Saturday, January 30, 2010

biblical perspectives on evangelism

by Walter Brueggemann, Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe on Amazon.
biblical perspectives coverAfter my recent 4th reading of this tightly focused book, I knew it was time for a blog. Did you know the colonial Americans - some of the antecedents of today's United Church of Christ insisted God acts in history only by covenanting? In scripture we can trace a series of significant covenants from Adam through Jesus, but was not the Divine passion for relationship that engendered creation in itself a covenantal act? Throughout the author emphasizes obedience along with explaining why we need to remember... after all, when we forget the possibility of a free future is all over. (Therefore, I'm making a conscious attempt to remember more clearly, even to revisit the past I've often almost choked on in order to start claiming a freer future for myself and those around me, too.)

Rooted firmly in the Hebrew Bible, in God's loving grace and the possibility of human response, reminding us about ways to be and ways to live as the people of God (=as the Church), just as in many of his other books, Walter Brueggemann emphasizes the importance of the commandments. On page 31 he describes the ten commandments as "the working documents for covenanted community..." on page 68 "covenant is ... a relation which frees each in vulnerability to receive life from the other, to be postured in mutual dependence." The commandments are "...boundaries and limits which define the horizon of covenantal humanity." On page 115: just as earthly parents teach their offspring that which concerns them most, our heavenly parents do exactly the same. "I do suggest, however, that the ten commands turn out to be God's most 'cared for matters.'" And he includes references to his other two non-negotiables: the tithe and the sabbath.

The world is about a multi-faceted "3-stories" of architectural floors or tiers and narrative tales about the lives of people: long-time insiders to the gospel, typical outsiders, and the next generation coming up. In addition, there are three central narrative stories in the salvation story (Heilsgeschichte) that in turn opens us to 3 scenes to the evangelism drama:
  1. God's victory over chaos and death
  2. the announcement of that victory—"gospel"
  3. its appropriation by those who hear the announcement
3 stories are focal and normative and definitive:
  1. the promise made to the [Israel's] ancestors
  2. deliverance from slavery
  3. the gift of the land
WB offers a pair of concrete definitions of evangelism, an activity impacting every aspect of life—personal, public, economic, political... first on page 10 "Evangelism ... is the invitation to re-imagine our lives in these narrative modes." And last, in the conclusion on page 129 "Evangelism ... is an activity of transformed consciousness that results in an altered perception of world, neighbor and self, and an authorization to live differently in that world."

WB brings us a trilogy to illustrate the 3 stories:

1. Joshua 24 "a meeting at Shechem whereby outsiders become insiders"

2. in Nehemiah 8 forgetful at least one-time insider members are "re-tented into the passionate vision of risk and vulnerability that is decisive for the community."

3. ongoing conversation with the offspring of believers/insiders = "children becoming adults." In this [hopefully] dialogue, [page 55]"It is always 'them' and it is always 'us,' always then and now, always there and here, concerning all of this community of telling and listening through time."

That continuing, continuous conversation is because " Jesus Christ, God has overcome the power, threat, and attraction of the power of death" and [pages 37-38]"...the continued re-enaction of this dangerous [page 38] news ... is the definitional account of [the church's] life in the world." But what news, news for what? [page 43] " for alternative obedience in the world" as we [page 46] "...recover the focal drama of baptism, which is a subversive act of renunciation and embrace" and are summoned [page 47] "From our several enslavements ... to a common, liberated obedience."

Regarding our ongoing need to live faithfully in the twenty-first century, yet possibly concerned that the texts we rely on were transmitted and recorded thousands of years ago, WB reminds us "...all through the Bible the gospel has been exactly and precisely concerned with social relations related to power, goods, and access. Indeed, there is almost no aspect of the biblical presentation of the gospel that is otherwise." [pages 40-41] "The victory of God in our time over this deathly idolatry is hidden from us. ... It is hidden in the cross where it is always hidden, and in all subsequent manifestations of the power of the cross." In his marvelous book The Land, WB explains how the Church has concentrated on covenant to the near-exclusion of the centrality of land in the biblical witness and, without a doubt, in current twenty-first century politics and economics.

