How Eugene Peterson Has Blessed Christianity (And 20 of His Most Powerful Quotes)

Debbie McDaniel

How Eugene Peterson Has Blessed Christianity (And 20 of His Most Powerful Quotes)

Editor's Update: Eugene Peterson passed away on October 22, 2018, having completed his long obedience in the same direction. He will be greatly remembered and missed.

It has been announced that Eugene Peterson, author of the bestselling The Message and longtime pastor, who Christianity Today lovingly referred to as the “shepherd’s shepherd,” will be entering hospice care and receiving palliative care. Our hearts and prayers are with him, his family, and loved ones as they walk through these days. May God’s presence and peace be so very close to them; may they feel comforted by His Spirit and know how much they are loved.

According to a note from his son Eric last week, Eugene Peterson was hospitalized this past Tuesday, October 9th, when “he took a sudden and dramatic turn in his health caused by an infection.” The elder Peterson had also been dealing with dementia and congestive heart failure, both of which are reported to be progressing. 

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Eric has shared that in light of the news of his father’s worsened health, he made three important messages clear to Eugene:

"I told him there were three main things for him to know:

1. You are deeply loved.

2. It appears that you are in the last months of your life. (And when I asked him how he felt about that, after some thought, he said, “I feel good about that.”)

3. We are going to try to help make these remaining months as comfortable and enjoyable for you as possible. (To which he gave us his million dollar smile and said, “thank you.”)"

Eric has also said one of the last things Eugene said that evening was, “It just seems so sacred that they trust me so much.”

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Eugene Peterson on death: "I'm not afraid."

In an interview with Religion News Service's Jonathan Merritt, Merritt asked if death scared him. Peterson replied, “I don’t think it’s anything to be afraid of. I have no idea how it’s going to work out. But I’m not afraid, I’ll tell you that. I’ve been with a lot of people who are dying. I think those conversations are some of the best I’ve ever had.”

As any of us who have read Eugene Peterson’s books over time or listened to his messages know, his life is a life well-lived, full of grace, prayer, and great wisdom. We are grateful for his service to Christ and his words that have encouraged so many.

Here are just a few of many ways that Eugene Peterson has been a great blessing in this world:

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1. Eugene Peterson emphasized the power and importance of prayer:

Robert Creech, a professor of Christian ministries at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary, reminded us of Peterson’s dedication to prayer in a dedication to him on Facebook:

“Eugene Peterson has encouraged, formed, and often literally saved the ministry of more than one pastor over the years through his writing and thinking (I would include myself in that list). He has refreshed Scripture for many through his thoughtful paraphrase of the Bible published as The Message. It is time for those who have benefited from his ministry to return the favor to him and his family with prayer over the next several weeks.” Peterson has written an entire series of books on prayer, including his first in the series, Praying with Jesus: Year of Daily Prayer and Reflection on the Words and Actions of Jesus.

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2. Peterson wrote "The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language" as well as over 30 other books on faith, life, hope, and God’s word.

Eugene Peterson left words and words, books filled with words and messages of hope, for our world to still pore over, to ponder, to help strengthen our faith and our walk with Christ. The Message has meant so much to me personally over the years. I’ve read it next to the version of the Bible I normally read, and it’s helped me to better understand and grasp meanings of the scripture that may have been missed if I was just quickly reading through.

Written in present day, conversational tone, The Message has inspired many to understand and hold on to the truths and promises in God’s word. Even through the backlash of many biblical scholars over the years, Peterson held fast to the reason he wrote this book:

“When Paul of Tarsus wrote a letter, the people who received it understood it instantly. When the prophet Isaiah preached a sermon, I can't imagine that people went to the library to figure it out. That was the basic premise under which I worked. I began with the New Testament in the Greek --- a rough and jagged language, not so grammatically clean. I just typed out a page the way I thought it would have sounded to the Galatians.”

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3. Peterson's life has been a constant testimony of God’s grace and love.

He cared about people. He loved. He shepherded. He taught. He preached. He wrote. He encouraged. He challenged. He carried. He prayed. He supported. He inspired. He believed. He listened. He stood. He stood strong, for His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

4. He has faithfully served the body of Christ.

Eugene Peterson was a founding pastor of Christ our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland where he served for 29 years. He also served as Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia until retiring in 2006. 

