Some reading I’ve been doing…

Not that long ago, I finished reading Walter Brueggemann’s book, Journey to the Common Good, one of my Calvin College Bookstore purchases on my GR road trip with my good friend, Diane Plug. I keep wishing I had time to blog about it more comprehensively. I’ll read the book again, but it left me very unsettled. I found his discussion of Exodus, Jeremiah and Isaiah very much driven by an economic interpretation and his comparisons of the temple’s destruction to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 rather forced.
He’s a well-known scholar and I usually like reading stuff that challenges me, but this book made me exceptionally uncomfortable. His analysis of the extent of social justice concerns in the OT is good… and it’s much broader than I had previously ever realized. On the other hand, I felt like “my” OT was being hijacked. His negativity about the priests and criticism of the “regimentations of holiness” instituted by the priests left me confused. I had always been led to believe that the levels of the temple (from outer courts to the Holy of Holies) were commanded by God and had their spiritual functions. He maintains that these divisions were indicative of a “wrong” desire to differentiate people into castes and classes (like Egypt). He is critical of the wealth that Solomon pours into the temple as evidence of materialism and a love for gold and power (again, like Egypt). I always thought that the luxury materials were used to honour God. I’d always been led into OT stories and books through a “moral” door… God’s chosen people versus the pagan nations, the faithful versus the unfaithful. The lens was always spiritual, rather than economic. Not to suggest that the “moral” lens was necessarily the correct one, either. As I grow older, I sense how that lens conveniently ignores the social justice verses and the earthiness and physicality of OT stories. 
The good thing is that it made me grapple again (as did Sarah Miles’s book Jesus Freak) with the extent to which our own agendas and traditions drive our reading of Scripture. I will probably tackle the book once more… this may not be a fair reading. Just my first impressions…  

After my disenchantment the Walter Brueggemann book (some of which I still think might be related to the fact that I don’t really want to hear his message about economic justice), I’ve come across a wonderful book on culture by Andy Crouch called Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. I’ve been delighted with how many new things I’m learning. This is a great book for anyone who is interested in the intersection of Christianity and culture.

Crouch has a chapter on why God chose Israel (because she was the least of the nations) and why he plunked her in a place of central geographic importance (Canaan) to be a witness to the cultures roundabout. The smallness and peculiarity of Israel as a chosen people was intentionally tested by the location of the Promised Land in the midst of cosmopolitan cultural currents. Israel was in the very eye of the cultural hurricane of the day, not in some safe remote location. Some of this I had dimly grasped before, but the emphasis was always on Israel’s faithfulness spiritually. Crouch does a good job of expanding this to a cultural witness as well, that Israel had to model culture that was God-directed and God-informed, not just a religious or spiritual direction that was different than her neighbours.
Crouch does an awesome job of calling Christians to do more than condemn, critique or absorb culture, but to create new culture that is honest, genuine and reflective of thoughtful Christian convictions.
I’m very pumped by this book. Where Brueggemann’s book made me feel he was stretching the biblical text to fit an external kind of economic overlay that he was invested in, Crouch’s book is making me feel like “Yes, that’s substantiated by the text. How didn’t I see that before?” or “Wow. That’s cool. That fits with what I’ve always understood but takes it a step further into a broader context!”
I’ve got post-it notes all through the book. 🙂

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