Tuesday, December 30, 2014


In my thirty-eight plus years of ministry, I have received many compliments on my sermons – some sincere, and some, well . . .  But the compliment that means the most to me came from a fellow missionary after I had preached at a missions conference.  The missionary said, “You remind me of a professor I had at San Francisco (San Francisco Baptist Seminary).”  I knew immediately who he meant because that same professor later took a position at Detroit Baptist Seminary teaching homiletics, practical theology, and church history.  It was there that I had the privilege of sitting at his feet: That professor was Eugene J. Petersen.
 Dr. Petersen was an inspiring teacher, but it was --and is -- his example more than his instruction that has had the greatest impact on my preaching.  Through my admiration for the man, his preaching style has rubbed off.  I'm not nearly the preacher Eugene Petersen is, but I'm moved that someone thought I sounded like him.
            Dr. Petersen, who is now 92, was born in southwestern Iowa to Danish immigrant parents. He was raised in Harlan, Iowa, and studied at the University of Minneapolis, the LeHavre School of Education in France, and Fuller Theological Seminary.  He received his Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Fuller.
            As a young man, called to preach the Gospel, Eugene found himself caught up in World War II. He preached his first sermon in 1943 shortly before shipping out to France.  He fought in eastern France where, according to Paul Fussell, the average life expectancy of an infantryman in the front lines was 17 days.[1]  But Christ had his hand upon Eugene J. Petersen.
            After the war, Eugene continued his studies and his preaching, pastoring churches in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and Michigan.  He also taught seminary for 30 years in San Francisco and Detroit.
            My favorite sermon by Dr. Petersen is curiously titled, "Christ Honors A Donkey."  It touches me because Dr. Petersen encourages guys like me that Christ uses the ordinary, the less than ordinary, and those who make mistakes.  The repeated theme in that sermon never fails to touch my heart and lift my spirit: “Whatever Christ touches, He dignifies.”  Christ touched Eugene Petersen and dignified his long, productive ministry. 

[1] See The Boys' Crusade and Wartime by Paul Fussell. The horrific battle endured by Petersen’s 275th Infantry Regiment, 70th Division, is recounted in a book co-authored by Eugene J. Petersen, titled Ordeal in the Vosges.

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