Monday, March 05, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #17

BrueggemannThis post concludes my read through of Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Though I have posted some of my disagreements with Brueggemann I have enjoyed reading through his OT Theology and have received several insights from his treatment of the text. His recognition of the tensions in the OT text which should not be flattened out is especially helpful . I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the theology are in blue below. I am using the Logos version of the book.…

As he moves his theology toward conclusion Brueggemann, in chapter 28, Some Pervasive Issues, deals with four key issues that keep coming up in Old Testament theology. The first is the relationship to historical criticism. He wants scholarship to move beyond criticism, which assumes a rationalistic worldview that eliminates the supernatural and removes YHWH from the discussion, but also resists "fideism" which assumes a flat reading of the text according to dogma. One can bring in the results of critical scholarship to better understand the text without compromising its message. A second issue is the relationship of the New Testament to the Old. He sees the use of the OT in the NT as an "imaginative," but legitimate, enterprise. While there is some "imaginative" exegesis there, I would see the NT as the intended conclusion of the OT. This also speaks to the third issue of the relation of Jewish tradition to the OT in Christian thought. I would agree that we need to avoid supersessionism, respect the Jewish origins and character of the Bible without mischaracterizing the Jewish environment it came out of, and that we need to be in friendly dialog and cooperation with modern forms of Judaism. But, I would disagree that we need to let go of the exclusive claims of Christ on Jews or any other nation or culture. Finally, I agree with Brueggemann that the Bible's call for justice requires us to apply the OT emphasis on taking care of the poor and marginalized without losing its call to order. How we do that is certainly up for discussion, but the church should be in the forefront of making that kingdom vision of everyone having what they need happen. 

We may now be at a moment when totalizing fideism is exposed as inadequate and when skeptical positivism is seen to be equally inadequate, when a genuinely thoughtful criticism can engage the density and depth of the text, which is available neither to fideism nor to skepticism. 729

The task of Old Testament theology, as a Christian enterprise, is to articulate, explicate, mobilize, and make accessible and available the testimony of the Old Testament in all of its polyphonic, elusive, imaginative power and to offer it to the church for its continuing work of construal toward Jesus. 732

A study of Old Testament theology must recognize, with social realism, that both advocates of distributive justice and of order are present and vocal in the community, and both claim the support of Yahweh in their theological testimony. At the minimum, it is important to recognize and explicate this tension. In my judgment, however, one may go further to insist that while both sorts of advocates bear testimony to Yahweh, there can be little doubt that the adherents of distributive justice occupy the central space in the theological testimony of Israel, so that in canonical Yahwism, distributive justice is indeed a primary urging. 738

Chapter 29, Moving Toward True Speech, concludes Brueggeman's theology by summarizing his main points and calling the church as a community to do Old Testament theology in a way that reflects commitment to the truth of the text and to being a relevant witness to the world in its words and practices. One cannot do good OT theology without being willing to order their lives around what God is saying in the text. All the voices of the OT, with the tensions and interpretive difficulties they bring, must be heard and applied in the church. We cannot, for example, hear only the voices of order and purity without also hearing the "disruptive" voices of the prophets calling the powerful to accountability and calling everyone to reach out to the needy and marginalized. We have a responsibility to make the witness of the OT text known in a world with many other competing worldviews.

It is my impression that the church in the West has been sorely tempted to speak in everyone’s idiom except its own. Liberals, embarrassed by the otherness of the biblical idiom, have kept control of matters through rationalistic speech that in the end affirms that “God has no hands but ours,” issuing in burdensome self-congratulations. Conservatives, fearful of speech that is undomesticated, have insisted on flattening biblical testimony into the settled categories of scholasticism that freezes truth. In both sorts of speech, the incommensurate, mutual One disappears. 746–747

The testimony of Israel concerning Yahweh is always of two kinds, one to reorder the internal life of the community in ways faithful to Yahweh, the other to invite the world out beyond this community to reorder its life with reference to Yahweh. Both enterprises are preoccupied with the recognition that the acknowledgment of Yahweh at the center of life (the life of Israel or the life of the world) requires a reordering of everything else. 747

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