Eugene Peterson

Last week, the church said goodbye to one of her most important contemporary voices. Eugene Peterson — pastor, professor, and author of The Message — passed away at the age of 85. 

I would count Peterson as one of my favorite authors — and one of my greatest influences. His pastoral theology series continues to be a source of wisdom just as his spiritual theology series continues to inspire. I have an open note in Evernote for my favorite Peterson quotes. Here are a few: 

The most important question we ask as we read is not “What does it mean?” but “How can I live it?” 

This is the hermeneutic Peterson always puts before us. He’s as well schooled as anybody when it comes to “What does it mean?” And his scholarship has helped more than a few young seminarians like me come up with some important answers to that question. But this question is always in service to the second question, the “How can I live it?” question. In one of his later works, Peterson writes about his Pentecostal upbringing. Although he has a few critiques of the tradition of his youth, he notes that Pentecostals are fiercely devoted to the idea that every last detail of the Book is intended to be lived. And with that simple stroke of his pen, I gained a deeper understanding. How can I live it? 

When God forms a church, he starts with the nobodies. 

There’s an underdog quality to some of Peterson’s writing. He’s a pastor for people who don’t like pastors. And I love that he’s always reminding us of the renegade nature of Jesus. 

Salvation is not a one-night stand. It is an all-encompassing commitment. 

Earlier this year, I read Peterson’s autobiography, “The Pastor.” I think anyone would benefit greatly from reading it, but I found it to be a profound statement on the state of the North American church from one who spent a lifetime holding her up. Rather than being a crowd, the church is a community. Peterson’s wisdom will be sorely missed, at least by this young minister. 

At his memorial service, Eugene’s son, Leif, noted that his father only had one sermon. 

They thought you were a magician in your long black robe hiding so much in your ample sleeves, always pulling something fresh and making them think it was just for them. They didn’t know how simple it all was. They were blind to your secret. For 50 years you steal into my room at night and whispered softly to my sleeping head. It’s the same message over and over: “God loves you. He’s on your side. He’s coming after you. He’s relentless.” 

Leif Peterson, at Eugene’s memorial service

What a fitting epitaph: God loves you. He’s on your side. He’s coming after you. He’s relentless. 


This entry was posted in Blessings, Books, Church, Faith, Love of Christ. Bookmark the permalink.

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