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.
Author Bio: Walter Brueggemann is William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia.
Author Bio: Patrick D. Miller is Professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey. His Fortress books include Interpreting the Psalms (1987) and They Cried to the Lord (1994).
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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.
Table of Contents
1. Preaching as Sub-Version
2. Life-or-Death, De-Privileged Communication
3. Together in the Spirit-Beyond Seductive Quarrels
4. Reading as Wounded and as Haunted
5. Four Indispensable Conversations among Exiles
6. The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity
7. Texts That Linger, Not Yet Overcome
8. Crisis-Evoked, Crisis-Resolving Speech
9. The Role of Old Testament Theology in Old Testament Interpretation