Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Eugene Peterson: What Does He Believe?

It was like a shot heard around the world. Or least it was strongly heard around the Christian world. It sounded off when Eugene Peterson, one of the most influential authors among evangelical pastors, recently responded to a question from an interview with Religion News Service. He was asked at one point that, if he was pastoring today, would he marry a same-sex couple? His quick and shocking answer came in the form of a yes!
That brief, but sobering, response stunned evangelicals everywhere. And a significant number of them quickly responded with disappointment. Beyond that, the largest Christian bookstore chain in the U.S. began considering whether or not to pull Peterson’s books from their shelves including his best-selling Bible paraphrase The Message.

The next day, Peterson released a long statement seen in full at The Washington Post. There, he retracted his former yes and stated that  he would actually not perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. He said, “That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic Christian view and teaching on marriage. That said, I would still love such as couple as their pastor. To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.”
Of course so-called biblical views can vary greatly on any given subject depending who you talk to.

At least Peterson seemed to have quickly returned to his senses and said the right thing after saying the wrong one. But it must be wondered now what he really does believe? His reversal was a good thing, but it fell short of giving any specific Biblical reasons for it. But that may not be all that shocking. It has been pointed out by some that he has never been very clear on many controversial, and even theological, questions. And when it comes to his writings, they are generally about pastoral theology and very light on Biblical doctrine. And it should be noted that the denomination that he served in for almost 30 years is one of the most liberal in the nation on many moral, social and theological issues.

So what now for Peterson? At the minimum, his reputation has been damaged even if his books now continue to be sold because of his altered answer on his original answer. But he is now age 84 and has already lived most of his life. He made his mark as a pastor and author. So perhaps what happened will not really change his life all that much. But what about those still in the ministry today and specifically pastors?

This same question and answer that made the news is not over by any stretch for them. But is rather quite symbolic and representative of what will be occurring more and more as time goes on. It will be thrust upon younger pastors who do not share Eugene Peterson’s fame, fortune or age.  These current leaders in church ministry will likely face this same question at some point their lives – perhaps sooner than they think. Only for these, it will not be just for an interview. For many it will impact their lives, families, churches and the very future of their ministry careers!

Perhaps we will never know what Eugene Peterson really believes in his heart. That is ultimately between him and his God. But when it comes to what any Christian believes, the number one issue is that it must be based in solid Scriptural truth and not on the personal or societal whims of the hour.

I pass a small church each Sunday and they often have clever sayings on their outdoor sign. The one this week said, “Don’t believe everything that you think.” How simple and yet profound that is. And how significant especially when it relates to spiritual matters? Many "believe" they are going to heaven because they "think" they are good enough to get there on their own merits. But what they think about this weighty subject is irrelevant no matter how much they may believe it. And in this case, it is their eternal destiny that is at stake!

When it comes to the moral questions of our day, it does not matter what we think or even what we believe. All that matters is what God clearly teaches us to believe. If something is wrong according to God’s Word, then our duty is to agree with that no matter what the reactions around us may be. That is called having convictions! And hopefully the church of Christ can muster up enough of this now rare commodity to stand out as lights in this present and foretold darkness as the return of their Lord draws near!

“But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: We ought to obey God  rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

Bill Breckenridge