9:48 pm

    Excellent post Jason. Frankly I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach when I saw this. But you are right. No author or theologian for that matter gets it all right. EP has been one of my “mentors”. But this doesn’t make everything else he has taught us wrong. I have been blessed by reading him. Paul had to rebuke Peter one time. We can forgive EP, still read him, and we don’t have to agree with everything he says.

  2. This is incredible Jason! I completely agree with you. Thanks for leading in our small community of Kinston.

  3. Leslie Muirhead

    July 13, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    Thx for pointing me to your post, Jason. Appreciated it greatly.
    Blessings, bro

    Les

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