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Still Looking for Theirs

September 16, 2021

Gene Peterson, he of The Message Bible fame, loved to tell this story. I’m going to get out of the way, and let friends from The Gospel Coalition explain —

In his memoir The Pastor, Peterson wrote about his son, home from his university studies in creative writing, telling the older man what he was learning.

The son, Leif, said, “Dad, novelists only write one book. They find their voice, their book. And write it over and over. William Faulkner wrote one book. Anne Tyler wrote one book. Ernest Hemingway wrote one book. Willa Cather wrote one book.”

That seemed abstract enough until several days later, when the son said to his father, “Remember what I said about novelists writing only one book? You only preach one sermon.”

The older Peterson was wounded. After all, he didn’t repeat himself in the pulpit. He preached through the entirety of the Scriptures, with different means of handling different genres, different modes of application to his people.

One Sunday morning, though, after hearing his father preach, Leif said, “Well, Dad, that was your sermon. I’ve been listening to that sermon all of my life, your one sermon, your signature sermon.” That’s why, the son said, it was so hard for him to find a church in his college town. “None of those other pastors had found their sermon,” he said.

That’s what the son had meant all along. His comment wasn’t a critique of his father. It was a peek into his genius.

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