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League of Inveterate Poets

The out-of-context contextuality of a foolish sage

Review: An Unsettling God by Walter Brueggemann

By on March 7, 2010

An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible by Walter Brueggemann

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Brueggemann forces us to unblinkingly confront the God actually presented in the Old Testament, not the God we wish was there via the colored glasses of our Western rationalistic theology. He shows us that the Israelite conception of YHWH was as a god known only in relationship, an “unsettling” god, who while in some way “sovereign,” could also be capricious, irrationally angry or generous, and who could be changed by relationship with covenantal partners, even as they were indeed changed by their relationship to YHWH.

Brueggemann explores this relationship through each of YHWH’s four main “partners”: Israel, the human person, nations, and creation. In a final chapter, he issues the challenge that only an embracing of this unsettling God of abundance, suffering, and hope can provide a counter to the Enlightenment’s assumptions of scarcity, denial of brokenness, and ultimately despair. Israel in the Old Testament never concerned itself with an apologetical need to try to prove that YHWH exists, nor did they try to arrive at some kind of exhaustive definition of YHWH (both high concerns in Western Christian theology). Rather for them YHWH is the god who fits with “the way things are” in their experience of abundance / the Pit / restoration. So Brueggemann does not bother with such apologetics. Rather his interest is in how this very Jewish way of looking at existence might provide a pattern of counter-cultural living for those of us disillusioned with what our Enlightenment-Western culture has come to.

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