Brueggemann: The Good, Bad, the Ugly

Testimony, Dispute, AdvocacyHere’s one reason why I love Brueggemann: he totally demolishes OT historical criticism.  He says that historical criticism is a child of the Enlightenment with objective, scientific, and positivistic epistemological assumptions.  Historical critics attempt to explain everything away – including the text itself, Brueggemann laments.

“Such an enterprise…is…incongruent with the text itself.  The text is saturated with the odd, the hidden, the dense, and the inscrutable — the things of God.  Thus, in principle, historical criticism runs the risk that the methods and assumptions to which it is committed may miss the primary intentionality of the text.  Having missed that, the commentaries are filled with unhelpful philological comment, endless redactional explanations, and tedious comparisons with other materials.  Because the primal Subject of the text has been ruled out in principle, scholars are left to deal with these much less interesting questions.”  In other words, the methodology of historical criticism excludes what the text itself says (intends to do).  They’ve missed the major and focus on the minutia.

Here’s why I can’t stand Brueggemann: “It is clear on my reading that the Old Testament is not a witness to Jesus Christ, in any primary or direct sense…unless one is prepared to sacrifice more of the text than is credible.” 

I’ll keep reading Brueggemann, to be sure, but his books that I own are marked with just as many question marks (?) as little stars (*).

Quotes taken from Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 104, 107.


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2 Replies to “Brueggemann: The Good, Bad, the Ugly”

  1. Matt Morgan ( made a great comment on my blog a while back after doing a Brueggemann post . . .

    To summarize Matt: Brueggemann is like Barth, he’s great when his guns are pointed at the critics, but much less helpful when trying to formulate something positive to say in its place!

    I’ve really been enjoying reading Phil Sumpter’s blog . . . very much into Brevard Childs and Chris Seitz who describe, in my opinion, a much more agreeable model for those of us in the confessional camp.


  2. The Old Testament is not a witness to Jesus Christ, in any primary or direct sense.

    You won’t find many scholars today who disagree with that statement. Don’t miss the significance of “in any primary or direct sense”.

    In other words, Brueggemann has left the door open to the New Testament interpretation of the Old. In hindset, the New Testament authors considered the events of Christ’s life and realized that they fulfilled OT texts. Brueggemann wouldn’t deny that.

    The relation of prophecy to fulfillment is not as simple and straightforward as conceived in popular Christianity. Isaiah 7:14, for example, must have referred to an event that happened in the lifetime of King Ahaz: read it in context. (Perhaps the virgin was Isaiah’s betrothed, who later bore him children?)

    However, a fulfillment during Ahaz’s lifetime doesn’t preclude a later fulfillment, as Matthew discerned. Therefore Christians read the Old Testament on two levels: the meaning it had in its immediate context, and the second layer of meaning given to it by the New Testament authors, in light of the revelation of Christ.


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