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Monday, June 15, 2015

"The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann, Vol 2" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann, Volume 2
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (304 pages).

In theological circles, he is well-known for his works on the Old Testament. Among students, especially those who know him personally, he is well loved. Among laypersons, his sermons continue to impact congregations. Besides being known as an Old Testament theologian, the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary is also known as an eloquent preacher. The first volume of sermons was arranged in a chronological order from the years 1972 to 2009. This second volume is more organized according to the liturgical calendar and the lectionary. Recognized for his classic work, "The Prophetic Imagination," Brueggemann is sometimes referred to as "a prophetic voice in our time." Not only that, he moves listeners from theology to doxology, and inspires people to let the ancient text guide their contemporary living. Four types of "accents" guide Brueggemann. The first is trusting the text for what it says regardless of how we feel. Using the techniques of biblical criticism is not about saying nasty things about the text. It is about respecting the text for what it is saying and trying to understand the text as comprehensively as possible. Brueggemann does it in a manner that is God-centered, historically informed, culturally relevant, and most importantly, faithful to the biblical contexts. Many sermons just touch the surface of the Old Testament texts and contexts, but Brueggemann's do not simply dip in. He plunges into the text like an experienced diver, coming up to the surface not with inexperienced gasps but with steady pacing of analysis and application. The second accent is that of imagination which makes the ancient texts come alive. Calling preaching an art that comprises of "a process of layered imagination," that adds creativity to the preaching and encourages listeners to actively ponder upon the texts for opportunities to apply rather than a distant message without relevance for the presence. Such imagination gives Brueggemann the freedom to wander from the Old Testament to the New Testament, from the Early Church to the contemporary Church, and from the biblical contexts to the spiritual implications of our age. The third accent is about offering an alternative to the present world we have. Like Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, which the late John Stott had called "counter cultural," preaching in this third sense is counter to what the world believes in. Lest we continue in worldliness and unbiblical ways, preaching must maintain a call for believers to wake up from any spiritual slumber toward an active faith that elevates Christ above all. The fourth accent is particularly important, for preaching is an "act of utterance and receptive listening" that respects God's rule whether we like it or now. It brings out the truth of the "already" but prepares the hearts of listeners for the "not yet." His sermon on the "antiphon" is an example of how he connects the two together with ease and eloquence, like a musical response to the text.

How prophetic is Brueggemann's sermons? Remembering that contrary to what some people think about prophets being some kind of crystal ball experts that foretell the future, prophets in the Old Testament also do a lot of forthtelling. The latter is about pronouncement of what God had said about the present, to go forth and tell the same story of faith and need to come back to God. It means going forth to point out the ills of society. It means lamenting about the injustice, and also celebrating the good and beautiful. Brueggemann throws a punch at Bishop Spong who questioned the literal meaning of abundance of bread. He accuses both liberals and conservatives for painting themselves as victims for being so stubborn in their ways that they risk becoming "irrelevant" in our society. Instead of politicizing religion, he urges all to come back to an identity of faith and trust in God through compassion, awareness of our need for grace and mercy. He calls upon all to be concerned about the welfare of others instead of being engrossed in wealth matters. He even clarifies the meaning of prophesy and tongues, reminding us that the latter is not about uncontrollable blabbering but a conscious sense of self-control in whether to speak or not to speak in tongues. Righteousness is not about moralistic deeds but "acts of intervention" to ensure fairness, justice, and the overall well-being of any community. Torah in our hearts means an active faith in helping the poor, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged, and not some kind of a moralistic activity that puffs up our heads. He criticizes the world, in particular Christians who have been too caught up with notions of what is a "successful person" and forgot all about the call to be a "righteous" and humble person in Christ.

The sermons are very readable. It should come across more powerfully when spoken over the pulpit. This collection of sermons will benefit those of us who have not had the privilege of Brueggemann coming to our pulpits. Well researched and well delivered, may the book also be well read as one ponders imaginatively about what the Bible speaks then and what it means to us today.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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