Tag Archives | Walter Brueggemann

First and Second Samuel | Walter Brueggemann

The cover of Brueggemann's First and Second SamuelThe books of Samuel describe a critical shift in the life of Israel.

When the book begins, Israel had suffered through a series of increasingly impotent judges. The loose confederation of tribes increasingly wandered from God and did what seemed right in their own eyes. Into this world Hannah struggled and conceived a child—Samuel. When the book ends, Israel is a monarchy under the rule of King David, the second of two Kings Samuel anointed.

Here is the critical shift: Israel has gone from being a nation under YHWH to a nation under human kings.

Brueggemann’s commentary is excellent. He presents a close reading of the story of Samuel, Saul, and David with an eye for detail. All the political nuances which might escape the casual reader of scripture are brought to the forefront for consideration.

In Brueggemann’s reading, the heroes and villains of scripture are no one-sided caricatures. They are complicated, as human beings always are. David is no mere Sunday School hero—he is at the same time politically shrewd and spiritually attuned. He is human, warts and all.

The Interpretation commentary series is not overly technical. I would encourage any thoughtful Christian with a love for scripture to pick up this gem and read it alongside the text.

Brueggemann, Walter.  First and Second Samuel. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.

Imaginative Worship | Walter Brueggemann

Walter BrueggemannOur worship is an act of spirit-led imagination that permits us to see and live differently, it is very upstream, against the grain of dominant reality.

—Walter Brueggemann, Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 132.

The Spirituality of the Psalms | Walter Brueggemann

The cover of Brueggemann's The Spirituality of the PsalmsThe psalms are disturbing if you read them—all of them. It’s easy to take the familiar comforting ones at face value:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1-2 ESV)

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 ESV)

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name! (Psalm 103:1 ESV)

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150:6 ESV)

If that’s all we read then the psalter is a gentle almost pedestrian song-book. If we dig a little deeper, however, things begin to get strange:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2 ESV)

Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:21-22 ESV)

Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock! (Psalm 137:9 ESV)

If we want to take the entire psalter seriously, it’s clear that we need more than romantic notions about God’s gentleness and protection. In Spirituality of the Psalms, Brueggemann offers a framework for understanding the whole book of Psalms. While not every psalm can be fit into a neat category, the majority of the psalms can be viewed in one of three ways:

  1. Psalms of Orientation (e.g. Psalm 8, 24, 33, 104, 133, 145). These are the psalms we are most comfortable with. These are psalms of gratitude for God’s ordering of life. These psalms reflect life the way it is expected to be: full of blessing for the saints. These are psalms where the Torah is celebrated and the God of creation is praised. Brueggemann draws on the scholarship of Sigmund Mowinckel who notes that these psalms are not only responsive but generative: they generate, in part, the reality they celebrate. “Worship is indeed ‘world-making'” (19).
  2. Psalms of Disorientation (e.g. Psalm 13, 35, 74, 86, 95, 137). These psalms are the reaction of the faithful to God when the world they knew was broken. These are psalms of lament that move and deepen the faith of the worshiper. When Jerusalem, the city of God, falls to Babylon, you don’t sing Psalm 23—you respond with the virulence of 137. Whether the content is ethically pure or not, the words reflect the pain of a people engaging with their God in world-shattering circumstances.
  3. Psalms of New Orientation (e.g. Psalm 29, 47, 93, 97, 98, 99, 114, 148, 150). These are deeper versions of the orientation psalms. Disorientation is now past and the singer praises God for salvation. This category includes the victory hymns of Yahweh. Miriam’s song in Exodus 15, although not part of the book of Psalms, is a great example.

Overall, Brueggemann’s tripartite understanding of the book of Psalms is very helpful. While no schema will ever contain the rich diversity of the psalms (as Bruggemann himself acknowledges), the movement from orientation to disorientation to new-orientation is not only evident in the psalms, it is fundamental to Christian life.

Brueggemann’s bias against royal ideology and deuteronomic faith is evident here. When he speaks of the orientation psalms, he is quick with a disclaimer:

In using these psalms, we must be alert to the slippery ways creation faith easily becomes social conservatism, which basks in our own well-offness. … They may also serve as a form of social control. (20, emphasis his)

While he is correct with his warning, it seems disingenuous to read the caution note before understanding character of these psalms. Furthermore, he offers no corresponding warning for the psalms of disorientation. If the orientation psalms can lead to self-satisfied oppression of the poor, surely the disorientation psalms can lead to self-satisfied rebellion against the rich!

Spirituality of the Psalms is a both a theologically acute and pastorally insightful way to integrate the whole of the psalter into the believer’s daily life of worship.

—Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002).

Mandate to Difference | Walter Brueggemann

The cover of Brueggemann's Mandate to DifferenceThe world is dark. Brueggemann describes our current situation as “technological, therapeutic, military consumerism” (63).

  • Technological: We blindly accept new technologies which give us a sense of invincibility.
  • Therapeutic: We are obsessed with “pain-free, death-free, inconvenience-free existence at the expense of the neighbor” (63).
  • Military: We put our faith (and our money) in military power.
  • Consumerism: We buy in order to achieve happiness.

In the midst of this dark world, the Hebrew Scriptures offer hope. Mandate to Difference is a collection of essays and sermons that offer an alternative way of living based on God’s Word.

All of Brueggemann’s favourite themes are found here: the necessity of Sabbath, the call for justice, and the challenge to imagine a different future that challenges the current ideology. Since this is a collection, many of the ideas are repeated in different forms, as Brueggemann admits in the preface. This doesn’t take away from the work, it reminds the reader of what is important.

If you cringe at the boisterous, cocky new sound of religion in politics, if you worry about the divisiveness of “red” and “blue,” and if you are vexed that too many people claim to be speaking directly for Christ … (1)

… then read these essays and accept Brueggemann’s invitation to be different.

—Walter Brueggemann, Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007).

Sabbath as Resistance | Walter Brueggemann

The cover of Brueggemann's Sabbath as ResistanceI remember the uncertainty in my mind the first Sunday I went to work.

Raised in a Pentecostal church, I was well aware of the classical prohibition against Sunday shopping. Still, when our small-town IGA decided to open on Sundays, I was scheduled to bag groceries. Fortunately, my church (and family) was grace-filled enough to also recognize the value of making a bit of money to pay for college.

In Sabbath as Resistance, Brueggemann takes a huge step away from these cultural issues (which are now firmly in the rear-view mirror of most North American Christians). Instead, he interprets the fourth commandment in light of other Old Testament passages.

Unlike some of the shorter prohibitions against murder and theft, the Sabbath command is quite robust:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)

The essence of this command, for Brueggemann, counteracts life in Egypt where the Israelite’s worth was determined by their around-the-clock brick making ability. Sabbath reminded Israel that they were more than producers and consumers.

This command is incredibly life-giving. In consecutive studies, we see how it has the potential to free us from anxiety, coercion, exclusivism, and even multitasking!

If you’ve ever felt overloaded with the simple task of living in our consumer-oriented society, this short study is gold. Mediate on these passages and learn the freedom that comes when we resist “the seductions of Pharaoh”.

—Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014).

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