Ice Axes for Frozen Seas: A Biblical Theology of Provocation, Walter Brueggemann, Baylor Uni Press
From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann, Westminster John Knox
Walter Brueggemann is a key Old Testament scholar, primarily because he applies modern scholarship not to empty out scripture in an academic exercise, but to show that the OT describes a dynamic relationship between a people called to be different to the surrounding culture, and a God who is personal and intimate, and to show that this relationship continues in the life of the Church.
Brueggemann is famous for his concept of “prophetic imagination”, which describes the way the OT prophets spoke God’s word into their times, not merely to damn, but to (imaginatively) offer hope amidst a world of despair. These two new books are collections of articles that in various ways display Brueggemann’s provocative and vital reading of the scriptures. The introduction to Ice Axes for Frozen Seas (great title, suggesting as it does that this won’t be A Cup of Tea and a Chat), which contains a lot more jargon than Brueggemann’s writing, and indicates that it is sometimes better just to read Brueggemann than read about him, never-the-less helpfully suggests that Brueggemann tackles the inequality and injustice of modern times without cynicism or a reactionary call to some mythical utopian past. And he uses postmodernism’s scepticism of grand narratives not to question the basis of the biblical narrative but to question the Enlightenment’s narrow focus on reason alone. Brueggemann’s God is not the god of the philosophers but one that has to be encountered personally (this is how we must read the Old Testament which is, above all, a narrative of one people’s personal encounter), and who comes across as a dynamic being who seems to work through problems and can be swayed, meaning that, for Brueggemann, the “end” of the story if never pre-ordained. A journey with God, especially when it comes to addressing injustice is unpredictable (in a good way).
A key concern of Brueggemann’s is to show how the OT (continued of course in the NT) sets up two competing ideologies: that of an anxious, apathetic world of consumerism and hoarding, bolstered by military might, contrasted with that of God’s voice as issued through the prophets that offers another way. This other way upholds truth, generosity and, above all, hope, an entity that is in short supply in a world beset by environmental problems, and, despite the GFC, deepening entrenchment of the haves and have-nots. This other way is “risky” according to Brueggemann, and that is why even in the Church we tend to gravitate towards the reassuring, praise-oriented parts of the OT.
From Whom No Secrets are Hid focuses on the psalms, which, says Brueggemann, are noticeable for their frankness, the other book more widely, but both display Brueggemann’s expertise in following the twist and turns of biblical narrative and ensuring we don’t take passages out of context, a vital exercise if we are to come to the same conclusions much of the Old Testament does through a dialectic method.