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Truth-Telling as Subversive Obedience by…
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Truth-Telling as Subversive Obedience

by Walter Brueggemann

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I almost gave up on this book in the first paragraph of the Preface, which contains three editorial errors. Come on, SCM: it’s not like you. And the rest of the Preface feels as if it’s been translated from German; maybe it has.

The book itself is remarkable, so skip the Preface. But by all means, buy the book. It’s the first in what promises to be a series, containing articles that Brueggemann has written for the Journal of Preachers, as one of its editors. So it has the inevitable irritations of a collection: uneven material, variable length of sections and random selection of themes. But it’s held together by his own outstanding biblical theology, and powered by a wonderful sense of engagement between scripture and world.

My favourite essay was the first chapter on ‘Duty as Delight and Desire’. I’ll spend the rest of the review summarizing and commenting on this particular essay, in the hope that it inspires you to [buy and] read the book. In it, Brueggemann tackles the postmodern fear and avoidance of obedience head on: it’s caused by a false dichotomy between grace and law on the one hand, and the modern notion of ‘unfettered freedom’ on the other.

The biblical alternative is the paradoxical juxtaposition of unconditional and ‘massively conditional’ covenant. God is a God of grace whose free gift of love demands utter obedience. The strategies for living in his Kingdom ‘in which the “normalcies” of life are turned on their head’ [9] are twofold: to accept the commands of God as ‘disciplines essential to the revolution...’ and to love Jesus with all our heart’s desire, with agape and eros. Obedience is not instrumental, it is a concrete mode of being in which duty, desire and delight cohere. He laments his Calvinist tradition’s tendency to shy away from the language of the heart and invites us to ‘pant’ after God. As baptized believers, we have entered a ‘new vision of reality’ in which we desire no more than God has given us to desire: himself.

His thesis of ‘revolutionary devotion and singleness of desire’ are then tested against what he calls the two great arenas for evangelical obedience: sexuality and economics. This section makes uncomfortable reading for any self-aware Christian. On the first, “it is relatively easy (and I think useless) for the church simply to champion a flat “sex ethic” of a quite traditional kind” [15]. On the second, a warning against our wealth creating ‘smaller zones of well-being which screen out the presence of the neighbour’.

Further on, there are equally provocative pieces on subjects as varied as ‘Mission as Hope in Action’ and ‘Truth-Telling as Subversive Obedience’, which there is no space to tempt you with. But for the first essay alone, it’s more than worth the buy, and the other essays will be all bonus, all blessing. ( )
  AdrianChatfield | Nov 7, 2011 |
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