Deep Memory Exuberant Hope

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The leading Old Testament theologian reflects on the meaning of the gospel in today's world.

These studies on a variety of biblical texts focus deftly on reading, listening to, and proclaiming the gospel in a broken, fragmented, and "post-Christendom" world. Brueggemann explores how these traditions have the potential to continually resonate in our contemporary communities and individual lives.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780800632373
  • Publisher: Augsburg Fortress, Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/1/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 166
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.35 (d)

Read an Excerpt

From the Foreword (pre-publication version):
This volume is the third in a series of Walter Brueggemann's biblical and theological essays. The careful reader will have noted a similar cover on each of the volumes, marking them as a series. The first book, The Covenanted Self (1999), deals with covenant and the commandments and their significance for human existence. The second, Texts that Linger, Words that Explode (2000), takes up a part of the biblical corpus that has been to the forefront of Brueggemann's writing and speaking for many years: the prophets. Now in this last of the series, a further dimension of Brueggemann's work comes to the fore in a collection of essays whose primary focus is upon speech and rhetoric.

In an almost unique way, Brueggemann combines a passionate awareness of the nature and character of speech in Scripture with a demonstrated skill in rhetoric that permeates his own writing and speaking. That is, while focusing upon rhetoric and the power of language, he demonstrates both in all his writing as well as in his lecturing. There are few if any major lectureships in the field of biblical studies in this country to which he has not been invited. But his interest and skill in speech and rhetoric is well evidenced by the number of times he has been invited to lecture on preaching, for example, at the Academy of Homiletics meetings or the Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale (Finally Comes the Poet). Those who hear him learn by his teaching and his example that the medium really is the message, that communication with power-divine and human-persuades the hearers of the truthfulness of the word that is conveyed and that the form ofcommunication participates significantly with the material to produce the whole word of truth. And I know nobody who teaches better by the way he answers questions from his listeners than does Walter Brueggemann.

This deep concern for communication of Scripture and its meaning is reflected in the essays in this volume of the series in a very forthright way. In these pages, Brueggemann turns directly to his largest audience, pastors of congregations who week by week take up the word to preach it faithfully and who regularly find that this Old Testament scholar brings it to life for them and does so in ways that signal what it can mean to those disparate folk who sit in their sanctuaries on a Sunday morning. His slant is not typical of books on preaching. There is little optimism and no triumphalism about preaching. It is a demanding and difficult task, and Brueggemann's intention is not to provide homiletical helps-though such are never to be scorned (as any regular preacher knows well)-but to suggest a style of preaching, a style that is more substance and stance than it is technique. His lack of optimism is about the situation in which preaching takes place, about the world we live in and the tenor of our times (consumerist, militarist, secular, violent, and the like); but he knows the power of the gospel, and those who sit at his feet find their own convictions about that power renewed and their preaching invigorated.

For Brueggemann, however, the speech act of Christian belief, the rhetorical activity of communicating the word of God, is not confined to the pulpit but happens in the acts of listening to the Scriptures taught and interpreted and in the reading of them. His well-known popularity as a lecturer is a manifestation of the power of his words and the rhetorical skill with which he draws in listeners and readers to hear hard words and see hopeful visions. He is unflinching in tackling the disturbing dimensions of our cultural life, such as, consumerism and greed, militarism and violence, and he refuses to accept the often assumed dichotomy between piety and justice. The community of faith is in the foreground in his writing and in his speaking. The power of the Scriptures to speak truth to power and comfort to the comfortless is a prominent dimension of most of his writing.

In this final section, the power of rhetoric arises often out of the interpretation of the prophets, more specifically and frequently one of those prophets who has caught Brueggemann's mind and heart, the unknown prophet of the exile whom we dub Second Isaiah. Brueggemann himself would never be presumptuous enough to align himself with those earlier prophetic voices, but their ancient texts do indeed explode with power afresh in his own gift of prophetic speech. His own power of communication turns his lectures/essays into genuine speech acts that accomplish in their hearers a responsive reaction. Careful readers (and listeners) will observe at least three ways in which Brueggemann accomplishes this. One is in his frequent use of words as identifiable signs of his own idiom, for example, "odd," "daring," "subversive," "Saturday," "disputatious," and the like-all of which are common and loaded words in his rhetoric, expressing a sense about biblical literature that is Brueggemann's own angle of vision but one that makes sense to those who encounter it. Yet a second medium of proclamation is his love of dialectical rhetoric, for example, the "certitude of autonomy and the certitude of absolutism" or "fearful conformity and troubled autonomy" or "the myth of scarcity and the lyric of abundance." Finally his emphatic syntax expressed in accented speech and underlined words forces the reader/listener to sit up and pay attention. These words matter!

