Friday, July 14, 2017

Eugene Peterson Contradicts Himself


I have read everything Eugene Peterson has written, except for his new book, which I am reading now.

I have read a few of his books more than once. I have read The Contemplative Pastor three times. I wish every pastor would read it!

I feel I know Peterson, though I have never met him.

I did talk with him on the phone once. I was trying to get him to come and speak at a pastor's conference. He was grateful for the invitation, but could not come. He was doing very little speaking. He told me, "I am out of gas."

Peterson, to me, is one of our few genuinely prophetic voices. I am interested in Normal Church. So is Peterson. His prophetic critique of the American Consumer Church is beautiful, scriptural, unrelenting, loving, truthful, and searing.

I am amazed at his interpretation of the Bible called The Message. Peterson is a great scholar. He did doctoral work at Johns Hopkins under the brilliant Semitic scholar William F. Albright. That is the equivalent of studying guitar under Segovia, or soccer under Pele. It is like eating ice cream with Ben and Jerry.

I don't know Peterson personally, but I have loved him for a long time. It's easy to see why Christians like Bono love him.

I was, therefore, saddened when the recent interview appeared, and Peterson affirmed gay marriage. The interviewer asked:

If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?

EP: Yes.

I concluded that, even though I disagreed with his choice, I would not stop reading and re-reading his books. If reading books depended on the character of a person, then I would read no books. Even if you wrote a book, I would not read it, because I know your character has not yet been fully formed into Jesus-likeness.

Then, yesterday, Peterson wrote an article for the Washington Post. In this more recent piece Peterson says,

"To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything... With most interviews I’ve done, I generally ask for questions in advance and respond in writing. That’s where I am most comfortable. When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment. But on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that."

And I was glad. And endeared to him even more.

But why did he say 'yes' to gay marriage, then retract the affirmation and say 'no'?

This is an important question to understand, because it is the kind of question you and I are unable to answer. Pursuing it, therefore, is the height of nonsense. Peterson gives a reason. This is more than good enough for me. I believe him. I have read everything he has written, and find his retraction congruent with his character, which is not perfect. Understand deeply, before you judge.

But why, why, why did he do this? Perhaps because Christian bookstores were threatening to remove his books? I think, probably not. But how could I know? How could you know? You and I don't have epistemic access to the mind of Eugene Peterson. I barely have epistemic access to my own mind.

But why did Peterson wait a few days before writing his response? Maybe, just maybe, he went slow. Maybe he prayed about it. Maybe he contemplated before he opened his mouth again. Maybe he was broken by it. Maybe he got on his knees before God and asked God what he could do to make this right? How do I, or you, know? How could you know? One thing I know: I am uninterested in psychoanalytic speculation about why Eugene Peterson said X, and changed it to not-X. That, to me, is vanity, graceless, and a waste of my time.

I am thankful he clarified things.

But... he contradicted himself!  Ohhh..., don't get me started on that one! I am a professional contradiction collector, catching incoherencies and inconsistencies like butterflies, pinning them in my journal to use in my logic classes. If I had the chance to dialogue with you long enough, I am confident you would give me some stunning, exemplary specimens to display before my students (anonymously, of course).

I see people open their mouths to say one thing, only to later say another thing. I've done it myself. We are like Peter, who thrice said, about Jesus, "I do not know the man!" To save his cowardly life! Then, later, he retracts this.

I have read too much Peterson to even begin thinking he is waffling. I have seen too much Piippo to recognize hypocrisy. If logical consistency and walking in non-hypocrisy and non-contradiction is what is required to be a spokesperson for God, then no person qualifies. Except Jesus.

Thank you, Eugene, for clarifying things.

I love you and am praying for you, that you would know that your life is not defined by your failures, but by who you are in Christ, by faith, by the grace of God.

My new book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

My book Leading the Presence-Driven Church should be out in the next few months.