By Warren B. Smith
The danger of entrusting one’s Christian walk to Eugene Peterson and his Message translation was dramatically underscored in a 2007 book Peterson wrote titled The Jesus Way. In describing a group hike he took with friends and family in Glacier National Park, Peterson discloses how he purposely withheld crucial information from his family and friends prior to their setting out on their walk. In a moment of almost inexplicable candor, Peterson reveals how he “relished the spurt of adrenaline” he experienced in not telling his fellow hikers how a grizzly bear had mauled a hiker just the week before on the very same trail they were about to take. What makes his account especially disturbing is that his group included a friend’s two-year-old child and his pregnant daughter-in-law. Peterson wrote:
A few years ago a grizzly attacked a hiker not far from our home and mauled him badly. The hiker had heard of the wonder and beauty of the mountains of Montana and drove across the country from North Carolina to experience them for himself. Interviewed from his hospital bed, he said, “I’m never coming back to this place!” He didn’t know that wonder and beauty can also be dangerous.
A week after that grizzly mauling, Jan and I along with our son and his wife, plus another friend with her two-year-old son, were hiking on that same trail. At the trailhead a notice was posted: “Danger: Grizzly activity on this trail. Hike at your own risk.” None of the others knew of the previous week’s mauling and I didn’t say anything. I relished the spurt of adrenaline. The danger to life heightens the sense of life.1
Peterson goes on to describe how the group later encountered a grizzly bear and her cub that were up the trail from where they were walking. Obviously, concerned for her safety and that of her unborn child, Peterson’s pregnant daughter-in-law insisted on leaving immediately. Peterson attempts to use the incident to illustrate how the beauty of one’s surroundings can also be a threat to the “fragility and preciousness of life.” He explains that “Holy ground” can also be “dangerous ground”:
And then Amy, our daughter-in-law, who was five months pregnant and therefore especially aware of the fragility and preciousness of life, said, “I want to get out of here.” And we did get out. Holy ground, but dangerous ground.2
And while Peterson waxes poetic about the mix of beauty and danger inherent in life, his point falls flat as an obvious question arises—What kind of a man would put others in harm’s way for his own personal adrenalin rush? As I read Peterson’s strange account, I realized the incident was a perfect metaphor for what I had come to believe about Peterson and his Message translation. You are walking on a very dangerous path when you choose to walk with Eugene Peterson—whether it is in Glacier National Park or through the pages of his Message “Bible.”
God’s True Word
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. (2 Timothy 4:3)
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:5)
- Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way: a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Erdman’s Publishing Co., 2007), p. 131.
Note: The post above is an extract of Warren B. Smith’s booklet: Eugene Peterson’s Mixed Message: Subversive Bible for a New Age.
(painting image from istockphoto.com; used with permission)