Yesterday, July 12, 2017, Religion News Services published an interview with Eugene Peterson, author of The Message Bible. It is quickly gaining exposure on the evangelical news tract due to Peterson’s surprising comments on homosexuality. Now, LifeWay Christian Bookstores are poised to pull Peterson’s The Message Bible off their shelves.
“LifeWay only carries resources in our stores by authors who hold to the biblical view of marriage,” a spokesperson for LifeWay told the Baptist Press. The Southern Baptist-affiliated company has reached out to Peterson to confirm the views he expressed in the interview, which they deem counter to a “biblical view of marriage.” If confirmed, the company plans to pull all of Peterson’s work from their inventory, including the best-selling Message Bible.
After Family Christian filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and announced it would be closing all its brick and mortar locations, LifeWay inherited the unofficial title of largest Christian bookstore chain in the nation with its 170 locations. The bookstore also has a significant presence overseas. On its site, LifeWay describes itself as “one of the world’s largest providers of Christian resources.”
This is not the first time LifeWay has pulled an author’s work due to said author’s view on homosexuality. An uncannily similar incident with Jen Hatmaker occurred last year. Hatmaker was also interviewed by Jonathan Merritt and expressed her sentiment that same-sex marriage could be “holy” and that the church should do better at accepting same-sex couples. Just two days after the interview, LifeWay announced it would pull all of Hatmaker’s work from their shelves. Earlier this year, they also pulled Sho Baraka’s album due to the Christian artist’s use of an anatomical reference in one of the songs.
Reaction to Peterson’s interview has been swift. Several well-know evangelical writers have published articles about it—either regrettably writing Peterson off as an unlikely heretic or rallying to his support. Some have also landed in the middle, having a hard time reconciling the wisdom they’ve gained from Peterson’s work with his most recent statements.
Denny Burk, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, posted a heated article about the interview. Burn calls Peterson’s move to discard “the moral consensus of the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church…folly of the first order.” Burk also refers to the debate over homosexuality “the watershed issue of our time, separating those who will follow the word of Christ from those who will not.” By Burk’s estimation, Peterson has fallen by the wayside.
Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee and outspoken evangelical, had a more middle of the road reaction to Peterson’s interview. Moore’s article, published by The Gospel Coalition, addressed the question of whether or not one should continue reading Peterson’s work. Moore is obviously torn, after having just finished reading Peterson’s latest work, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, and concluding it to be “his finest book yet.” Moore says “I can’t un-highlight or un-flag my Peterson books. I can’t erase from my mind all the things he has taught me.” However, Moore also can’t bring himself to do something like invite Peterson to speak at his church or recommend one of his books to a new, impressionable believer for fear of leading others astray.
Time will tell how Peterson’s work will be received following this interview. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Peterson actually addressed the issue of his enduring legacy in the interview with Merritt:
I haven’t been part of anything big. I’ve never been a big church preacher. I’ve never been on the radio or anything like that. I’m so pleased that people care about what I’ve done and support it because these are difficult times for the church. I’m quite aware of that. Anyway, I guess I’m just surprised that anyone would remember at all.
One thing appears to be certain: The evangelical church is going to remember (and discuss and debate) Peterson’s remarks on homosexuality for a while to come.