Bruce Waltke on Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament
Today I received two volumes from Zondervan (thanks Andrew Rogers!); one was Bruce Waltke’s 2007 An Old Testament Theology. I still remember hearing at SBL 2008 in Boston that Waltke really pressed and challenged Brueggemann’s massive Theology of the Old Testament. And ever since SBL , when I sat in on a panel discussion on Waltke’s volume of which Brueggemann was a respondent (and a hilarious one at that!) I have been quite anxious to see what it is Waltke says about Brueggemann.
Here are some of the more interesting and thought-provoking quotations from Waltke; I would love for Brueggemann to respond in print:
“The Theology of the Old Testament by Walter Brueggemann has many strengths, not least of which is his magisterial survey of the discipline, demonstrating his profound scholarship. his style is eloquent with flashes of brilliance, but he hinders his communication by unnecessary abstractions and neologisms. His theology is salted with insights into the importance of rhetoric and with applications of the biblical faith to current social issues, but he spoils his applications by his flawed epistemology . . . ” (69)
“With regard to epistemology . . . Brueggemann embraces what he calls a ‘post-liberal, non-foundational approach.’ By this he means that he rejects both historical criticism and the orthodox confessions of the church. He complains that the ‘practical effect of this [historical criticism] enterprise was to relativize the revelatory claims of the text and treat it like any other book.’ By defeault, however, Brueggemann’s own reasoning, unaided by the Spirit, becomes his final frame of reference for knowing. Without recognizing the work of the Spirit in his epistemology: ‘the authority of the [biblical] witness is grounded in nothing more and nothing less than the willingness of the text community to credit, believe, trust, and take seriously this testimony.’ In other words, he relativizes the authority of Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament and of Jesus Christ and his apostles in the New Testament solely to the reader’s response” (69).
“In addition to shifting the authority of the text away from a Spirit-empowered testimony to the willingness of the community, Brueggemann also shifts it away to the interpreter. Since there is no interest-free interpretation, whether canonical or critical, he argues, the interpreter must ‘stay engaged in an adjudicating process.’ However, by that deft move he shifts authority away from the text to the interpreter” (70).
“Brueggemann’s conceptualization o fthe biblical theologian’s task is rooted in his conviction that the biblical testimonies about I AM contradict each other. . . . In Brueggemann’s view the task of the theologian is to expose and reflect theologically upon competing claims that God is good and that God is not good. . . . Brueggemann draws the heretical conclusion from these contradictory witnesses that there is an internal contradiction in God himself. Is it too harsh to recall that the Serpent also denied that God is good and that Cain could not affirm that God was just? (71).”
AND LASTLY . . .
“Brueggemann draws his heretical theology from his flawed exegesis: he bases his understanding of the core testimony on adjectives and verbs, not on the accredited method of determining the meaning of words in their literary and historical contexts. In his method of interpretation, the reader’s response always trumps the author’s intention. . . . Brueggemann’s reading does not take account of the a priori rights of the canonical writer and lacks sympathy with I AM’s repugnance of unbelief and sin. In short, his theology fails because his exegesis is inadequate” (72).
Harsh critique, indeed. I tend to agree with Brueggemann, still, that God is far more complex and indeed conflicted. I would say Waltke’s exegesis is inadequate, not Brueggemann’s, in this regard. Those who have read my work will be well aware of why I think this to be the case. Yet I also agree strongly with Waltke that biblical scholarship–here, theology–should have some relevance and import for the church (see HERE and HERE). I disagree with Waltke, however, because I see this as exactly what Brueggemann is doing. Brueggemann is, rightly, all about pressing communities of faith to wrestle with the complexities of the text, and especially, of God.
So, your thoughts?