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5. He has reminded us that spiritual theology is a way of life.

As a professor and scholar, Eugene Peterson sought to live in a real, authentic way. He showed us so powerfully that spiritual theology is not just “what you know,” but “how you live.”

In an interview with Christian poet Luci Shaw for the journal Image, Peterson shared these very wise words, “Spiritual theology is simply theology lived. A great deal of theology has to do with doctrine, with getting it right. Spiritual theology aims to bring that together within a lived life. The conviction behind spiritual theology is that the Bible—and all of Christian belief—is livable. It’s not just something to be held in your head or performed through your actions and ethics, but actually embodied.”

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To inspire and encourage you, and in honor of his life and legacy, here are 20 powerful quotes by Eugene Peterson:

“We cannot be too careful about the words we use; we start out using them, and they end up using us.”

1. “Christians don't simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus' name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.” - Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading

2. “The core message of the gospel is that God invades us with new life, but the setting for this is most often in the ordinariness of our lives. The new life takes place in the place and person of our present. It is not a means by which God solves problems. God creates new life. He is not a problem solver but a person creator.” - As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God

3.  “Sabbath is that uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activities enough to see what God is doing.” – The Pastor’s Sabbath, Christianity Today.

4. “I will not try to run my own life or the lives of others; that is God's business, I will not pretend to invent the meaning of the universe; I will accept what God has shown its meaning to be; I will not strut about demanding that I be treated as the center of my family or my neighborhood or my work, but seek to discover where I fit and do what I am good at. The soul, clamoring for attention and arrogantly parading its importance, is calmed and quieted so that it can be itself, truly.” - A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

5. “We cannot be too careful about the words we use; we start out using them, and they end up using us.” – Quoted by Krista Tippett during her interview with Peterson on the podcast On Being. 

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"We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.”

6. “Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves.” – @PetersonDaily

7. “[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.” - The Jesus Way: A Conversation in following Jesus

8. “We are fond of saying that the Bible has all the answers. And that is certainly correct. The text of the Bible sets us in a reality that is congruent with who we are as created beings in God's image and what we are destined for in the purposes of Christ. But the Bible also has all the questions, many of them that we would just as soon were never asked of us, and some of which we will spend the rest of our lives doing our best to dodge. The Bible is a most comforting book; it is also a most discomfiting book.” - Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading

9.  “Feelings are great liars. If Christians worshipped only when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship. Feelings are important in many areas but completely unreliable in matters of faith.” –A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

10. “All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.” - A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

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“Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.”

11. “How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?” - The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction

12. “Obedience is the thing, living in active response to the living God. The most important question we ask of this text is not, 'What does this mean?' but 'What can I obey?' A simple act of obedience will open up our lives to this text far more quickly than any number of Bible studies and dictionaries and concordances.” - Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading

13. “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.” – Where Your Treasure Is: Psalms that Summon You from Self to Community

14. “The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus way with the American way.” - The Jesus Way: A Conversation in following Jesus

15. “The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day: this house you live in, this family you find yourself in, this job you have been given, the weather conditions that prevail at this moment.” – Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best

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“No life of faith can be lived privately. There must be overflow into the lives of others.”

16. “Prayer gets us in on what God is doing.” – Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers

17. “The Bible is not a script for a funeral service, but it is the record of God always bringing life where we expected to find death. Everywhere it is the story of resurrection.” – @PetersonDaily

18. “Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.” - Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology

19. “No life of faith can be lived privately. There must be overflow into the lives of others.” - Living the Message: Daily Reflections with Eugene H. Peterson

20. “My job is not to solve people’s problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives.” - The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction

Debbie McDaniel is a writer, pastor's wife, mom to three amazing kids (and a lot of pets). Join her each morning on Fresh Day Ahead's Facebook page, for daily encouragement in living strong, free, hope-filled lives. Find her also on Twitter and at her blog www.debbiemcdaniel.com.

Publication Date: October 17, 2018

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