How Should We Respond to Eugene Peterson?

How Should We Respond to Eugene Peterson?

***Update: Eugene Peterson has retracted his remark and clarified his stance on gay marriage (see: Actually, Eugene Peterson Does Not Support Same-Sex Marriage).***

You may or may not be aware of the recent controversy about Eugene Peterson twirling faster than a fidget spinner among Christians in America this week. In case you are unsure of who that is, Peterson is the one who translated the Message version of the Bible (by himself). He’s the author of many books and a revered pastor for decades. And until this week, he would likely have been widely considered one of the most respected Christian leaders in America.

So what changed?

In an interview with Jonathan Merritt, Peterson briefly discusses his changed view on homosexuality and the Bible, even stating that he would perform a gay wedding (see: RNS blog). The interview is worth reading in its brief entirety. It feels less like Peterson takes a bold stand and more like he thinks we should downplay this topic. My reaction to this controversy has everything to do with Christians’ response to him and little to do with his answers. That doesn’t mean I’d answer the questions the way he did. But the far bigger problem in my view is how we handle the diversity of thought on non-essential issues like this (meaning these are not salvation-level views concerning our beliefs in Jesus).

Should we, like LifeWay Bookstores, intentionally distance ourselves from him over this (see: LifeWay Reaction)? To this question, I’d like to suggest a “no” answer emphatically. I’d also like to suggest that everyone reacting this way is what ultimately tears the church apart. And makes us look ridiculous to those outside the church. As Jonathan Martin recently tweeted:

This should tell us volumes about what we ultimately find most important.

To my fellow Christians, let me plead with you here. We aren’t building a cult of people who all think alike. We are allowing Christ to build His beautifully complicated and diverse church through people like us. Jesus is the one who asked “How do you read it?” in regards to understanding Scripture (see: Luke 10:25-26). Jesus is the one who opened the eyes of His disciples after they didn’t realize they were talking directly to Him (see: Luke 24:13-32). And Jesus is the one who told us to focus on unity in Him instead of our issues and opinions (see: John 17:20-23).

What makes us unique is our unity around Jesus, not our agreement on every other issue that arises. We can disagree with one another and still be together as the church. That means if you have a Biblical view of Jesus and voted for Trump or Hillary, we can still find unity in Christ. If you have a Biblical view of Jesus and agree or disagree on gay marriage, we can still find unity in Christ. We can even discuss our disagreements in love and mutual respect! The author Preston Sprinkle does an excellent job of lovingly challenging Peterson’s answers (see: Eugene Peterson on Same-Sex Marriage). This is the only way we will ever learn from one another and grow together.

If you’re still having trouble seeing the absurdity of all this, consider that LifeWay would have to pull 135 different books from Eugene Peterson if they carry out their statements. Suddenly those are all bad?

Nonetheless, if I’m honest with you, this doesn’t completely negate my issues with Eugene Peterson. I’m not talking about the interview anymore, but rather his translation of Psalm chapter one. Have you ever read that from the Message? Verse one says “How well God must like you— you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.”

Sin Saloon? Smart-Mouth College? Are you kidding me Gene? Let’s post some angry tweets about THAT. (That’s a joke… stop posting angry tweets).

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Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan. Husband to Michelle and father to Gavin, Madsen, Adelyn, Aiden, and Abel. Author of Redeeming Pleasure and Lead Pastor at Abundant Life Church in Portland.

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