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Renewed Freedom in Christ

Traveling Light
Galatians and the Free Life in Christ
By Eugene H. Peterson
InterVarsity Press, 216 pages, $25

While he was a pastor in Bel Air, Maryland, Eugene Peterson struggled to help his congregation to pay attention to Scripture. In an attempt to reintroduce his congregation to Scripture, Peterson began his efforts of fresh biblical rendering that eventually became The Message. While Peterson did study biblical languages, receiving his M.A. in Semitic languages from Johns Hopkins, and pondered pursuing a Ph.D., his calling toward pastoral ministry led him to become a pastor-theologian in the pews of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church and the everyday lives of its parishioners.

The pastoral starting point for Peterson’s reintroduction of his congregation to Scripture was St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. At one point, Peterson described this work: “Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way.”

Since Eugene Peterson’s death in 2018, several publishers have released unpublished writings and returned his earlier works to circulation. InterVarsity Press has done a masterful job of this with expanded editions, including most recently Traveling Light (1982), which leaps out from his congregational work on the Epistle to the Galatians. When you begin to read this outstanding work, you immediately capture Peterson’s relevance to our day, more than 40 years later.

He writes: “Living in the land of the free has not made us free; we are a nation of addicts and complainers. Being provided with freedom of religion has not made us free; coercive cults and enslaving superstitions continue to proliferate.” Peterson the prophet mingles with Peterson the pastor throughout this book, inviting us to enter into the joyous freedom in Christ that Paul originally called his Galatian flock to in the first century.

Each chapter explores portions of Galatians, starting with Peterson’s rendering of the text from The Message and continuing with his poignant insights. Throughout, Peterson’s thoughtful engagement with the text is matched by astute engagement with the culture, interacting with a wide range of thinkers from poets like T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats to voices from church history like Irenaeus and Martin Luther to biblical and theological scholars like Martin Noth and Austin Farrer to philosophers like Albert Camus and Jacques Ellul. Peterson shows us how to bring our day into connection with the biblical text.

In the foreword to this new edition, Karen Swallow Prior suggests that not only is Peterson a pastor-theologian and a pastor-prophet, but also a “poet-theologian.” Those familiar with Peterson’s work will not be surprised by this description, since Peterson not only wrote poetry but encouraged Christians, and specifically pastors, to read poetry as a means of refreshing the imagination to encounter God and the world he made in new ways. Prior’s description of Peterson’s writing helps us see why this 40-year-old book still holds meaning for us today. Peterson shows us how to bring creativity to how we live our theology, for Peterson’s work is indeed an imaginative practical theology based in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Along with Prior’s foreword, the publisher has also added questions for reflection and discussion near the end of the book. The 15 chapters of Peterson’s original layout are divided into five sessions to walk through three chapters, and each session is a simple but helpful resource for personal or group use.

Along with this, the new edition is published in hardcover with a pleasing dust jacket and overall layout. For those who remember the black-spined paperback editions from decades earlier, this new edition is made to be used and to last. May a new generation find Peterson’s work — and, inspired by his approach to the biblical text, learn how to travel light with Christ amid the burdens of our times.

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