Eugene Peterson on Christian "Relevance"

More from the CT interview with Eugene Peterson:

Mark Galli:
Many Christians hope to speak to generation X or Y or postmoderns, or some subgroup, like cowboys or bikers—people for whom the typical church seems irrelevant.

Eugene Peterson:
When you start tailoring the gospel to the culture, whether it’s a youth culture, a generation culture or any other kind of culture, you have taken the guts out of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not the kingdom of this world. It’s a different kingdom…. I think relevance is a crock. I don’t think people care a whole lot about what kind of music you have or how you shape the service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, where they’re taken seriously, where there is no manipulation of their emotions or their consumer needs. Why did we get captured by this advertising, publicity mindset? I think it’s destroying our church.

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  • andrew

    hi, jeff.

    i don’t know if anyone still reads these old blog entries.

    i watched “last days” primarily because of the well-deserved coverage that you guys gave it at christianity today. i’ve read many of your comments about the film, and i think they’re spot-on, but in the ct review you begin by describing mohr’s character as ferocious, malevolent, and hannibal lecter-like. while these adjectives may be fitting for the real life mohr, i feel that they mischaracterize the mohr in the film. he was certainly calculating, but as you later suggest, the strength of held’s performance was his ability to show a growing battle between logic, morality, prejudice, and politics, all occuring in this one character. as the film progessed, i think we may even be asked to show some empathy for this man who chooses against his better, more moral judgment. and that’s not something you find with the wicked villains of your first paragraphs.

    just a thought,

  • Mark Stewart

    It’s not very often that I get up from watching a movie and want to go shout to the whole world that they have to watch it, but this is one. What a story of faith, courage and patriotism! Julia Jentsch was as perfect as an actress can get, I think.

    There are a lot of great moments, but the one that keeps on repeating in my mind occurred when Sophie was being interrogated by Mohr. They were speaking of the humanity of the mentally ill and Sophie said, “Who can tell what wisdom they will gain from their suffering?”

  • M. Cruz

    Thank you! When you first mentioned it here I looked for weeks and it was not to be found. I wish I’d seen on the big screen, but I’ll take what I can get.

  • jasdye

    The Kingdom of Difficult Exegesis is like unto a farmer who left his estate to sharecroppers…

  • The Scrivener

    Repent, for the kingdom of Difficult Exegesis is at hand!


  • jasdye


    are you pronouncing apocalyptic judgement on me or eugene peterson? ;)

  • The Scrivener

    Jasdye, three words: Ezekiel, Daniel, Revelation.

  • jasdye

    which – i think – is my appeal with the Message, Bubba. it’s not so up-to-date as to be suddenly-out-of-date.

    and julie, of course we all know that a huge portion of the bible is poetry. but i tend to think that the average johan on the street would understand the poetic devices, images and language of the poetry in question. it wan’t so high-falutin’ to the audience in question.

  • Bubba

    There are probably many more serious artistic and theological criticisms about The Message, but my first problem’s always been that it doesn’t live up to its billing. It’s supposed to be a paraphrase “in contemporary language,” but it doesn’t always match modern idioms.

    Seriously: “you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon”? Who says that? No one, so far as I know. Not every phrase is this jarring, but the end result seems to be a paraphrase that is neither all that accurate, nor all that memorable, nor really all that contemporary. So regardless of its stated purposes, I’ve never really figured out what one is supposed to do with it.

  • The Scrivener

    Julie, I’m with ya.

    Jeffrey, you will share more with us, won’t you?

  • Julie

    Well, as an English teacher and writer, I just can’t endorse it. I find it embarrassing.

    And a good portion of the Bible *is* poetry, particularly the psalms and I really dislike what he’s done with it.

  • jasdye

    first and foremost, i must say this: Peterson kicks A**! Major A**!

    having said that, i don’t think that, in the least, with the Message Peterson was going for any sort of gimmick or market-driven approach. yes, he took liberties – and some of those liberties seem silly to those of us reared on the uber-Poetry of the King James or versions based off of it. but, as he explains it, the Bible itself isn’t uber-Poetry. it was written in plain-speak by plain-spoken people.

    unlike, say, Bibles written in the guise of teen mags with ‘advice’, the Message is rather a type of deconstruction of the Bible’s language (from its original languages at that) into twentieth/twenty-first century english.

    as an english teacher, youth worker amateur poet and Jesus/Bible/Church lover, i’ll endorse it.

  • Julie

    I’d second this question. I have a hard time (and that’s an understatement) with The Message, simply because it smacks of “cultural relevance” and because I find it exceptionally flippant. Particularly when I come across things like Psalm 1:1, which in his paraphrase reads:

    How well God must like you— you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.

    It makes me cringe, actually. Both as a Christian and as a writer.

  • The Scrivener

    I’d be interested to hear about your interview with Peterson, Jeffrey. I admit to mixed feelings about the man. One the one hand, I really applaud him for several of his statements in the Galli interview. But I have a hard time squaring some of his sentiments with The Message itself.

    I mean, how can a man who says “relevance is a crock” translate Ps 51:7 (“Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow”) as: “Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life”? Isn’t his whole paraphrastic endeavor about relevance?

    Maybe you had a chance to work out some of these kinks with him?