THREAT OF LIFE, THE by Walter Brueggemann ($18)*


Subtitled: Sermons on Pain, Power and Weakness. These twenty-two sermons from a master interpreter demonstrate how ancient texts can speak to the whole gamut of human experience even now. Included in Brueggemann's purview are keen observations about the timeless issues of human life, both personal and social: the pain we face, often inflicted on one another; the use and abuse of power; the weakness and fragility of life; the redemptive power of faith; and much more.

"I hope that the interpretive lens I have pursued here - the linkages of Old and New Testaments, the epicenter of the Bible for the church, the enterprises of speech as generative of life, and the capacity of the gospel to give life in a world bent on destruction - are suggestive and supportive of those who preach and those who listen." - from the Preface.

"One question that regularly stirs up spirited debate among seminary students is, How does one preach from the Old Testament? Among many Christians today, there is a proper concern for the integrity of the Hebrew Scriptures. (Some even reject the term 'Old Testament' as derogatory.) At the same time, however, there are widely divergent views on how the Old Testament is faithfully used in a Christian sermon. These views range from those which insist on the self-sufficiency of Old Testament texts as sources for Christian preaching to those which require a strong christological move at the heart of every sermon. And, of course, there are many positions in between.

"This issue arises with some urgency for preachers who regularly use the lectionary. Indeed, the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary have themselves struggled with the relationship between the Old and New Testament lections; changes in the Old Testament readings represent the most obvious recent revisions. Reflecting contemporary disagreements, the compilers of the lectionary have arrived at a compromise, offering the church, during Ordinary Time at least, the option of (1) following semicontinuous readings from the Old Testament, which are not intentionally related to the New Testament texts or (2) using more traditional Old Testament lections, which are governed by the Gospel readings.

"While creating more options for preachers, this compromise regarding the Old Testament lections only further complicates another question that preachers frequently ask: Should I focus on one lectionary text, or should I try to preach 'intertextually,'relating two or more of the lectionary readings? And if I choose to preach intertextually, how do I go about it? To preach from the lectionary, then, is to encounter not only the dilemma of preaching from the Old Testament, but also the related issue of intertextual preaching.

"Over the past few years, Walter Brueggemann and I have periodically discussed these issues, often indirectly through students taking both his Old Testament courses and my preaching classes. While our theoretical discussions have been stimulating, I have found that Brueggemann's own sermons provide a more helpful way of addressing these concerns. Theoretical reflection can be valuable, to be sure. However, it is in the actual practice of preaching that decisions about these matters are made and embodied? Brueggemann's sermons are particularly rich in this regard.

"In all of the sermons in this volume, Old Testament texts play an important role. Most of the sermons are based primarily on a text from the Old Testament, while a few demonstrate different ways of using Old Testament material when the primary text is from the New. What is fascinating, however, is the variety of ways in which Brueggemann manages to maintain the integrity of the Old Testament texts while at the same time preaching sermons that are distinctively Christian and unequivocally addressed to 'the baptized.' There are no artificial, forced moves to Jesus in these sermons (an approach that Brueggemann regularly criticizes in his dasses). Nevertheless, the sermons exhibit a deep christological and ecclesiological Sensitivity, which surfaces formally in brief allusions, recurring patterns and motifs, and specific 'intertextual' connections. One comes away from the sermons not with a 'Christologized' Old Testament, but rather with a deepened appreciation for the Jewishness of Jesus and the embeddedness of the gospel within the larger biblical narrative. Brueggemann thus offers a distinctive approach to preaching from the Old Testament, which may prove helpful to many preachers.

"In addition, many of Brueggemann's sermons provide examples of intertextual lectionary preaching--preaching that employs two or more of the lectionary texts. Although not uncritical of the lectionary, Brueggemann is generally a lectionary preacher, as the sermons in this volume indicate. Frequently he uses multiple lections in a sermon. Here Brueggemann's appreciation for both the sweep of the biblical narrative and the liturgical context of the readings enables him to make rich connections among the biblical texts, which should prove suggestive for lectionary preachers.

"While helpful with regard to preaching from the Old Testament and the lectionary, Brueggemann's sermons also invite study with regard to their content, form, and hermeneutical method. The most striking thing about the sermons is their content: God. The sermons are saturated with God; they are passionate about God. They are fundamentally theological sermons. At a time when personal experience and the therapeutic model often dominate the pulpit, Brueggemann keeps our attention on the biblical story and the God whose identity that story renders. Brueggemann unapologetically proclaims the 'odd' God of the Bible, who is never some general divinity or universal principle, but an intrusive, particular God who is active in the world. And Brueggemann invites the church to become an odd people, a countercultural community, whose identity is formed in relation to this peculiar God.

"The form of the sermons is consistent with this focus on the God of the Bible. The biblical text itself generally shapes the movement of the sermon. In fact, in some ways the form is reminiscent of older, expository sermons. In many instances, for example, Brueggemann simply walks through a particular text. With Brueggemann's sermons, however, unlike some forms of expository preaching, one rarely feels bogged down in extraneous exegetical details, and one rarely senses an artificial separation between 'exposition' and 'application.' In part, this engaging expository style results from Brueggemann's social-literary approach to Scripture, which brings the social dimensions of the text into play while focusing primarily on the movement of the canonical text itself. Brueggemann's sensitivity to the social character of the Bible, his creative insights into the fundamental drama of the biblical texts, his helpful use of biblical characters, and his subtle employment of anachronism all contribute to an expository preaching that has a dramatic and contemporary ring. Indeed, Brueggemann's sermons model a kind of dramatic, expository preaching which is not only possible today but appropriate for the biblically illiterate church.

"Brueggemann's hermeneutical method also contributes to his distinctive, expository style. In his sermons Brueggemann seeks to "read" the world through the strange, old texts of the Bible. He engages in a task of radical redescription. That is, he seeks to redescribe--or, as he might put it, retextualize--the contemporary world through the Bible. The biblical texts serve as multiple lenses through which Brueggemann repeatedly seeks to see and interpret the world. Here Brueggemann reverses liberal attempts to fit the Bible into a purportedly wider modern framework in order to make it relevant. Instead, for Brueggemann, the 'world of the Bible' provides the primary frame of reference into which the contemporary world is incorporated.

"Reading the world through the biblical texts, Brueggemann not only speaks to the church about theologicald matters but also addresses critical public concerns--social, political, and economic. In so doing, he reveals the fallacy of David Buttrick's recent assertion that biblical theology contributes to preaching that is both past-tense and nonprophetic. Contrary to Buttrick's criticism, Brueggemann's biblical-theological preaching is both contemporary and prophetic. In Brueggemann's sermons the strange, old texts begin to sound as public and current as today's newspaper. And through them the world of the newspaper is redescribed. Brueggemann thus demonstrates that 'the world of the Bible' can indeed capture our imagination and reshape our common life. He beckons us to enter that world and be transformed." - from the Foreword by Charles L. Campbell, Columbia Theological Seminary


Part One: Torah Texts

Part Two: Prophetic Texts

Part Three: Texts from the Writings

Part Four: New Testament Texts with Old Testament Allusions

Walter Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia. He is the author of fourteen Fortress Press books, including Texts Under Negotiation.

Charles Campbell is Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Columbia Theological Seminary.

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