There is one further contribution of these essays that will interest many readers. In various ways, they lay the groundwork for Brueggemann's magisterial Theology of the Old Testament.

From the Preface (pre-publication version):
It strikes me as odd that after long years of teaching the Bible I should now accent "a turn to the text." Especially since I have from the outset of my teaching responsibilities turned to the text, not only out of professional obligation, but also out of deep conviction. Given those many years of such a "turn," it strikes me acutely that the church in U.S. society must indeed "turn to the text," especially after mainline churches have expressly made a "turn to the subject." George Lindbeck in his influential book of 1984, The Nature of Doctrine, with his accent on "cultural-linguistic" urgings prepared the categories for such a turn. When undertaken from an exegetical rather than from a doctrinal perspective, however, turning the turn to the text is much more concrete and text-specific than Lindbeck's program; it is a perspective that pays attention to specific cadences, forms, nuances, and rhythms of the text. The essays offered here represent some of my recent thinking and work concerning the place and role of the biblical text in the faith and ministry of the church.

In my recent work, I have sought to be as deeply and consistently antifoudational as I am able to be. That, of course, means a resistance to any appeal to universal warrants beyond the specificities of the text. Such a perspective is closely congruent with Karl Barth's well-known phrasing, "The strange new world of the Bible." The turn to the text in contemporary church life is urgent, in my judgment, precisely because the humanness of our society from a faith perspective depends precisely upon this deep strangeness and this surprising newness that stand outside the narratives and ideologies that now govern most of our public life. It seems exactly correct to say that it is this "outsider" claims of the text that refuse accommodation or domestication that may make a difference among us, an outsider status that freshly situates the church in society. In these essays, with reference to preaching, to church polity, to economic life and much else, the text offers a fresh invitation to healthy life in the world.

Such a turn to the text means that the local congregation is an arena that pays attention to the text in all of its "thickness." This term, of course from Clifford Geertz, means that the text cannot be read at a glance, cannot be exhausted by critical methods, cannot be summed up in familiar content. The thickness requires many readings, many hearings, many interpretations, and many acts of faithful imagination, each of which may be received and heard as "a live word." To receive such a live word, the church and its interpreters must hear every nuance and go deep into memory. Such attentive remembering, however, is more than a recall of the past. It spills into the present as a neighborly ethic that contradicts selfish violence, and into the future as hope that contradicts despair. Our society is indeed increasingly thinned of memory, ethics, and hope. The biblical text offers a powerful alternative to that thinness, a thickness laden with courage, freedom, and energy.

It remains for me to thank yet again the special people who have turned my turning into a book. At Fortress Press, this is especially K. C. Hanson and Ann Delgehausen. Beyond this, Patrick Miller has invested his good judgment on my behalf and has offered welcome guidance to me in the formation of the volume. Tim Simpson has used his great care yet again in preparing indexes, and Tempie Alexander, to whom I turn as often as I turn to the text, has yet again worked her magic to transform humble offerings into workable articulation. The text has its own life; but my turning to it is in, with, and under these endlessly grace-filled people in my life. These people, especially Patrick Miller, Tim Simpson, and Tempie Alexander, have come to betoken for me the great host of people who evoke my work and engage with it, to whom I am endlessly thankful.

Walter Brueggemann
Lent 2000

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Table of Contents

Editor's Foreword
1 Preaching as Sub-Version 1
2 Life-or-Death, De-Privileged Communication 19
3 Together in the Spirit - Beyond Seductive Quarrels 29
4 Reading as Wounded and as Haunted 41
5 Four Indispensable Conversations among Exiles 59
6 The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity 69
7 Texts That Linger, Not Yet Overcome 77
8 Crisis-Evoked, Crisis-Resolving Speech 91
9 The Role of Old Testament Theology in Old Testament Interpretation 111
Abbreviations 123
Notes 125
Credits 145
Author Index 147
Scripture Index 151
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First Chapter

From Chapter One (pre-publication version):
Preaching as Sub-Version
There was a time, perhaps 250 years ago, when the Christian preacher could count on the shared premises of the listening community, reflective of a large theological consensus. There was a time, a very long time, when the assumption of God completely dominated Western imagination, and the holy catholic church roughly uttered the shared consensus of all parties. That shared consensus was rough and perhaps not very healthy, but at least the preacher could work from it.

