Eugene Peterson enters ‘eternal Sabbath’
by Rick Matt
Posted 10/22/18, 01:21 pm
Eugene H. Peterson, pastor and author of The Message, a best-selling contemporary paraphrase of the Bible, died Monday. He was 85. Peterson’s family announced last week that he was entering hospice care for dementia and heart failure. In a statement released Monday by NavPress, publishers of The Message, his family said it was fitting that he died on a Monday, the day he observed as a Sabbath when working as a pastor.
“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,” his family said.
According to his 2012 memoir The Pastor, Peterson intended to be a novelist before deciding to become a seminary professor. While in seminary, he took a side job as the associate pastor of a Presbyterian church and discovered that “the church is a lot more interesting than the classroom. I suddenly realized that this was where I really got a sense of being involved and not just sitting on the sidelines as a spectator.” In 1962, he founded Christ Our King Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Bel Air, Md., where he served as pastor for 29 years.
Peterson wrote 35 books. The first, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, appeared in 1980. Peterson’s best-known writing grew out of his pastoral observation that many Christians seemed disengaged from the Bible. In The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, he put the Bible into a modern, colloquial idiom to give a fresh perspective to those who had become too familiar with or too distant from Scripture. Some criticized his method or choice of phrasing, but Peterson saw The Message as giving the Bible back to God’s people: “Many of the Biblical writers retold and reimagined stories that had been told in Scripture before. … The New Testament was written in everyday street language.”
After retiring from his pastorate in 1991, Peterson became a professor of spiritual theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, retiring in 2006. Among his later projects was a 2016 video conversation about the Psalms with U2 frontman Bono, a fervent fan of The Message. Peterson’s last years were spent studying and writing at his home in Montana, where he and his wife, Jan, lived in a house built by Peterson’s father.
Despite the popularity of his many books, Peterson asked to be “remembered as a good husband, a good father, a good pastor. I would want to be remembered in terms of the people I lived with.”
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Rick Matt is a graduate of the WJI Mid-Career Course.