The End of Death-as-the-End for Eugene Peterson (1932–2018)
We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word.
—Romans 6:6-11, The Message
“I’ve always liked Billy Sunday’s formula for the ideal Christian life,” Eugene Peterson wrote in the opening lines of his book Living the Resurrection.
“Hit the sawdust trail, fall on your knees, and receive Christ as your Savior. Then walk out of this tent into the street, get hit by a Mack truck, and go straight to heaven.” You must admit, I think, that it’s a wonderful formula for getting to heaven the quickest and easiest way.
Of course, he was being ironic. “Quick and easy” has never defined Eugene Peterson. He is better known and greatly loved for the way of “a long obedience in the same direction,” a deliberate and gracious way of living that is shaped and strengthened by the reality of the Incarnation—life in a universe crafted by a God who “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message)—and a vision of the Resurrection: the defeat of death by the God of eternity.
On October 22, 2018, at the age of 85, Eugene has completed his journey along the sawdust trail and has entered the life to come in “the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!” (Romans 6:1-3, The Message). He is survived by his wife, Jan, his three children, and many grandchildren.
Eugene is perhaps best known as the translator of The Message, a rendering of the Scriptures into contemporary language. His high regard for the Scriptures led him to this work as a by-product of his decades-long pastoral ministry. As he wrote in the preface to The Message,
There’s hardly a page in the Bible I did not see lived in some way or other by the men and women, saints and sinners, to whom I was pastor . . . . Many of the people I worked with now knew virtually nothing about it, had never read it, and weren’t interested in learning. Many others had spent years reading it but for them it had gone flat through familiarity, reduced to cliches. Bored, they dropped it. And there weren’t many people in between.
Eugene has always seen his principal vocation as that of a pastor, and this pastoral concern for the formation of his congregation was the driver of his unique rendering of first the New Testament (in 1993) and later the Old Testament (in 2002). Having sold more than 20 million copies, The Message is one of the most significant versions of the Bible to be published in the past 50 years.
Doug Nuenke, U.S. president of The Navigators, whose publishing arm, NavPress, has been the home of The Message since 1993, considers Eugene “forever connected to the ministry of The Navigators.”
He is so often identified as “the author of The Message,” which is the heart of our NavPress ministry. But Eugene was more than that. He was a pastor of pastors. He showed us all what it means to love a community of people. His leadership legacy is not one of tools or tactics, but one of humble service, devotion to the Word of God, and a commitment to caring well for God’s people.
NavPress publisher Don Pape developed a friendship with the Peterson family over the past four years. He writes of Eugene,
Eugene was more than The Pastor. He was more than The Author. Truly this man lived and breathed and smiled Jesus. Whenever I was privileged to be with him I caught a glimmer of what it means to walk with your Savior. What a living example he was. Even in his death he showed me his Christlikeness. I am ever grateful to have known Eugene.
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