Russell Moore on Eugene Peterson Embracing Gay Marriage: If He Can Make Such an Error, Anyone Can

Russell Moore addresses the delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Wednesday, June 14, 2017.
Russell Moore addresses the delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Wednesday, June 14, 2017. | (Photo: Matt Jones)

Evangelical ethicist Russell Moore expressed disappointment in retired pastor Eugene Peterson announcing his support for gay marriage, and warned that if a "wise man" like him can make such a mistake, other Christians can make errors too.

Moore, who serves as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote in The Gospel Coalition on Thursday that he cannot "overstate just how disappointed I am" in Peterson's announcement, given that he has a shelf "full of highlighted, book-flag-adorned works" by the Presbyterian pastor.

"There is much I've learned from Peterson, and much I am sure I will learn in the future," Moore wrote.

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"But one of those things is this: if a wise man who has translated and written commentaries on the prophets, on Romans, on Revelation, can make that sort of turn, with that little revelatory authority behind him, then I could easily talk myself into some error too."

Peterson, who formerly pastored a PCUSA church, and is best know for writing The Message, a reading Bible that uses contemporary language, said in an interview with Religion News Service Wednesday that he would officiate a same-sex wedding if asked.

The author said that he knows many gays and lesbians who "seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do," and suggested that the debate about gays and lesbians is probably "over."

"People who disapprove of it, they'll probably just go to another church," Peterson said.

"So we're in a transition and I think it's a transition for the best, for the good. I don't think it's something that you can parade, but it's not a right or wrong thing as far as I'm concerned."

Moore praised in his blog post many of Peterson's works, and said that just recently he finished reading As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Word of God.

The ethicist noted that he would text various lines from the book to a friend, and noted that he follows the author's advice on reading a Psalm aloud each day of the week as part of his devotions.

"And now Peterson says he's willing to walk away from what the Scriptures and 2,000 years of unbroken Christian teaching affirm on the conjugal nature of marriage as the one-flesh union of a man and a woman reflecting the mystery of Christ and the church," Moore wrote.

Still, he admitted that he can't erase from his mind all the things he has learned from the author.

"Should I stop reading him, since he has shown a completely contrary view on an important issue of biblical interpretation — and, beyond that, of the very definition of what it means to repent of sin?" Moore wondered.

Reflecting on the question, Moore said that he probably wouldn't give Peterson's books to a brand new believer, or invite him to speak at his church, given the "sexually confused culture" people are living in.

Still, he said that even though Peterson is "wrong about a huge issue," which he said has "massive implications for the eternal lives of people and the witness of churches," the truth is people can never read anyone "who is right on everything," with the exception of the Bible.

"Everything else we ought to read with a certain level of skepticism and discernment, including (maybe especially?) the things we write ourselves," he wrote.

Moore suggested that Christians can learn from "one who has been in grievous error at some point or other," and can continue "singing the hymns of those who turn out to be doctrinally heterodox."

"But as we do, we must be honest about where such voices held fast to, and where they deviated from, the Word of God," he insisted.

"Eugene Peterson is a wise, gentle Christian. He may well rethink this, and I hope he does. Christian teachers have made errors before — sometimes massive ones (think of the Simon Peter of Galatians 2). The church still stands. The Message marches on, whether The Message does or not," Moore concluded.

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

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