Saturday, August 16, 2008

Theological conversion: the day Brueggemann messed with my head

As many of my readers know, I used to be a screaming conservative street preaching 'it's not religion it's a relationship' ethical black and white liberal = evil Catholic bashing Christian pop music listening shine-Jesus-shine singing puritan paperbacks reading borderline-Fundie. While there is much about that background for which I am grateful, I'll never forget the day I was sitting in a bus (prayerfully) listening to a Brueggemann lecture on the OT portrayal of God.

What a shock it was for my theological world. At that stage I didn't know too much about Brueggemann expect that he wasn't on my usual 'safe' list. But his dismantling of my assumption that exegesis and systematic theology exist in a straightforward relationship was a world shaking moment from which I never recovered. The Old Testament, I learned, was not a book of settled theology; it was doing theology and generating a variety of testimonies concerning God. Perhaps von Rad had the same effect for an earlier generation, but having listened to Brueggemann I left the bus literally feeling sick; sick, but forever delivered from naive assumptions that had crippled my engagement with the bible and theology. I struggled with what he said, but later I came to very much appreciate the door he opened into a new theological world. So thanks, Walter.


At 8/16/2008 11:42 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

Yes! Von Rad and Eichrodt and Bultmann did for me what Br. did for you! (Even though I'm not really that much older than you, you git).

At 8/17/2008 12:40 AM, Anonymous Judy Redman said...

Which Brueggemann, Chris? For me, the "aha!" text was Ernst Käsemann's Jesus Means Freedom and the realisation that conservative Christianity puts people in cages rather than freeing them - but I was attending a fairly liberal theological school as a candidate for ordination at the time.

Unfortunately, while my theological school was very good at helping its students to see these things for themselves, it didn't do such a good job of helping us to communicate them to our congregations. :-(

At 8/17/2008 1:10 AM, Anonymous JHG said...

I'm curious: is the lecture by Brueggemann is online?


At 8/17/2008 3:03 AM, Anonymous iYRe said...

Yeah... what James said...

I had this phenomena occur listening to Kenneth Bailey talking about Jesus and women back at seminary. Also listening to my OT Prof (Bill Osborne) exegete Genesis.

I would like to listen to Brueggemann's lecture if it was available. My experience though is, what does it for one, doesnt necessarily do it for another... but you never know until you try!

At 8/17/2008 9:04 AM, Anonymous Celucien L. Joseph said...

John Piper, in his sermon, "Let Your Passion Be Single" revolutioned my world about my (former) understanding of God , human beings, creation and the Bible.

At 8/17/2008 2:47 PM, Anonymous Terry said...

Chris, I often feel sick getting off a bus, but this is due to the way most London bus drivers brake and accelerate.

At 8/17/2008 9:48 PM, Anonymous dan said...

For those who are interested in Brueggemann lectures and articles (online) you can head to "The Totally Unofficial Walter Brueggemann Page" found here:

Brueggemann also had a major influence on me and how I read and understand the in/coherence of Scripture. He was the first to convince me that there were tensions and various conflicting positions held within Scripture itself.

At 8/17/2008 10:06 PM, Anonymous Grandmère Mimi said...

Today our adult Sunday school class watched and discussed the first of a series of lectures by Brueggemann that we will view over a period of time. My experience of hearing Brueggemann was not an aha! moment, but rather like a cool drink of water after wandering in the desert.

Our two previous classes were Alpha from Trinity Church, Brompton, which I disliked intensely, and Bishop N. T. Wright's lectures, Simply Christian. Wright was not bad, but our discussions afterwards were deadly dull.

It's difficult to describe the delight with which I listened to Brueggemann. Our discussion following was lively and interesting.

I don't even know the name of the course of lectures, but I must find that out. I consider the wisdom and brilliant scholarship of this man of God to be a great gift.

I came over here from the Episcopal Café.

At 8/18/2008 2:48 AM, Anonymous Alex Abecina said...

I learned a lot from Brueggemann's commentary on Deuteronomy!

Don't miss Brueggemann at the Laing Lectures this October at Regent College...

