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What makes Eugene Peterson so special?

On October 22, 2018, the renowned theologian Dr. Eugene Peterson passed away at the age of 85. As an avid U2 fan, I was impressed with Dr. Peterson when he partnered with Bono in 2009 (or thereabouts) to promote his The Message translation of the Bible, a translation written in contemporary language and intended to be more appropriable to modern readers. Bono and Dr. Peterson became quite the marketeers for this influential translation and did a great deal to bring awareness of the Bible to a younger generation of Christians and seekers.

I respect and admire the work of Dr. Peterson. Translating the entire Bible is no small feat. And then to have the courage and cultural awareness to ally with one of the most popular music entertainers in the world is commendable, to say the least. If you've never seen the mini-documentary on Dr. Peterson and Bono's collaboration, I highly recommend it. You can find it on YouTube at

Admittedly, however, I'm a little distressed. Even though I tear up every time I watch this 22-minute video, I can't help but think, "What makes Eugene Peterson so special?" This question is not offered disparagingly or with any negative implications. But I genuinely wonder why we constantly and consistently place the service of renowned or famous Christians above the selfless work of everyday faith warriors. Why not produce a documentary about my grandfather, Avery Sprouse, who spent his life in service to the church, giving sacrificially of his talents and financial resources, mentoring his children and grandchildren, and bringing a kind and gentle spirit to those around him? Or what about my friend Jamie Mullen, who labors to bring the Word of God to the underprivileged people of inner-city Philadelphia? I've known few Christians with more conviction and Spirit-filled energy than Jamie. Yet no one is giving him any airtime!

Unfortunately, this is how we operate in our Western celebrity culture. We'd rather idolize the intellectual prowess of a distinguished scholar like Dr. Peterson than do the hard and humble work of discovering the sacrifices of those who do just as much to further the Kingdom of God (and maybe even more) but whose names are not the kind you'd find on marques. We prefer glitz over grit and, thus, we settle for popular caricatures of faith when God has so often given us genuine exemplars within our own communities.

So, my suggestion is to stop looking for celebrity Christians! Instead, look to your next-door neighbor, the person sitting beside you on Sunday morning, a local-church pastor or missionary, or a friend or family member. Chances are, if you stop searching for star power, you'll find the true bright spots within the church. Does this mean the work of Christians like Dr. Peterson should be disregarded or somehow devalued? Absolutely not! But he certainly shouldn't be hailed as some sort of extraordinary Christian. He is but one among many often lesser-known giants. And I have a suspicion--being the man of humility he was--Dr. Peterson would agree with me.

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