The sad, simple case of Eugene Peterson
Unless you’ve spent the past week in total isolation, you are aware of the brouhaha created by Eugene Peterson, the well-known longtime pastor and evangelical
writer. He has authored many books, but he is best known for “The Message,” a best-selling paraphrase of the Bible.
At 84 years of age, Peterson did serious damage to his Christian bona fides and tarnished his reputation. Now, he and his writings will be viewed as suspect and lacking gravitas all because he had a serious lapse in judgment.
How did it come about? In an interview with the online Religion News Service, Peterson was asked if his views on same-sex marriage had changed. He indicated that he didn’t think homosexuality was wrong. When reflecting on the homosexuals in his previous congregations, he said, “I don’t think we ever really made a big deal of it. … It’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.” He then added that he would officiate a same-sex marriage.
The liberal, progressive warriors bent on fundamentally transforming the Judeo-Christian underpinning of our culture were nothing short of giddy. They proclaimed that Peterson is the most prominent evangelical leader and scholar to undergo an evolution on the SO/GI (sexual orientation and gender identity) issues.
The reactions on the other side were not insignificant. Many evangelical leaders expressed shock and extreme disappointment at the news of Peterson’s opinions. Peterson felt the heat. Within 48 hours, he retracted his stated positions on same-sex marriage. He indicated he would not perform a same-sex wedding ceremony, saying, “To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman; I affirm a biblical view of everything.”
Notwithstanding the retraction and clarifications, the damage was done. What befell Peterson has happened to others. How could one so knowledgeable of God’s Word go so far astray on something as fundamental as God’s design for mankind regarding gender and marriage? There may be a number of ways to characterize what happened. I view it as a case where Peterson had more interest in being a man-pleaser than a God-pleaser.
In Genesis 1 and 2, God made His paradigm for gender and marriage abundantly clear.
And Christ confirmed it in Matthew 19. And Paul removed any ambiguity about homosexual behavior in Romans 1 and in 1 Corinthians 6. One with the stature and resume of Peterson cannot plead ignorance or misunderstanding; his initial statements were obviously intentional.
Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, made some interesting observations about all this. He asked, “What is going on here? What does Eugene Peterson really believe...? We really don’t know. We will probably never know. His retraction allows his books to be sold, but the ordeal has done massive damage to his reputation.”
Here’s what Peterson should have held fast to and what we all would do well to embrace. It is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). It’s really a very simple proposition: to refute the Bible’s claims and principles is to call God a liar. Our approach to the Bible can’t be likened to a cafeteria plan where I can take a little of this and reject some of that.
The harm that can be done to the gospel’s message when an unbelieving person denies the veracity of Scripture is nil. However, when a professed follower of Christ – and particularly one with the background and accomplishments like Peterson – creates serious doubt about the truth and unchangeable nature of God’s Word, the damage can be incalculable.
John MacArthur, in his book “The Inerrant Word,” articulated what is happening. “I have witnessed … wave after wave of attacks against the Word of God coming mostly from the evangelical community. …
The evangelical movement has no shortage of [those] who seem to think the way to win the world is to embrace whatever theories are currently in vogue regarding … whatever – and then reframe our view of Scripture to fit this worldly ‘wisdom.’ The Bible is treated like Silly Putty, pressed and reshaped to suit the shifting interests of popular culture,” he wrote.
In our efforts to win the world for Christ, the only real capital we have to spend is the preeminence of God and His Word. To declare that God got it wrong somewhere is to cast doubt on the credibility of the entire Bible. The end result of that could be catastrophic. If God’s model for marriage is wrong, what about Christ’s virgin birth or His crucifixion or His resurrection? It’s all or nothing, friends. And for me, I’ll stick with all.
Larry Page is executive director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council.