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Who was Eugene Peterson?

Eugene Peterson

Eugene Hoiland Peterson (November 6, 1932 — October 22, 2018) was an American Presbyterian minister, author, and poet. He is probably best known for his paraphrase of the Bible called The Message, but he was the author of over 30 books. Perhaps his best-known book is A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. He was also the founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, where he pastored for 29 years. After leaving the pastorate, he served as professor emeritus of spiritual theology at Regent College in British Columbia from 1998 to 2018.

Eugene Peterson was known as an eloquent author writing for the “average man.” It was while pastoring that Peterson began writing to encourage other pastors, not necessarily biblical scholars. The goal of The Message was to make the Scriptures easily accessible to the common person.

Many have found Peterson to be an inspirational help in their Christian walk, while others have viewed him with some suspicion since he remained within a mainline denomination that had abandoned the view of God’s Word as authoritative and inerrant. Although Peterson claimed to have maintained a high view of Scripture, he seemed to have struggled with this. Late in life, about a year before his death, in an interview with Jonathan Merritt of Religion New Service, Peterson embraced same-sex relationships because he had encountered what appeared to be genuine Christians who were involved in them. He also affirmed that he would perform a same-sex wedding if asked (, accessed 8/5/23). Apparently, his views were changing, not because of a new understanding of the text of Scripture but because his personal experience demanded a reinterpretation of the relevant passages.

Of course, Peterson’s approval of same-sex relationships was big news, and Peterson quickly retracted his statements in the interview; however, as Albert Mohler points out, the retraction was not biblically grounded but made to avoid divisiveness. In The Message one looks in vain to find a clear translation of verses that condemn homosexual behavior, and some of Peterson’s earlier statements seem to indicate that he was rethinking the “traditional” position. Mohler provides an insightful analysis:

What is really going on here? What does Eugene Peterson really believe about LGBT relationships and behaviors or about same-sex marriage? We really don’t know. We will probably never really know.

His retraction allows his books to be sold, but the ordeal has done massive damage to his reputation. One of the best-selling authors in the evangelical world is now, in effect, a giant Rorschach test. You can read him as fully open to LGBT relationships, but forced by political and economic pressure to act as if he isn’t. Or you can read him as basically a traditionalist on the question, who felt under pressure to affirm same-sex marriage and succumbed to the pressure, only to regret and retract quickly. (, accessed 8/5/23).

Much of what Peterson has written is insightful and inspirational, not to mention poetic, eloquent, and engaging. However, he is often weak on specific points of theology and should be read with discernment and discretion. Then again, this warning could apply to any author.

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This page last updated: September 27, 2023