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Ichabod Toward Home: The Journey of God’s Glory

By Walter Brueggemann
Eerdmans. 2002. 150 pp. Pb. $15.ISBN 0-8028-3930-4

— reviewed by James K. Mead, Orange City, Iowa

Every preacher and teacher — and everyone who listens to sermons and lessons — cares about the theme Walter Brueggemann addresses in Ichabod Toward Home, based on his 2001 Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary. Using the Ark Narrative in 1 Samuel 4-6 to explore what the church does when it stands before a biblical text, Brueggemann contends that the story of the ark’s capture, exile and return offers an alternative vision of the church’s proclamation and life in the world.

In chs. 1-3, Brueggeman’s literary reading of 1 Samuel 4-6 is balanced by his discussion of theological implications in related Old and New Testament texts. The capture of the ark (1 Samuel 4) calls Israel to embrace rather than to deny the loss of Yahweh’s glory in the ark (“Ichabod” means “Where is the glory?”). 1 Samuel 5 offers an “alternative to despair” through the presentation of Yahweh as a “self-starting, glory-getting god” (p. 47). The return of the ark in 1 Samuel 6 raises the question, “Where is the ark headed?” According to Brueggemann, the various biblical answers (the Temple, the Davidic dynasty and the return from exile) should still keep Israel from complacency about keeping or controlling God’s glory.

Some readers may find ch. 4, “The Bible Strange and New,” to be slow going, with its tour through 20th century theology and hermeneutics, but Brueggemann eloquently argues for a nonfoundational reading of Scripture that is derived solely from the drama of the narrative itself. He understands the church’s reading and hearing of the Bible as theater, enacting a vision that is alternative to “conventional arrangements of power and meaning” (p. 101). Ch. 5, “Have a Nice Weekend,” reads the “three days” of the Ark Narrative through the lens of both a secular “three-day weekend” and the Christian drama of faith from Good Friday to Easter, with especially helpful use of the Christ hymn in Philippians 2.

As always, Brueggemann’s handling of the biblical text is provocative, insightful and compelling, reason alone for reading this book. Many readers will be challenged by his express criticism of using doctrine as a quick fix for the theological tensions within the biblical story. Indeed, by holding us to the text, Brueggemann asks all students of the Bible to decide what role their confessional commitments will play in the interpretive task.

Although these lectures were delivered before the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, pastors, educators and church members in this post 9/11 world will be richly blessed by Brueggemann’s exploration of the gospel’s surprising, hopeful and powerful message. Ichabod Towards Home would serve as an especially valuable resource for Holy Week/Easter reflections upon the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord.