Eugene Peterson, former pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland and Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology in Regent College, Vancouver, Canada passed away at home on 22 October 2018. He was 85 years old. In the Spiritual Formation Movement, I regard Dallas Willard as the head, Richard Foster as the hands, and Eugene Peterson as the heart. Dallas Willard who died in 2013 provided the ideas that formed the infrastructure of the movement. His ideas were often abstract and his concepts difficult to grasp. Richard Foster consolidates the movement by recovering the spiritual disciplines and the formative programs of Renovaré, an organization that he started. However, it is from Eugene Peterson that I discovered the heart of the movement.
I only met Eugene Peterson once many years ago at a Spiritual Formation Forum in Los Angeles. It was late in the day and he was tired yet he was willing to spend half an hour talking to this unknown Asian guy over a cup of coffee. I do not remember what we talked about but I do remember I was impressed by his authenticity and spiritual presence. I remembered leaving the encounter spiritually uplifted and convinced that I should continue to be involved with the movement. This was before the publication of the Message, his paraphrase of the Bible, which made him internationally famous . I have been reading and studying his writings before this chance encounter and continued to do so. I regard Eugene Peterson as my spiritual director even though he may not know it. His books, writings, lectures, and sermons provide spiritual guidance at the most appropriate times in my life. Like all spiritual guides, he draws me closer to God with his wise counsel.
The centrality of the Word lies at the heart of all his writings and teaching. Being a linguist himself, Eugene Peterson was familiar with ancient Greek and Hebrew. He emphasized the need to know the Bible and to apply it in all areas of our lives. I find Eat this Book and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction representative of Eugene Peterson’s thinking in this area. Megachurches, modern theologies and the prosperity gospel did not impress him. A thought which he shared that have stayed with me was that he would not pastor a church that has more members than he can know personally. I believed he gave the number as 300 members. And he held true to that conviction, faithfully pastoring a small church in Bel Air for over 23 years. I am totally convinced of his concept of a pastor as being a part of a community. Reading his personal memoirs The Pastor, community and place were featured prominently as his areas of emphasis. Christian spirituality was a deep interest of his and his books Run with the Horses and Subversive Spirituality taught me the importance of our spirituality in Christ in the ordinary events in our daily life.
Though he is no longer with us, his legacy lives on. A gentle man with deep roots in the Word and in God. An earthly man with deep roots in his communities. A thoughtful reflective man whose body of work continues to inspire and guide others to engage in subversive spirituality in a materialistic world.