In that ancient world-moving to the modern-the consensus, deep and broad, made it all but impossible to be an atheist. Not only was the thought of a-theism intellectually not available, but emotionally and culturally there was no receptive context for such a notion. Indeed, Michael Buckley has traced the intellectual developments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that made a-theism a credible intellectual alternative for the first time, and then an emotionally and culturally bearable interpretive posture. As time has gone on, through the nineteenth century, citizens of the Western world have had to make a series of adjustments and settlements, seemingly unending adjustments and settlements, always at the expense of theism and in concessions to a-theism. Those concessions have been required primarily because of the emergence of a thinking autonomy in the world, rooted in Descartes and expressed belatedly in Robert Bellah's report on "Sheilaism." By the time of the twentieth century, the settlement largely had been that God is still a cherished affirmation in private matters ("family values"), but the public realm is largelya-theistic, without God, so that "might makes right." Appeal is characteristically made to legitimation other than God, appeal to a public God having become increasingly difficult and embarrassing.

And now, so it seems to me, by the time of the twenty-first century, the intellectual-emotional-cultural situation of the seventeenth century, for complex reasons, has been completely reversed. A-theism is now a credible, perhaps a consensus, option for what is serious in life, and the articulation of life-with-God has become a risky intellectual outpost, perhaps as difficult and as odd and as embarrassing as was a-theism in the seventeenth century. It seems to me not so important to review all of the complex reasons for that inversion-reasons that include the rise of scientific thinking, the emergence of Enlightenment autonomy, and the shift into high-gear technology as the way to better our life, high-gear technology that begins in Research and Development and that ends, inevitably I believe, in militarism. It is more important to recognize our fairly recently changed intellectual-emotional-theological situation in which we do our preaching and, for that matter, in which we do what we can of our own trusting and believing.

In the seventeenth century, it was hard, courageous work to imagine-consequently reimagine-the world without God. And now, into the twenty-first century, in the face of Enlightenment autonomy issuing in autonomous power and autonomous knowledge, it is hard, courageous work to imagine-consequently reimagine-the world with God.

Of course, you understand I am speaking with evangelical particularity. I have used the terms "a-theism" and "theism" for purposes of symmetry. But you will understand that I do not in fact mean "theism," for theism of sorts is alive and well in our postmodern world. Indeed, the polls show that, in its indeterminate forms, almost everybody believes in God. But I mean, as you would expect, the peculiar trinitarian claims for God concerning the one we confess in the history of Israel and in the narrative of Jesus. Theism of certain kinds is still culturally credible, but we are speaking of none other than the creator of heaven and earth whose quintessential intention showed up, we confess, in the absence of Good Friday.

And so I pursue with you the single point. In a culture that has learned well how to imagine-how to make sense-of the world without reference to the God of the Bible, it is the preacher's primal responsibility to invite and empower and equip the community to reimagine the world as though Yahweh were a key and decisive player. The task is as upstream as was seventeenth-century a-theism. This is an uncommonly difficult intellectual task, almost sure to be misunderstood. Its difficulty is compounded, moreover, by its inescapable economic by-product, because the God of the Bible is endlessly restless with socioeconomic power arrangements that the world takes as normal. If you are like me, you keep hoping Sunday by Sunday, as we do our hard intellectual work, that folks will not immediately notice the inescapable economic implications that come with it.

I recently gave some lectures at Baldwin-Wallace College. The lectures were endowed by a very generous family that is concerned that religion should be prominent in the life of the college. Two sons of the original donor, enterprising, gracious businessmen, attended the lecture in which I did a biblical critique of capitalism. The task was not easy. It turned out all right, however, because all that was noticed by the appreciative donors was that I had quoted lots of the Bible. The rest was happily lost on them. I understand the moment of preaching, in the designated place of preaching, to be a freeing and primitive act that flies in the face of all our accepted certitudes, conservative and liberal.
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