Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Walter Brueggemann

American Protestant Old Testament Scholar and Theologian

"No prophet ever sees things under the aspect of eternity. It is always partisan theology, always for the moment, always for the concrete community, satisfied to see only a piece of it all and to speak out that at the risk of contradicting the rest of it."

"It is experiences of being overwhelmed, nearly destroyed, and surprisingly given life that empower us to pray and sing."

"A restored creation is counter to a system of meaning and power that I term technological, therapeutic, military consumerism that in our society unrelentingly offers a total worldview that comprehends all and allows no opening for any alternative. This dominant mode of power and meaning is a way of rendering reality that silences "the news" and voids the One who is the subject of our "news": technological, the reduction of life's choices to technological options in which critical voices of alternative are screened out and eliminated as thinkable alternatives."

"After we have done our best work and vigorously pursued our most passionate modes of reading, the text—and the God featured in the text— remain inscrutable and undomesticated. Partly the reason for that inscrutability and lack of domestication is that the text in its final form is complex and pluralistic, hosting a variety of traditioning and interpreting voices that become normative traditions. More than that, however, the inscrutability and lack of domestication in the text are a consequences of the God attested in these pages who is Holy Other."

"Alien spiritual powers, however, characteristically are manifested as sociopolitical-economic powers, so that religious and political-economic issues are always "both-and," both spiritual and political-economic, never "either-or.""

"First, the unbearable suffering comes to public speech. Totalitarian regimes seek to keep suffering silent and invisible for as long as possible. But finally, as every totalitarian regime eventually learns, human suffering will not stay silent. There is a cry!"

"I have come to think that for those of us inured to empire Sabbath rest is the most urgent and difficult command, because empires depend upon restless productivity. The mandate that begins the poetry is to disengage."

"Imagination is a danger thus every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination to keep on conjouring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one."

"A newness has begun and it is a newness to the victimized ones. Invited to join are all those who have groaned under the ways of the old kings."

"Every act of a minister who would be prophetic is part of a way of evoking , forming and reforming an alternative community."

"Empires do not grieve, do not notice human suffering, do not acknowledge torn bodies or abused villages. Empires deal in quotas, statistics, summaries, and memos. And memos rarely mention loss; when they do, they disguise it in euphemism so that no one need notice. Empires characteristically do not notice loss because they are able to engage in reality denying ideology that covers over everything in the splendor of power, victory, and stability."

"Given such a shape in the final form, one is bound to notice that this rendering, with a fissure at the center, places the account in profound tension with the ideological claims of 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Kings 8 that persist in political propaganda and liturgical affirmation. In sum, the book of Isaiah constitutes, on the basis of lived experience, a profound challenge to a continuing ideological claim of immunity from historical vagary. The insistence of historical vagary about the city requires that the reader must step outside that ideology and make a different set of responses to the lived reality..."

"It is an insistence that the love of God happens in praxis, not in thought or in piety, and that “knowledge of God” is a relational reality, a point well recognized by John Calvin: “All right knowledge of God is born of obedience.”"

"It is clear that Torah in Israel is no once-for-all delivered dictum, but is rather the evocation of great Yahwistic claims that are subject to the many vagaries of historical impingement and to the imaginative and venturesome task of ongoing interpretation. Thus the Torah commands of YHWH are rooted in the jealous propensities of YHWH but are marked by a dynamism that continues to give fresh measure to commands and continues to make connections to new circumstance where God's people must live faithfully. That rooted dynamism is marked in rabbinic Judaism by the force of "oral Torah"."

"It is the task of prophetic imagination and ministry to bring people to engage the promise of newness that is at work in our history with God."

"Israel was an experimental social revolution in that ancient world, to see whether social relationships could be organized in human, egalitarian, communitarian ways."

"In our modern experience, but probably also in every successful and affluent culture, it is believed that enough power and knowledge can tame the terror and eliminate the darkness. A "religion of orientation" fundamentally operates on that basis. But our honest experience, both personal and public, attests to the resilience of the darkness, in spite of us. The"

"It did not compute the profound contradiction between the claim of "leader of the free world" and the rapacious occupation of the world for the sake of markets, resources, and control. The empire doesn't question itself; it "sucks it up" and moves on, restoring its hegemony and bringing the dissenters to justice."

"It is not working too hard that makes us weary. It is rather, I submit, living a life that is against the grain of our true creatureliness, living a ministry that is against the grain of our true vocation, being placed in a false position so that our day-to-day operation requires us to contradict what we know best about ourselves and what we love most about our life as children of God. Exhaustion comes from the demand that we be, in some measure, other than we truly are; such an alienation requires too much energy to navigate."

"Popular religion in our midst, however, has greatly reduced the notion of obedience, so that it has become either a virtue too much celebrated or a burden too much dreaded."

"Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being."

"Slavery in the Old Testament happens because the strong ones work a monopoly over the weak ones, and eventually exercise control over their bodies. Not only that; in the end the peasants, now become slaves, are grateful for their dependent status:"

"So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt. (v. Io) It is of immense importance that the most difficult, most dangerous task in emancipation is not undertaken by YHWH as divine deliverance. Rather, emancipation is a human task to be undertaken amid the risky problematics of Pharaoh's political reality. The mission of Moses is nothing less than the confrontation of political power that no longer has anything of a human face. More than that, Moses' mandate is to confront exploitative economic power that is understood to be an embodiment of false theology,..."

"So who is out there? Who comes with this loss, wistfulness, and hope? We come to this meeting, I submit, as emaciated persons. We have been reduced to silence, to docile speech, to non-committal chatter. We have been intimidated to speak only what is approved, what is expected, what is safe. Because of seduction and intimidation, we say much less than we know, much less than we hurt or hope, much less than we crave to say."

