Book Review: Walter Brueggemann’s An Unsettling God

The Heart of The Hebrew Bible

I thought I would be most appropriate to post my review of ]] on a blog entitled “Unsettled Christianity”. I am indebted to the good people at Near Emmaus.

Indisputably, Brueggemann brings to biblical studies a perceptive eye for texts which have been marginalized as well as a valid protest against classic systematic theology that attempts to capture YHWH in a box.
From the outset, Brueggemann shocks the audience by suggesting that “final interpretations lead to final solutions” (preface, xiv). While the author admits much of this material is gathered from some of his earlier work, the flow of the book is so precise and unambiguous, that there could be many sermons and paper presentations inspired by this text.

Chapter 1 “YHWH as Dialogical Character” presents YHWH as an inherently sovereign and relational deity, who while sharing characteristics of the High God in Ancient Near Eastern religions, differentiates Godself by God’s actions in history. God both speaks and answers, and when one examines the dialogues between Israel and YHWH, this fact is exposed (11-12). God is both an active and AVAILABLE agent, meaning God discloses a particular kind of vulnerability, and thus the pain of God over and against divine apathy is something the honest Old Testament scholar must consider.

Chapter 2 “Israel as YHWH’s Partner” recognizes Israel’s election from God’s love (hebrew- ahab), God’s choosing (bahar) and God’s heart (hashaq) (page 20); Brueggeman relies on texts from Hosea, Deuteronomy, and Ezekiel. Ezekiel, I know I just love how Brueggeman uses Ezekiel to subvert prevailing theologies. Sorta how I like to. 🙂 Brueggeman rejects the categories of conditionl and unconditional, stating that they are misleading since the Hebrew Bible is good news just as much as the “New” Testament (25). Doing justice means orienting our public institutions towards God’s definition of justice toward our neighbors, the widows, orphans, and the alien (28). This notion of justice is about balancing an open society with more self-critical, and hence ever changing, dialogical covenantal realities.

Chapter 3 “The Human Person as YHWH’s Partner” was the most offensive (to me at least) chapter in this book, and I did have a lot of questions. However, since I had been indoctrinated at a liberal Protestant seminary, I have decided to re-read this chapter later on and then re-think my reaction. What were Brueggeman’s fighting words that set me off? This quote: “it is easy to observe that the notion of humanity in the “image of God” play no primary role in the Old Testament articulations of humanity” (59). Human being, i.e., existence can only be articulated in the presence of YHWH in a life of faithful covenant. This is not something that happens naturally, but by adhering to the revelation of God’s story in history shared with us by God’s prophets. Personhood includes human freedom, listening, obedience, faithfulness as well as wisdom and discernment. Brueggeman is causing me to re-think my approach to the Wisdom literature, that it aids the faithful in moving away from depending on our rules or the Law, and moving toward the well-being of creation as a mystery (73).

Chapter 4 “The Nations as YHWH’s Partner” had one of the more disruptive claims. While postcolonial theologians such as myself depend upon the narrative that God is anti-every-empire, Brueggeman in his steady and convincing fashion, notes that God approves of the way the Persians treated Israel in mercy and that God disapproves of only cruel nations; thus, anti-empire rhetoric cannot be applied universally to the Hebrew Bible (126). God’s geo-politics is one that promotes humility rather than arrogance.

Chapter 5 “Creation as YHWH’s Partner” may pose problems for process theologians and environmentalists. As with the other chapters, rather than proof-texting to fit his agenda, Brueggeman take head on difficult passages, such as Sodom & Gomorrah or Noah’s Ark/Flood (God destroying creation). Creation risks goes into nothingness if human beings abuse their call to be stewards of creation. These acts of “de-creation” (my term) are the work of creation in reverse since God remains worthy of awe in God’s own freedom (149).

Chapter 6 “The Drama of Partnership with YHWH” is a summary of his previous chapters. Brueggeman rebukes any notion of a modern notion of a metanarrative (um, as do I) but that there are materials for a metanarrative that can be gathered and constructed, especially Israel’s YHWHistic account of “brokenness and restoration” (171).

I would highly recommend this text to pastors and academics alike.

You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.