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Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope: Contested Truth in a Post-Christian World

By Walter Brueggemann
Fortress. 2000. 143 pp. Pb. $16.
ISBN 0-8006-3237-0

Reviewed by James P. Ashmore, Raleigh, N.C.

Two things in particular make Walter Brueggemann's work engaging. First, he is a harsh critic of the contemporary world, employing biblical texts to build a case that certain aspects of our current boom times stand under God's judgment. Whether you agree or disagree, it is terribly difficult to ignore his argument.

Second, he refuses to avoid the hard passages, the ones that make us squirm, the ones we try to avoid reading. Brueggemann confronts these head-on, never trying to relativize them or explain away the difficulty. Instead, he finds in the very difficulty itself compelling reason to rejoice and hope.

Both of these aspects of Brueggemann’s work are present in his collection of essays, Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope. These essays, which have appeared in various journals over a span of 10 years, all relate, in one way or another, to the double-edged theme of difficulty in preaching: the difficulty of preaching the text and the preaching of difficult texts.

The first, second, fifth and sixth essays all discuss how the Old Testament presents a bold contrast to the assumptions and beliefs of the contemporary world. Here Brueggemann returns again and again to Isaiah 40-55 to counter the dominant version of reality in our world, a vision he describes in the first essay as one of material deprivation, isolation and silencing of those on the margins of society.

The last two essays will be familiar territory to those who have read Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament. He describes how Israel’s most characteristic speech about God emerged from the various crises that the people faced, and he makes a case for Old Testament theology as an indispensable element in the interpretive process.

The third essay is different from most of the others. In it Brueggemann pleads with the church to see both evangelism and social action as part of the same witness to the world. The fourth and seventh essays, although hard to decipher in places, present a way of dealing with difficult texts that does not explain away their difficulty.

If this collection has a flaw it is that so many of the essays seem to cover the same points again and again. However, as is usually the case with Brueggemann’s work, they are points well worth making, and it is difficult to see how one could fail to benefit from investing the time to read this collection.