“How Steep the Cost” — Eugene Peterson Gets Attacked for His Orthodoxy

If you pay any attention to Christianity in America, you might have heard of the situation with Eugene Peterson, the rather famous evangelical pastor who authored the “Message” translation of the Bible. That translation is highly popular within the evangelical community and Peterson has been widely published and read.

Last week, the 84 year old Peterson, on a press tour related to his final book before retirement, suggested to a reporter that if he were asked today to perform a gay marriage, he would do so. He largely premised this on the idea that he has a number of gay congregants and they seemingly have healthy spiritual lives.

Peterson subsequently walked this all back and clarified that he was an 84 year old who had no business answering hypotheticals. He regretted the error and misunderstanding and wanted to assure everyone that he believes in Biblical inerrancy, marriage is only between a man and a woman, and homosexuality is still a sin.

Well, the gay theologians who have been on a campaign to convince people the Bible does not mean what is says are now declaring themselves the victims in all this because it is always about them, after all. Matthew Vines, one of those who has invested all his energy in believing what is not so, declares

This week, Peterson found out first-hand just how steep that cost is. Many conservative Christians who had formerly respected him denounced and dismissed him. A popular conservative Christian satirical website mocked him. The biggest Christian book distributor, LifeWay, threatened to pull all of his books from their shelves unless he took back his support for same-sex marriage.

Just a day after Peterson’s statements had sent shockwaves through the church, offering profound encouragement to thousands of LGBTQ Christians weary of being others’ theological punching bags, Peterson released a statement saying that after ‘reflection and prayer,’ he had changed his mind and would no longer perform a same-sex wedding. Adding insult to injury, he said that he’d never been asked to do so and ‘frankly, I hope I never am asked.'”

I think, first, everyone should acknowledge that Peterson’s walk back sounded a bit muddled and mealy mouthed. I could not decide if he just had not realized the extent to which the reporter was pushing him or if his publisher was breathing down his neck or if it was sincere. Nonetheless, given Peterson’s body of work over decades, perhaps we should take him at his word that he hates to tell people no (so do I), was pushed by a reporter, and made an error he does not believe.

What is so interesting here is that the response by Matthew Vines tries to make it seem a pastor doing the right thing in Vines’ mind will pay a steep cost. That, of course, is the furthest thing from true and an indication of how much the victim mentality has encircled those who peddle the lie that Christianity and homosexuality are compatible.

In the twenty-four hours after Peterson’s initial interview came out, there were celebratory columns at NBC News, other media outlets, a host of gay-Christian centered websites, etc. There was much celebration. Lifeway, the Christian bookstore that suggested it would pull Peterson’s books if he really had rejected Christian orthodoxy, was assailed as bigoted, homophobic, and narrowminded.

Peterson would actually be able to make a metric butt load of money if he caved on the issue. Oprah would declare him a new, brave voice rivaling Rob Bell. He would probably get to give the inaugural prayer the next time a Democrat is elected President. His books would go mainstream.

The cost, according to Vines, is that he would be rejected by believers in orthodoxy and those bigots at Lifeway. I suspect this is more self-reflection on Vines than it is in any way related to Peterson.

Vines tried to make a sincere case that 2000 years of orthodox Christian belief had misunderstood what the Bible meant about homosexuality. The rebuttal against against Vines was strong, firm, and on point documenting his numerous errors. Instead of repenting, Vines doubled down on the idea that Christianity and homosexuality are compatible and views himself as a victim in some way of orthodoxy.

There really is no victim here except exegesis. The Bible does not say something just because you want it to say that and lashing out at an 84 year old headed off to pasture because he returned to orthodoxy after 48 hours in the wilderness is unbecoming.

What we are seeing is the great separating. There is a growing recognition that what the Bible says cannot be reconciled to what some want it to say and they are having increasing trouble deciding how to say the Bible is wrong while still maintaining the pretense of being Christian.

At least saying one thinks the Bible is wrong would be far more an honest viewpoint than claiming 2000 years of Christians have gotten it wrong in what the Bible actually says. Only among liberal theologians could a win for orthodoxy be seen as a steep cost. I’ll let Matthew Lee Anderson have the last word.

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Erick Erickson

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