At 8/18/2008 3:34 AM, Anonymous Roger Mugs said...

this is exactly the reason I refuse to read anything by people smarter than me... i hate having my worldview rocked...

although this restriction does pretty much keep me from reading anything but a few well picked blogs...

At 8/18/2008 11:47 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...


Thanks for sharing such an aha moment.

Like you I began as a near fundamentalist (also a Christian rock lover and an evangelist toward everyone I met). Over the years I've had many aha moments, one was after reading a lot of comparative religion books, and books about spirituality and even humor in other religions, and books in which Christians interacted with Buddhists and Hindus. My aha moment after reading such books was the realization that goodness, genuine goodness, existed in the hearts minds and souls of people of other religions or even no-religion. And that we were all struggling to make sense of the cosmos. That's when the barriers I had formerly come to presume existed between the "saved" and "unsaved" or "elect/non-elect" began breaking down.

Speaking of aha moments, N.T. Wright seems to have begun his journey as quite a conservative Christian like us. He wrote briefly in one article about undergoing a crisis of faith in college after learning more about the Bible. I don't know more about his "crisis" than that. But he eventually sorted out his beliefs in new ways in order to maintain them. If anyone knows more about the early N.T.Wright's faith and about the crisis he went through please contact me! I'd be very interested in hearing more about it.

Secondly, I wonder whether N.T. is ever going to write a book about Genesis? Is he ever going to put his foot down on any subject at all, aside from affirming essential creedal matters like the virgin birth and resurrection?

I find Wright frustratingly attempting to straddle the fence between creationists and evolutionists, as well as between inerrantists and moderates/liberals. Though lately his take on Paul and on the afterlife (hope of living in physical bodies on a new earth) has earned him some detractors among conservative Christians.

At 8/18/2008 7:33 PM, Anonymous Levi said...

here's a brueggemann link, i'm not sure if you can still download off it, but it has a series of lectures on the OT that he did for a Presbyterian church:

one of them is pretty funny because he has a brief "argument" with someone in the audience who is adamant that he reads the bible at face value, to which brueggemann responds "everyone interprets scripture, some of us just do it badly", or something like that.

anyhow, enjoy it. i'm quite the brueggemann fan myself.

At 8/19/2008 9:42 AM, Anonymous Nijay K. Gupta said...

I had this experience reading NT Wright's WHAT SAINT PAUL REALLY SAID, also Richard Hays' ECHOES OF SCRIPTURE (also his Galatians commentary in NIB).

At 8/19/2008 9:50 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Jim ... we agreed on something!


To be honest I was not sure I wanted to say which Brueggemann lecture it was - in retrospect he didn't say anything groundshaking for someone like yourself... but it just got to me.

Anyway, (and this is for otehrs who commentetd - James, Iyre etc) I think it was a lecture associated with an emergent conference, but I may be wrong. I couldn't see it on my harddrive.

I have Käsemann's book too - not read it yet.

At 8/19/2008 10:00 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Grandmere mimi,

Thanks for the visit!

“I consider the wisdom and brilliant scholarship of this man of God to be a great gift.”

Yes! Double Amen with whipped cream on top.

Fascinating looking blog you have there! I’ll certainly add that to my reader.

Hi Alex,
Do you know if those lectures will be made public online? (hope hope)

You are safe reading this blog though!

Yea, Wright has detractors from both sides – also for his little book “What Saint Paul Really Said”. Aha moments are so precious. I love them and have made more than a few reading just one book recently: Goldingay’s OT Theology.

Hi Phil,
I must really look at those posts to see hoe Br. Misrepresents Childs!

Thanks for the link, Becoming Peresh.

Nijay, I must confess that I have not read Hays’ Galatians commentary – I really want to. How would you compare it to Dunn’s or Garlington’s?

At 8/20/2008 12:40 AM, Anonymous X-Cathedra said...

I'm with Nijay: as a Biblically-illiterate Catholic, Wright's "What Saint Paul Really Said" was enough to knock me from my proverbial horse. I believe the reaction was something like: "...OOOOOOhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

Also, Sanders' short "The Historical Figure of Jesus" left me pretty shaken.

