Tag Archive: Brueggemann


“Look to the Rock from which you were cut…”

In the previous chapter Brueggemann explored how outsiders to the faith become insiders.  In chapter three, he examines how insiders to the faith who have grown “careless, weary, jaded, and cynical” are in need of evangelizing (71).  Brueggemann narrates the story of the revitalization of insiders through Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezra-Nehemiah.

In Deuteronomy 8.1-20, Moses’ sermon tells of God’s gifts and also serves as a warning to God’s people.  Initially, Moses celebrates all that God has given – streams, springs, wheat, barely – to bless (Deut. 8.7-10).  However, Moses later warns the Israelites of the perils of forgetting the acts of God: “Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God…Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God” (Deut. 20.11-14).

Brueggemann then turns to Jeremiah, where Israel’s “forgetfulness” becomes fully manifested.  Jeremiah speaks the word of God: “When you entered, you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination” (Jer. 2.7).  Israel’s forgetting has caused the “well to run dry” (Jer. 2.9-13).  Later, Isaiah urges the people to recover their memory of God’s act, a memory that holds their identity.  Isaiah pleads, “look to the rock from which you were hewn” (Isa. 51.1-3).

In Nehemiah 8, Ezra makes the ultimate move and attempts to call Israel back into a proper relationship with God.  Ezra invites the “community already pledged to faith, back to a serious embrace and practice of that pledged faith.” (74)

Why did the people of Israel forget their identity and story?  Why is their forgetfulness important for today’s churches?  Brueggemann captures the essence of the answer to both questions: prosperity causes amnesia.  “The reason is that when one can no longer remember a lesser, more precarious time, all present benefits appear to be not only absolute, but also self-generated, making gratitude unnecessary, impossible, even silly” (77).

Just as Israel forget their dependence upon the provision of God, so too do church “insiders” rely upon self-sufficient strategies, programs, and schemes.  As Brueggemann puts its, Israel’s crisis parallels the U.S. Church.  “Abundance and affluence have caused church members to be distanced in self-sufficiency from the power and cruciality of the memory so that the church suffers from profound amnesia, even among those of us who vigorously go through the motions (72).  It is for this reason, Brueggemann argues, that church insiders are becoming “forgetters” in need of remembering God’s acts of love, mercy, and grace.

On one point, I fully agree with Brueggemann, the reality of amnesia is massive among us.  Amnesia causes the church to lack in any serious missional energy (90).  Oftentimes, we summons our inner Bob Dylan and cry out, “The times are a-changin!  How will we meet the new needs of new people out there?”  We fail to remember, celebrate, and draw strength upon what God has already done in our midst.

I also wonder, is it only our wealth, abundance, and security that causes us to forget?  Is our [U.S. Church] memory of God’s act short-circuited solely by our general prosperity?  Perhaps our wealth is not the problem.  Perhaps amnesia is not the only hindrance.  What if, at times, we remember all too well?  What if we suffer not from amnesia, but nostalgia?  What if church “insiders” get caught up in the way it used to be?  What if we are unable to move beyond past practices of liturgy, programs, outreach that worked long ago, but no longer connect with the world around us?  Is there a danger if the Church becomes too nostalgic?  Whether amnesia or nostalgia inflicts the Church, Brueggemann is correct: the evangelization of insiders may be our primary agenda in evangelism.

This is the third review in a five-part series looking at Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism.

“Choose this day whom you will serve…”

After outlining the three-scene drama of evangelism in chapter 1, Brueggemann bridges the drama from scripture to contemporary times. He asks the question: Who is the constituency for evangelism? The most obvious answer: the outsider who stands apart from the community of “news,” or those who live by other (non-Israel, Christian) narrative identities. The great meeting at Shechem (Joshua 24) depicts Brueggemann’s tale of outsiders and insiders.

In Joshua 24 the “insiders” are Israel while the “outsiders” are represented by the “Canaanites.” Appreciatively, Brueggemann owns the fact that some interpretive readings of the conquest (“destroy the Canaanites”) may be problematic for any discussion of evangelism! However, Brueggemann holds to the view that the “conquest” of the Promised Land was likely a peaceful movement of coexistent communities. Thus, “Canaanites” represents a polemical, ideological term. Canaanites are those who are committed to social practices that are viewed as hostile to the covenantal vision of Israel (49). Canaanites, or outsiders, are those committed to practices (or theology) that are greedy, self-serving, arrogant, or wasteful.

So, the evangelistic question remains: How can such a person who lives in a different way legitimated by a different ideology be made a full participant in the story and the life of Israel? For an answer we look at Joshua’s speech in Joshua 24.

Anachronistically, Brueggemann imagines three yearning characters gathered around to hear Joshua’s words. First, he envisions a young girl from a troubled and dysfunctional family. The girl lives in the midst of familial wars and disputes. Her situation seems hopeless and impossible. Yet, she hears of God “giving” [to ancestors] Isaac…Jacob and Esau…the hill country” (Josh. 24.2b-4). She learns of a gracious God, one who gives gifts and hope. She hears the tale of God breaking the hopelessness, reconciling siblings, and guaranteeing futures (54).