"Such captivity of the human spirit must be again and again challenged, for it is that captivity that makes it possible to commit aggressive brutalizing war in the name of democratic freedom; to tolerate acute poverty in an economy of affluence, most especially without an adequate health-care policy; to sustain policies of abuse of the environment, all in the name of nurturing the economy. Captivation by the kingdom of scarcity requires us to live with unbearable contradictions, and we, except in our better moments, do not take much notice of the contradiction."

"That, however, does not render the poetry as a failure or as an irrelevance. It only affirms that alternatives to the lethal reductionism of empire require imagination and courage and staying power. In that ancient world, it was required that old Jerusalem be relinquished and new Jerusalem be undertaken. It is no less required now that there be relinquishing and undertaking. Those who act in this way will do so at the behest of the poets who may eventually be seen as Spirit led."

"On Epiphany day, we are still the people walking. We are still people in the dark, and the darkness looms large around us, beset as we are by fear, anxiety, brutality, violence, loss, a dozen alienations that we cannot manage. We are-we could be-people of your light. So we pray for the light of your glorious presence as we wait for your appearing; we pray for the light of your wondrous grace as we exhaust our coping capacity; we pray for your gift of newness that will override our weariness; we pray that we may see and know and hear and trust in your good rule. That we may have energy, courage,..."

"People notice peacemakers because they dress funny. We know how the people who make war dress - in uniforms and medals, or in computers and clipboards, or in absoluteness, severity, greed, and cynicism. But the peacemaker is dressed in righteousness, justice, and faithfulness - dressed for the work that is to be done."

"It may be the work of the church to name empire for what it is."

"The evocation of an alternative reality consists at least in part in the battle for language and the legitimization of a new rhetoric. The language of empire is surely the language of managed reality, of production and schedule and market. But that language will never permit or cause freedom because there is no newness in it. Doxology is the ultimate challenge to the language of managed reality and it alone is the universe of discourse in which energy is possible."

"The disciplines function to inconvenience us enough that we become conscious, self-conscious, and intentionally aware of who we are and what we are doing with our lives."

"The book of Isaiah both appeals to the theological-ideological assumptions and places them in question because the facts on the ground tell otherwise. Thus the book of Isaiah and the larger Jerusalem tradition expose this difficult interface between theological claim and lived reality, a difficult interface that is front and center in the book of Job, a difficult interface that every pastor must face in the form of the theodicy question."

"The contemporary abrasion between imperial ideology and poetic alternative is a contentious one, with the poetic alternative being fragile and mostly unauthorized and unrecognized."

"The capacity to utilize religious claims for the sake of political expansionism is a hallmark of empire."

"The Lord of Sinai intends that all economies should be renovated for the common good:"

"The characteristic way of the prophet is that of poetry and lyric."

"The church in the United States has largely signed on for democratic capitalism, and has watched while capitalism has been transposed into corporate socialism, while the democratic processes have been subordinated to the force of big money. The church has mostly positioned itself so that the promises of the gospel are readily lined out as "the American dream," with endless choices and bottomless entitlements that in turn have required the muscle of the military to sustain."

"The hope filled language of prophecy in cutting through the royal despair and hopelessness is the language of amazement... the language of amazement is the ultimate energizer."

"The human cry, so the Bible asserts, evokes divine resolve. There is a divine resolve to transform the economic situation of the slaves. It is, at the same time, inescapably, a divine resolve to delegitimate Pharaoh and to wrest social initiative away from the empire."

"The most elemental passion of the prophetic tradition assumes that evangelical faith has little to do with private piety and everything to do with the systemic maintenance of a humane infrastructure."

"The new history begins as history always begins, in a word spoken. "Now Yahweh said to Abram." How else could history begin? That is the way with individual histories when persons are addressed and called into being, into a new consciousness. Such a word spoken gives identity and personhood, and we could not have invented it. It is the voice of the prophet-or the poet if you wish-who calls a name, bestows a vision, summons a pilgrimage. This is not the detached prattle of a computer; not the empty language of a quota or a formula or a rule; but it is a word spoken that lets one not be the same..."

"The new worship concerns the construction and practices of neighborliness of the most elemental kind. The new worship looks advantage and disadvantage square in the face, and urges economic gestures that bind haves and have-nots together. The accent is upon praxis, thus echoing the remarkable statement of Jeremiah: Are you a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the LORD. Jer 22:15–16 Knowledge of God is acknowledgment..."

"The move from economic exploitation to policies that are grounded in fear seems deliberately designed to produce suffering. Finally, as every exploitative system eventually learns, the exploitation rooted in fear reaches its limit of unbearable suffering."

"The only serious energising needed or offered is the discernment of God in all his freedom, the dismantling of structures of weariness and the dethronement of the powers of fatigue."

"The poet is not changing external politics but is reclaiming imagination... We ought not underestimate the power of the poet."

"The new righteousness offered in the gospel occurs in a world where people like us are angry enough to kill. People who are angry enough to kill do come to church, do approach God, do bring an offering."

"The possibility of passion is a primary prophetic agenda... Passion as the capacity and readiness to care, to suffer, to die and to feel is the enemy of imperial reality."

"The poets speak only poetry, not program, not policy, not even advocacy, only poetry. But the poetry exists in order to make available what the ideologues are unable to see and what the policy makers are unable to grasp."

"The prophet engages in future fantasy. The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented… The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing… Every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep conjuring and proposing alternative futures."

"The proper idiom of the prophet in cutting through royal numbness is language of grief."