Quick Reviews of Two Books by Brueggemann

Sabbath_as_ResistanceTitle: Sabbath as Resistance

Author: Walter Brueggemann

Bibliographic info: 109 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon

With thanks to WJK Press for the review copy.

This is a very small book containing a preface and six studies on the Sabbath. What is the Sabbath according to the purpose of this book? These two snippets should suffice:

Sabbath is the practical ground for breaking the power of acquisitiveness and for creating a public will for an accent on restraint. Sabbath is the cessation of widely shared practices of acquisitiveness.

Sabbath is a school for our desires, an expose and critique of the false desires that focus on idolatry and greed that have immense power for us. When we do not pause for Sabbath, these false desires take power over us. But Sabbath is the chance for self-embrace of our true identity.

An example of how Brueggemann explores the Sabbath is the chapter in which he draws upon Exodus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Amos to convey how the Sabbath is a resistance to the modern vices of anxiety, coercion, exclusivism, and multitasking. While I agree with some much of what the author says, there did seem to be a focus in the book on free-market economics to such an extent that one might come away thinking that anything associated with this (e.g. labor, competition, etc) is an inherently negative thing. While I don’t necessarily disagree with the picture painted of the wealthy banksters and the captains of industry as being the ones most resembling the slave-driving Pharaoh, this needs to be balanced out by the fact that we as consumers are willingly enslaved to such giants.

Additionally, I find it odd that people turn to the bureaucracy of government as some sort of panacea to the ailment. Brueggemann says that the “gods of commoditization for the most part go unchallenged in our world. As a result, the exploitative systems go unchallenged an unnoticed.” Sure, while the titans of industry, business, and banks may commoditize us all, you’ve got to be kidding if you do not see similar problems in the biggest possessor of power: government. I think this book needs to be a more balanced view of the exploitative systems that plague society. One can rightly argue, in my opinion, that the sort of governmental solution of a more redistributionist government is just a different means of bowing to the idol of covetousness. It isn’t tackling the heart of the problem: the covetousness of our own hearts. Despite some qualms I had with this book, it was an interesting study on the Sabbath.

truthspeakspowerTitle: Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture

Author: Walter Brueggemann

Bibliographic info: 178 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon

With thanks to WJK Press for the review copy.

In this short work, Brueggemann aims to show the reader the subversive messages to be found within the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament by discussing various biblical narratives where the authority of power is undercut (often in unobvious ways). He begins with Jesus’ discussion with Pontius Pilate on the issues of authority and power, and then covers other figures such as Moses and Pharaoh, Solomon, Elisha, and Josiah. The underlying narrative that Brueggemann is intending to highlight is that the Church is to identity the moanings of the world and live out an alternative that leads people to freedom. Rather than limiting the Christian faith to one’s own private sphere, Brueggemann contends:

the church is, in my judgment, called to its public vocation to practice neighborliness in a way that includes both support of policies of distributive justice and practices of face-to-face restorative generosity.

In face of global inequalities, Brueggemann advocates a return to Scripture. In fact, he goes so far as to say this about Deuteronomy:

Indeed, it is not a stretch to say that Deuteronomy, in it context, became a charter for what we now call liberation theology, namely, the insistence that faith concerns the sustained enactment of public economic justice.

Brueggemann has been my favorite commentator/theologian to read when it comes to the Old Testament, and despite disagreements with aspects of both of these books, they are both good examples as to why I enjoy his writings.

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