Another listener is a tired business executive. He is worn-down by his heavy workload, but cannot escape it because he is fully dependant on it for his livelihood. The more he works the more he earns; and the more he earns the more he “lives.” Until…he hears Joshua relay the message of God in the Exodus, ““I brought you out” (Josh. 24.5-7). The executive realizes that life is about more than the docility of work and pleasing the boss. The Empire is not great provider (56). Rather, God offers a role in an alternative story of life. Like during the Exodus, God brings a departure for those trapped in despairing cycles.

Thirdly, Brueggemann tells of the hearer who is a member of the permanent underclass of society. The listener does not know how she fell into the lower socio-economic levels, but she knows it was her fault. But then Joshua tells of a great promise: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant” (Josh. 24.13). The lower class person’s spirits rise at the thought of a gift, of a promise, of an uninherited offer. In each situation, Joshua offers the hearers a reconstructed view of life. They are invited to imagine themselves differently. Through the retelling of God’s mighty acts they are invited to begin life anew (66). They are invited to move from despair to hope. They are allowed to depart from docility. They are offered a gift for the disadvantaged.

In this chapter Brueggemann offers a compelling picture of what evangelism might look like in today’s world. He beautifully translates Shechem for today. We can safely assume the hearers he paints into Joshua 24 are present in our pews in 2010. How will we tell them the story? How will we invite them to find themselves in the whole of God’s redemptive story?

Also, I love how Brueggemann does not spare the difficult side of the story. For as Joshua puts it, “Choose this day whom you will serve?” We are reminded that the story into which we are invited demands a response from us. Even more, the demands are tough. We must choose to leave behind the gods of Egypt, abandoning other loyalties, fear, and hopes in an effort to serve Yahweh only. There is, as Bonhoeffer put it, no cheap grace.

This is the second review in a five-part series looking at Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism.

Event…Announcement…Appropriation

In the opening chapter of Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism he argues that acts of evangelism have a characteristic structure and recurring pattern.  He describes this pattern as a three-scene drama.  The three scenes include: 1) Event of mythic proportion, 2) Announcement of event verdict, and 3) Work of reordering life according to announcement of event.

Brueggemann describes the first event as the Theological Conflict.  The theological conflict is between powerful forces that compete for supremacy or loyalty.  Such conflicts include the archetypal good v. evil and life v. death, or the biblical YHWH v. Pharaoh and Jesus v. Satan.  Within scripture we also find the battle among gods in the OT and Paul’s on-going discussion of the “battle” between Law and Gospel.  In each retelling of the battle, or in its various stagings, we hear of the struggle turning in our favor.

The second scene of evangelism pertains to the Announcement of the Victory.  In this scene, witnesses give testimony and tell the outcome of the conflict he or she has observed.  The announcers are mediators of the outcome, attempting to make the outcome of the dispute available and credible to those who only hear but do not witness the conflict.  The announcers make the event ‘matter’ in all places and times.

Finally, the three-scene drama continues with an appropriate response, or Lived Appropriation.  This scene involves the reception of and response to the news.  The appropriation is often difficult, costly, and demanding.  Total appropriation involves ceding governance of life over to the new victor now announced (30).

How does this story play out in Scripture?  Brueggemann describes the three-scene drama of Easter: the conflict of Easter is that “God has done battle with the power of death” (24).  In the unseen struggle “everything has changed,” and all creation is free for life as God’s joyous creation.  The oldest announcement of the Easter narrative comes from 1 Cor. 15.4, “He was raised on the third day.”  Brueggemann suggests that the announcer is perhaps a primal voice, or that of the women at the tomb, or Peter.  Paul names other witnesses, or announcers, in 1 Cor. 15.5-7, upon whose account we must rely.  Finally, the appropriation of the Easter account pertains the hearers’ ethical lives.  The power of the announced Easter story generates new life, a life of generosity and compassion.  The Lord’s own work is to be done by the community that receives the news (36).

Brueggemann’s telling of the three-scene drama is both insightful and helpful for today’s evangelistic efforts.  He distills the main announcement, which he calls the “lean announcement,” to: In Jesus Christ, God has overcome the power, threat, and attraction of the power of death.  He also argues that this drama is not completed, and it must be re-enacted many times.  I agree that we must intentionally re-tell of the victory in a variety of ways.  God’s victory is large, great, and expansive.  We must not reduce God’s “victory” to only sin and death in the salvific sense.  God’s victory and Christ’s lordship extends over consumerist greed, military power, and attitudes of self-sufficiency (among other forms of the work of the power of death).  Admittedly, Brueggemann does write of the “victory’s” implications for socio-economic and political realities. 

Also, I would agree with Brueggemann that we do well to not collapse evangelism solely into the middle scene (announcing).  We must tell the whole drama.  We must be ready to both announce and appropriate the news into our lives.  If we only see ourselves (or evangelization) as announcers, do we miss part of the drama?  Can we fully enact scene two if we do not struggle to live scene three also?

This is the first review in a five-part series looking at Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism.

%d bloggers like this: