Eugene Peterson – author of the Message – dies at 85

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Eugene Peterson, pastor, professor, and writer passed away today at the age of 85 after battling dementia and heart failure.

Peterson authored 35 books in his lifetime. The most popular among them was The Message, which has sold over 20 million copies. The Message is a paraphrase translation which attempts to capture the idea of a Biblical verse and not necessarily the exact wording. This translation philosophy and book are what Peterson is best known for, but it was also perhaps his greatest source of controversy.

Peterson authored 35 more books, writings cherished by many for Peterson’s pastoral heart and Biblical wisdom.

He also had broad appeal, with his writings being enjoyed both by Evangelical Christians and mainline Protestants.

I believe God takes the things in our lives – family, background, education – and uses them as part of his calling. It might not be to become a pastor. But I don’t think God wastes anything.
-Eugene Peterson

Among condolences shared online, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Tweeted: “Grateful to God for a long obedience in the same direction. Thank you Eugene Peterson.”

Pastor and director of LifeWay research Trevin Wax shared a quote from Peterson: “Jesus said “Follow me” and ended up with a lot of losers. And these losers ended up, through no virtue or talent of their own, becoming saints. Jesus wasn’t after the best but the worst. – Eugene Peterson.”

Peterson’s family released a statement:

During the previous days, it was apparent that he was navigating the thin and sacred space between earth and heaven. We overheard him speaking to people we can only presume were welcoming him into paradise. There may have even been a time or two when he accessed his Pentecostal roots and spoke in tongues as well.

Among his final words were, “Let’s go.” And his joy: my, oh my; the man remained joyful right up to his blessed end, smiling frequently. In such moments it’s best for all mortal flesh to keep silence. But if you have to say something say this: “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

It feels fitting that his death came on a Monday, the day of the week he always honored as a Sabbath during his years 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.

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Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.

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