Exclusive: Eugene Peterson's Son Reveals What He Hopes People Will Remember About Late Father


The news of pastor Eugene Peterson’s death on Oct. 22, 2018, has left thousands of people with heavy hearts.

Not only did he brilliantly paraphrase the entire Bible in “The Message,” but he also helped point Christian leaders and pastors back to the simple truths of the Gospel through some of his other written works.

While many knew him as a pastor, author and genuine encourager, he was also a husband of sixty years, a father of three children, and a grandfather to nine.

We were blessed with the opportunity to talk to Leif Peterson about his father and learn a little bit more about this incredibly influential man from someone who lived life with him every day.

“He was gentle, kind and wise,” Leif told Liftable, a brand of the Western Journal. “I could count the times I saw him angry on one hand.”

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Although he is best known for paraphrasing the entire Bible into a more simple language in “The Message,” Eugene also penned over 30 books that were aimed to help shape pastors and other Christian leaders with Gospel truths.

Some of those books include “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,” “Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer,” and his last memoir “The Pastor.”

Not only did he encourage pastors through his written word, but he also served as a pastor in a smaller Presbyterian church in Bel Air, Maryland; he was not a fan of the megachurch model and chose to shepherd a small congregation.

Leif remembers that even though his father was busy with counseling sessions and writing prolific works, he was never too busy to be a dad.

“He had a study in our basement where he worked when he wasn’t at the church. That’s where he wrote his books. He was doing important stuff in there, but it was always okay to disturb him,” Leif said.

“The door was always metaphorically open and he always had all the time in the world for me when I wanted to talk to him. That was true for everyone. He always had time and he was never rushed.”

Eugene even set aside intentional time to build special memories with his family members that now serve as sweet reminders of the love he had for them.

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Some of Leif’s favorites memories with his father are from high school, soon after Leif began running for the cross country team; his father had also picked up the hobby.

“Almost every weekend we would scope out a 10K race somewhere and run it together. Sometimes these things were hours away so in addition to the race we had the road trip,” Leif recalled. “Those are some of my fondest memories. Just me and my dad and the bond of running.”

Some of the traits displayed in these memories may explain why his written words, besides being extremely poetic and beautiful, have resonated with millions across the world.

Leif told Liftable that it was “because he’s authentic. And unhurried. And counter-cultural.”

It was just these traits that led to Eugene’s unlikely friendship with Bono, the lead singer for the band U2.

Bono revealed that Eugene’s words in “The Message” greatly impacted him and the band, especially his translation of the Psalms. Over the years, the two had spent time together to discuss scripture and develop their sweet friendship.

The day after Eugene’s death, Bono even performed a song in honor of the man who had helped revitalize his faith.

On Oct. 22, 2018, the beloved pastor passed away surrounded by loved ones in his Montana home; he was 85 years old.

Eugene went to the hospital for an infection earlier in October but had also been battling with progressive dementia and heart failure.

When he first came home from the hospital, Leif decided to keep a lantern lit until the day his father passed away. Leif told Liftable that the lantern itself had been on his family’s Flathead Lake property for over sixty years.

“I thought it would be a nice symbol to keep it lit,” he said. “It wasn’t long before people all over the country were doing the same — keeping some exterior light lit 24/7. That lantern burned for eight days.”

“When my father finally took his last breath my brother and I were by his side holding his hands. After we said our goodbyes and did a good bit of crying, my brother looked at me and said, ‘You can turn that lantern out now, brother.'”

The family released a statement on the day of his death that was equally heartbreaking and hopeful.

“And his joy: my, oh my; the man remained joyful right up to his blessed end, smiling frequently. In such moments it’s best for all mortal flesh to keep silence. But if you have to say something say this: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,'” the statement read.

A funeral service has been planned on Nov. 3, 2018, at First Presbyterian Church of Kalispell, Montana, the church where he gave his first sermon at only 19 years of age. The service will take place at 1 p.m. and will be live streamed on the church’s website.

The family also asked that in lieu of flowers, those who want to honor Eugene’s life through a gift consider donating to three organizations that were near to Eugene’s heart and mission: Flathead Lakers, African Enterprise, or Glacier Symphony.

As the family prepares to celebrate Eugene’s life with those who either knew Eugene personally or were impacted by his words, Leif said that there will be a few things that people will remember when they think of his father.

“I know people will remember his smile and the amazing twinkle in his eyes,” he told Liftable. “I think people who knew him will remember his kindness and his authenticity and that he always had time for a conversation.”

There’s no doubt that Eugene’s life echoed the charge laid out in Hebrews 12:1; he ran the race set before him with endurance. In other words, he dedicated his life to a “long obedience in the same direction.”

We are praying for the Peterson family as they grieve Eugene’s death, but we also rejoice with them in knowing that “his joy is now complete.” Grace and Peace.

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Kayla has been a staff writer for The Western Journal since 2018.
Kayla Kunkel began writing for The Western Journal in 2018.
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