‘The Message’ author Eugene Peterson dies

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Eugene Peterson, author of "The Message," poses for a portrait in this July 1993 file photo. Peterson died Monday at age 85. (Karen Nichols/Daily Inter Lake file)

Longtime pastor and author Eugene Peterson of Lakeside, whose popular paraphrase of the Bible, “The Message,” brought him wide acclaim, died Monday at age 85.

Christianity Today reported Peterson had been under hospice care for a week for complications related to heart failure and dementia.

His memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at First Presbyterian Church in Kalispell, and will be live-streamed.

Peterson was the pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church, a congregation he founded in Bel Air, Maryland, for 30 years, according to the Religion News Service. Throughout his life he wrote extensively to encourage and develop other pastors, earning the moniker, “a shepherd’s shepherd.”

“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),” Truett Seminary Professor Robert Creech wrote in an Oct. 13 Facebook post. “He has refreshed Scripture for many through his thoughtful paraphrase of the Bible published as ‘The Message.’ He has taught us to pray.”

Altogether Peterson wrote more than 30 books, including the Christian classic, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,” and his 2011 memoir, “The Pastor.” But it was “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language” that resonated with Christians throughout the world. According to the Religion News Service, it took several requests from publishers to get him to agree to write the paraphrase and 12 years to complete it in segments. It was published in its entirety in 2002 by Navpress Publishing Group; 20 million copies have been sold, Christianity Today reported.

“‘The Message’ has been praised by many — from laypeople who struggle to understand the language of the Bible to U2 frontman Bono, who said it ‘speaks to me in my own language,’” the Religion News Service wrote. “The two appeared together in a 2016 video for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Fuller Studio.

“Even after it was finished, he said, he never felt like ‘The Message’ was ‘my book,’” the news service continued. “Translating the words of the prophet Isaiah or the prolific Epistle writer Paul into the idioms of his congregation, he said, ‘I was just pleased I was able to get into their life and do it in my way.’”

Growing up as a butcher’s son in Kalispell, Peterson told the Daily Inter Lake in a 1993 interview he never could have imagined that one day he would be entrusted to carry the message of Jesus Christ to perhaps millions of people. At that point in the early 1990s he had completed the first segment of “The Message,” a modern translation of the New Testament. It was an immediate best-seller for NavPress.

The Flathead Valley helped shape his vision as a writer, Peterson told the Inter Lake during that interview. He came to Kalispell in 1933, less than a year old, grew up and graduated from Flathead High School before going away to college. During his childhood he attended the Assembly of God Church in Kalispell, which later became the Christian Center and now is Canvas Church.

At Seattle Pacific University he earned a degree in philosophy, then went on to get his S.T.B. from New York Theological Seminary and a master’s degree in Semitic languages from Johns Hopkins University. He retired as a pastor in 1991 and was the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia from 1993 to 1998, after which he moved to Lakeside.

The family home in Lakeside that began as a summer cabin built by his father, Don Peterson in 1947, was where he did much of his writing and translating for “The Message.”

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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