(UPDATE 4:30PM: PLEASE READ TO VERY END OF THE POST). As some of you probably already know, the veteran Christian author, Eugene Peterson, has apparently changed his views regarding same-sex marriage. Twitter lit up like crazy yesterday, after an interview with Peterson suggested that the author, of great books like, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, and the popular paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, would perform a same-sex wedding, if he was asked.
Peterson is getting up there in years, and he says he is withdrawing from public life. But with the news yesterday, he joins a growing chorus of evangelical leaders, who have changed their views on same-sex marriage in the church, such as Tony Campolo and HGTV’s Jen Hatmaker. This is disconcerting to those who believe the church is capitulating to pressure from the culture, while others believe that this is a long-due, over-corrective to the church’s mistreatment of gay and lesbian people.
Lifeway Christian Stores is talking about refusing to sell Peterson’s books, while others are suggesting that Christians stop using Peterson’s The Message, in their Bible reading. There are few things to consider here:
- Peterson’s books have proven to be very helpful over the years, before anyone knew about yesterday’s news. Furthermore, while The Message is still a helpful paraphrase of Scripture, for getting a long overview of different books of the Bible, by reading long passages of Scripture in one sitting, it is no replacement for a good study Bible. I frequently run into people who try to put verse numbers into The Message, to help in their study, but I am afraid they are sorely missing the point. My New Testament professor in seminary, Donald Hagner, was asked years ago to be a consultant for The Message. But when the book came out in print, “The Hag,” as his students affectionately called him, felt embarrassed by some of the things that Peterson did with the text, to make it more readable. I have teased my old professor for years about this, and after every time I mention it to him, I still get a rise from him. I am sure Professor Hagner feels even more embarrassed today! But still, the point is, The Message is a good tool for what it was designed for, and not for what it was not meant for.
- Regarding the gay and lesbian topic, Christians need to own up to the fact that the church has had a lousy track record in caring for and ministering to gay and lesbian people over the years. When Newsweek journalist, Kurt Eichenwald, went on his infamous, multi-dozen page tirade against the Bible, in the Newsweek Christmas issue of 2014, he did so when he learned that a neighboring family, who were evangelical Christians, kicked their son out of the house, and put him on the street, when that teenage son finally had the gutsy courage to come forward to his parents, to tell them that he was wrestling with sexual feelings for other boys, that he did not seem able to control. Folks, stuff life this happens all of the time in evangelical churches, and we simply have to do a better job in reaching out to people who struggle with same-sex desires. It is possible that doing something positive is the thrust behind Peterson’s motivation. Prudence demands that we give Eugene Petersen some latitude.
- Nevertheless, Eugene Peterson’s change of views, assuming he genuinely holds them, is not warranted by what the Bible teaches. The Bible does teach that marriage is between a man and a woman, and we do people no favor by side-stepping parts of the Bible that are unpopular.
A brief look at Peter’s example in Scripture might help. The Apostle Peter was like a lightning rod for the early church, as documented all throughout the Book of Acts. But even though Peter was perhaps the most significant leader in the church, he was not perfect. When Peter started to shun table fellowship with Gentile Christians, the Apostle Paul totally got in his face for his error (Read Galatians 2:11-14). Paul knew that the Gospel was meant for all people, not just the Jews, and persistently challenged Peter upfront. But Paul never discredited the good things Peter had done to promote the Gospel. In the end, Peter eventually changed his mind, and supported Paul’s ministry.
To this day, we are still reading Peter’s two letters (1 and 2 Peter) and the Gospel of Mark, that he collaborated with Mark. If we were to have prematurely written off Peter as being without hope, we would have lost a large chunk of our New Testament! So, there is something to hope for, too, that Eugene Petersen might rethink his position.
For that reason, I plan on keeping my copy of The Message…. but I am still not going to put verse numbers in it!!
UPDATE: July 13, 2017, in the PM.
Okay, folks. Back away from the bonfire! …. You can put away that gasoline that you were going to pour on your stack of The Message Bibles. ChristianityToday reports this afternoon that Eugene Petersen has retracted his earlier statement regarding same-sex marriage. That was pretty quick, and the whole debacle has some telling lessons on how public statements, issued and heard in sound bites, taken out of context, can cause harm for Christian witness. To the extent, that I said something that misrepresented Eugene Peterson, a man I respect and admire, I sincerely apologize …… Still, I AM NOT GOING TO PUT VERSE NUMBERS IN MY COPY OF THE MESSAGE, AND YOU SHOULD NOT EITHER!!
UPDATE: July 16, 2017
As the initial controversy has died down, I will link some helpful posts here, from a variety of perspectives, regarding the Eugene Peterson affair this week, or The Message as a translation/paraphrase. Your feedback is welcome:
- A view from Canada, not very favorable to Peterson’s ambiguity, but commends Peterson’s retraction.
- Dr. Michael Brown on The Message as a paraphrase.
- Revisionist supporter of gay marriage, Matthew Vines, comments in Time magazine.
- John Piper’s view about paraphrases of the Bible.
- Peterson’s philosophy behind The Message.
- Jonathan Merritt, the reporter with the Religion News Service, who originally broke the story on Eugene Peterson, offers some provocative analysis.
- And finally…. this from a British, evangelical journalist who also interviewed Eugene Peterson weeks before Merritt did. This pretty much sums up my views on the whole matter.