Some reasons for us to remember, remember, remember...include
page 78 "If Israel, birthed in liberation [Exodus] and situated in covenant [Sinai], forgets these memories, it will very soon start playing the old power games of Egypt, and start practicing brick quotas again in order to get ahead by the standards of the empire."

page 78 "Everything depends on a live memory. Everything is jeopardized by careless forgetting. Everything ride on remembering and forgetting."

page 79 Jeremiah 2:1-13 Israel did not say, did not proclaim, announce or confess their history with the God who liberated them because they had forgotten the story, the history...

page 82 parallels Deuteronomy 8 || Jeremiah 2

page 82 "And when they forget, they forget the past, they forget Yahweh, they forget themselves, their history, their identity, their faith, their vocation, their raison d'etre."

page 83 "... the Bible is constant in asserting that this terrible ending ... is rooted in the loss of [torah] memory."

page 84 "Remembering is the hard choosing of an alternative present, authorized by a subversive past. When that subversive past is given up, an alternative present is rendered completely unavailable."

page 72: by the time of Nehemiah 8, Israel is a "people of the book." But in the re-texting of Israel in the Festival of Booths "Israel must bodily re-experience and re-enact the memory, recovering its vulnerability in bodily exposure."

parallel to his words on page 75, "This old [torah] text of Israel's memory never exists as authoritative for the community without imaginative interpretation." "people of the interpreted book", on page 97 WB tells us conversation with youth "in a context of unconditional advocacy ... that mediates free grace." [page 98] "The conversation with our young must be persistently interpretive."
Closely related to the near-plethora of existential and situation insecurities in which almost everyone currently finds themselves, I love WB explaining [page 87] how in Nehemiah 8:13-18 "olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm and other leafy trees" make the temporary shelters for Succoth, the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles, granting participants both "exposed homelessness" and "true homefulness". Interesting too, was the experience of the newly-borning people of God with a God who traveled alongside them in a tabernacle, a portable shelter and gospel-writer John (1:14) tells us how incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, God pitches a tent, a tabernacle.

Amidst all this talk about following and keeping the commandments in gracious response to the God Who in Jesus Christ calls us, saves us and sanctifies us by grace, [page 114] Martin Luther begins his Small Catechism, traditional preparation for First Communion with the Ten Commandments, "...for the one with whom the church communes is Lord of the commands. Finally it comes down to that, but it does not come down to that quickly or simply."

The church charges parents and sponsors of a child or children to be baptized to teach them the Lord's Prayer, the Creed and the Commandments; to bring them to the Services of God's House and Place the Scriptures in their hands. Why? These are some of the ways they can learn, hear and live the story and the stories, make them their stories and remember the stories of the covenanted people of God as they learn the place of their own individual story in the journey of the community. At the services of God's House they celebrate and participate in the Eucharist, God's feast of justice, reconciliation, forgiveness and inclusion for all creation. This is God's manner of making new beginnings that's also a living sign of God's promised end, the eschatological feast of justice and equality, the table of "go and do likewise." They learn to be prepared to forgive and to be forgiven... learning to live every moment "wet behind the ears" again with baptismal water, committed again to Good Friday and to Easter, constantly recovering "...the focal drama of baptism, which is a subversive act of renunciation and embrace" summoning us [page 47] "From our several enslavements ... to a common, liberated obedience."

In his conclusion, WB insists evangelism isn't an ecclesial, a church thing, nor a church agenda—"It is rather an offer that we might be on the receiving end of 'all things new.'"

my amazon review: grace, memory, faithfulness and life


  1. Leah,
    I am always so amazed at your ability to write so beautifully! I once heard that if you could summarize our duty in the gospel to one word it would be "remember". I love what you have written about remembering and covenanting; I especially like this quote you have included:

    "a covenant is ... a relation which frees each in vulnerability to receive life from the other, to be postured in mutual dependence."

    I especially love this image as it pertains to the covenant of eternal marriage (a covenant between man, wife and God). So many people these days think of marriage as confining and limiting but in reality it is freeing.

    congrats on painting your condo! I bet it looks great!

  2. thanks, Sara! I hadn't heard about "remember" being The Way to live the gospel, but it does make sense and gives us essential perspective. My halls and walls are lookin' good; I'll get some pics up on FB after I've done a little more. I miss you so much!


thanks for visiting—peace and joy to all of us!