Pax Christi,

At 8/21/2008 3:44 PM, Anonymous Chris Donato said...

For my part, it was sitting under Bruce Waltke and engaging Von Rad in our readings.

The wedge between so-called systematic and biblical theologies that your post alludes to is, to my mind, as unfortunate as it is real. [sigh] But it wouldn't be faith if it was easy to believe.

And, Judy, what I've learned from the "post-liberals" is that liberal Christianity divests the faith of its substance as much as conservative Christianity unnecessarily binds people's consciences. Both are oppressive.

At 8/21/2008 8:05 PM, Anonymous Josh McManaway said...

For me, it was Joel Osteen. He just really made me realize that God wants *everyone* (and particularly him) to be rich. Wow...what an aha! day that was.

What? What's everyone looking at?

At 8/22/2008 12:22 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Josh, we need to talk....

At 8/22/2008 8:49 AM, Anonymous Levi said...

bruegg also has a sermon up here

At 9/02/2008 4:44 PM, Anonymous Pastor Phil said...

Brueggemann rocked my complacency with liberal religion, and made possible serious study and preaching which calls for joyful obedience and release of the captives.

As for Childs and Brueggemann, Uncle Walt (c'mon, we all want to call him that, don't we? Okay, maybe it's just me) says that he takes seriously the ways in which Childs's studies have opened up canonical criticism, but does not agree with Childs's conclusions or even his arguments.

I cannot remember which book of Brueggemann's expresses this, in the prologue or footnotes I believe. Perhaps it was the The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education.

Brueggemann borrows Childs's boat, but rows different rivers.

At 9/25/2008 11:55 AM, Anonymous byron smith said...

I love the description of your former self. It is so familiar. I was there too!

At 3/06/2010 11:45 AM, Anonymous ludwigwarum said...

As a former conservative Christian raised Lutheran, and for 40 years never imagining I could possibly experience the crisis I have over the past 2 years, I see all the differences and revelations discussed here as trivial.
Once you have realized the openness you describe, why stop there? I always studied and questioned deeply but now I realize it was never truly with the option of not believing at all being an open one.
As long as the faith includes belief that some humans will be separated from God forever or enter into oblivion based on lack of belief, none of the different understandings mentioned here is significantly different from the others or less dogmatic really. It may feel nicer to be "smart" about it all, but the most basic root of the whole faith, the one that overshadows anything else we fiddle around about, is the eternal matter.
As a conservative Christian I thought believing the "right" way (not 'watering down' or cherry picking' what made sense to my mortal understanding) was was very important. Now, like you, I see that it isn't important, and in fact nothing can really even be known with certainty (which is a primary reason that "correct" can't matter!).
But lest you feel this makes you different in any significant way than you were: So the new realizations show you that issues you used to believe significant are mere specks pushed around in the dirt, some now brushed away by clearer understanding, some pushed aside or crushed under later developments. But they sit at the base of the same infinite mountain, the matter of redemption and eternity.
Including different faiths, interpreting things such that all faith routes are fine. putting aside erroneous attitudes and rules affecting life here and now -- once you see that is all okay you feel freed. I don't. Those, as you have now realized, are unimportant matters. So what is important? What is this about then; why are any left out to be separated from God then, and how is it this new outlook more enlightened or less dogmatic when it still casts some humans into oblivion? Just because it casts fewer? Seems like fooling oneself to believe that at the important core this is significantly different from evangelical, fundie, conservative.
There is no "superior" way to believe something so completely unknowable. If we decide to believe that is fine, but we should admit to ourselves that one view is no more enlightened than another as long as the gigantic core is the same and as long as all of it is based on the unknowable, unprovable, invisible. Otherwise we have just moved from one view of our understanding as superior to a different view of our understanding as superior. Nothing has really changed! Each feels superior -- about things unknowable!
And the matters we feel so proud for being enlightened about are a mere layer of dust on the central doctrine.


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