Westminster John Knox Press, 125 pages
Reviewed by Heather Woodworth Brannon
There has never been a better time to call our faith communities to rise up from the church pew and enter the public square (practicing social distancing, of course). Christians are summoned to work with God to dismantle the systems of oppression that plague our neighbors. This is a tall order, but one of utmost urgency for the church and the world.
This book provides a point of departure for communities seeking to reassess how they contribute to systematic oppression. Walter Brueggemann challenges readers to reignite a dormant moral passion about some of the most pressing issues of our time, using a critical examination of the materiality of our faith as its central focus. This is not, however, to be confused with materialism, which prioritizes possessions and physical comfort over spiritual values. Jesus was not a “materialist” who hoarded goods or exploited his neighbors for personal gain. Instead, Jesus practiced materiality over materialism through acts of healing the sick, feeding the 5,000 and proclaiming the forgiveness of debt for the poor. “Materiality as Resistance” challenges readers to reimagine how materiality can influence the way in which we love God and neighbor.
Most Christians do not know where to begin practicing materiality over materialism. This book sheds light on a way forward by inviting readers to reconsider how we use material aspects of our faith to spur moral thought and action. Brueggemann leans on history to explain why most Christians have a preoccupation with otherworldly spiritual matters. He points to an abrupt theological and political shift during the sixth century in which the church began to turn away from the poor and privatize its wealth. Furthermore, clergy distanced themselves from the mundane world and focused on the afterlife. The effects of this significant shift from materiality to spiritual matters continue to influence how Christians think and act today.
Brueggemann’s discussion of materiality focuses on five key elements for moral action: money, food, the body, time and place. Each section explores the convergence of the materiality of our lives and the materiality of the Bible, which naturally calls Christians into action. He carefully illustrates how predominantly wealthy Protestants unintentionally use materiality as a tool of oppression. Brueggemann highlights the moral responsibility of Christians to promote God’s justice, righteousness, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness in the world through just social structures both individually and collectively.
This straightforward and enticing exploration of the Christian responsibility for moral action is a great starting place for small groups, ecumenical gatherings and preaching series. Each chapter ends with insightful questions for further discussion. The endnotes are especially helpful in compiling readings for further inquiry. There is also a short film series on this book that can be used to bolster group discussions: theworkofthepeople.com/film_series/materiality-as-resistance.
Put into practice, this book helps readers in making “mature materiality” central to our faithfulness and efforts to seek God’s justice in a broken world.
Heather Woodworth Brannon is a Ph.D. candidate in Old Testament at Emory University in Atlanta and is a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).