'The Message' Author Eugene Peterson Passes Away at Age 85


Eugene Peterson, the American pastor best known for penning “The Message” — a paraphrase of the Bible — has passed away. His death comes only a week after entering into hospice care.

Peterson’s god-given talent of artistically and simply conveying biblical truths through prose have influenced and shaped many pastors and Christian leaders throughout his life.

On October 12, 2018, the 85-year-old’s son, Eric, sent out an email to his close friends and family to inform them that his father had entered into hospice care.

Peterson’s health had declined due to rapidly progressing dementia, pneumonia, and heart failure.

Robert Creech, a professor of Christian ministries at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary, received permission to publicly share it on a Facebook post in hopes that others could minister to the family through prayer.

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Eric closed his email to friends and family by saying, “Every moment in this man’s presence is sacred.”

Creech expressed just how much Peterson has impacted him personally, “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. He has taught us to pray…Christe eleison, Kyrie, eleison.”

While he did serve as the founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air Maryland for 29 years, he has been recognized as a “shepherd’s shepherd,” referring to his passion to help Christian leaders grounded in the Word of God rather than the fleeting promises given by society’s self-help mindset.

He also served as a James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia from 1993 to 1998.

Throughout his life, he wrote over 30 books to encourage Christian leaders and pastors, including “The Message.”

Before completing “The Message” in 2002, he had written such transformative books as “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,” “Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer,” and “Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading.”

When publishers finally got him to agree to attempt to paraphrase the entire Bible, it took him over 12 years to complete. Even after its completion, however, he expressed to his congregation that it never felt like his book.

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“I was just pleased to get into their life,” he said of the opportunity to translate the words of biblical authors such as Isaiah and Paul.

After his retirement, he continued to write books like “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” and his recent memoir “The Pastor.” He also expressed that many of his days were filled with reading and returning letters to friends, family, and fans.

Peterson recognizes that his parents’ influence and examples served a huge impact on his own walk in faith. In a video for Regent College, he reflected on the early parts of his life.

His father was a butcher and Peterson fondly remembers working with his father after school in the shop, an experience that allowed him to understand sacrifice first-hand. Before his death, Peterson and his wife lived in the Montana home that his father built. His mother, Peterson recalls, was charismatic and told stories well.

He said, “I was very fortune to have parents who gave me a way to think about the faith that was authentic. It was nothing hypocritical, nothing dramatic. It was just faithful.”

He died on October 22, 2018.

According to a statement released by his family, some of his last words before his death were, “Let’s go.”

The family said, “During the previous days, it was apparent that he was navigating the thin and sacred space between earth and heaven. We overheard him speaking to people we can only presume were welcoming him into paradise.”

“Among his final words were, ‘Let’s go.’ 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.'”

Peterson’s son, Leif, shared a heartbreaking yet hopeful post that said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.”

Because Peterson’s incredible influence over Christian leaders over his life, many have expressed their deep grief at the news of his passing.

Christian author Winn Collier said, “The lantern is out. My friend and pastor Eugene Peterson died this morning.”

While Peterson’s death will be felt immensely by those who knew him and those who were pushed toward a God-centered life through his words, Peterson’s family is finding rest in the fact that he has now entered “eternal Sabbath.”

“It feels fitting that his death came on a Monday, the day of the week he always honored as a Sabbath during his years as a pastor,” the family stated today. “After a lifetime of faithful service to the church—running the race with gusto—it is reassuring to know that Eugene has now entered into the fullness of the Kingdom of God and has been embraced by eternal Sabbath.”

“With full and overflowing hearts, we give thanks for the gift of his life,” they said, “knowing that his joy is now complete.”

The family also shared their plans to livestream his funeral, held at First Presbyterian Church of Kalispell, Montana. A date has not yet been set.

We are praying for Peterson’s family as they grieve his death and celebrate his Gospel-centered life.

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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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