Walter Brueggemann: The Bible Makes Sense

Every month or two I observe a day of solitude. On these sacred days I retreat from the city to a place of rest and reflection. I usually spend the whole day reading the Bible, praying, thinking, meditating, and reflecting.

My destination of choice for the past few years has been the St. Benedict Center, a Benedictine monastery and retreat center in Schuyler, Nebraska. The Catholics may be theologically poor, but they are architecturally rich, and they know how to create sacred space. (Maybe sometime soon, by the grace of God, we evangelicals will learn that a gymnasium and a chapel for the reflective worship of the Triune God are not the same thing.)

Each time I retreat to St. Benedict’s, I spend an hour or two perusing the solarium library. In between the abundant volumes of apostate Roman Catholic theology, the discerning reader can find devotional works by the likes of Bernard of Clairvaux and Henri Nouwen and biographies of great historical figures like Joan of Arc and Mother Teresa. Today, I happened upon a work by Walter Brueggemann called The Bible Makes Sense. Brueggemann is a Protestant, so I was mildly surprised to find his volume in the monks’ library. I sat down to give it a read.

Plagiarism laws prevent me from reproducing the whole book on this blog, and brevity mitigates against my desire to pass along extended quotations from every page. I will settle for a simple request: those of you who want to read the Bible intelligently should read Bruggemann’s book. You may not agree with every point (and you probably shouldn’t). But you will burn through its 125 pages in no time, and your reading and study of Scripture will be immeasurably enriched.

To whet your appetite, here are the highlights of his concluding chapter.

[This book] presents a particular perspective on the Bible… Perhaps it would be as well, then… to consider explicitly the presuppositions implicit in [that] perspective.

1. The Bible is a present resource for faith and not a historical curiosity. To say it is a present resource immediately characterizes the Bible as a book in and for the believing community… The Bible [is] a confessional statement kept alive in a confessing community.

2. The Bible is to be discerned as much as a set of questions posed to the church as a set of answers. The Bible IS an answer to the deepest questions of life. And nothing can detract from that. But the Bible is often perverted when regarded as an answer book or a security blanket… If the Bible is only a settled answer, it will not reach us seriously. But it [is not only an answer. It] is also an open question that presses and urges and invites. For that reason the faithful community is never fully comfortable with the Bible and never has finally exhausted its gifts or honored its claims.

3. The Bible is not a statement of conclusions but a statement of presuppositions. The characteristic logic of the Bible is confessional, assertive, and unargued. The Bible does not examine creation and conclude that God is creator… The Bible asserts that God is creator and then draws derivative statements about creation. It confesses that God redeems and then asserts what this means for history… Thus acceptance of the “authority of Scripture” is not based on a formal assessment of the validity of a book but on a faith-decision to take as binding the voice of faith heard in the text… [T]he Bible is the beginning point and not the end result of faithful listening.

4. The Bible is not an “object” for us to study but a partner with whom we may dialogue. It is usual in our modern world to regard any “thing” as an object that will yield its secrets to us if we are diligent and discerning. And certainly this is true of a book that is finished, printed, bound, and that we can buy, sell, shelve, and carry in a briefcase or place on a coffee table…[But] reading the Bible requires that we abandon the subject-object way of perceiving things… [If we do,] the text will continue to contain surprises for us, and conversely we discover that not only do we interpret the text but we in turn are interpreted by the text… We may analyze, but we must also listen and expect to be addressed.

5. The Bible has both a central direction and rich diversity. We may not choose between these. It is like relating to a mature person in dialog. On the one hand there is a rich unpredictability of many resources that can be employed in many different ways. On the other hand, there is a disciplined constancy in which all experience coheres and has a single destiny. It is like that with the Bible, and we must be open always to move in both directions with any given text.

6. The Bible is a lens through which all of life is to be discerned. No experience is seen in a vacuum but always through some set of experiences and some set of presuppositions… The Bible is a special lens. It is radically different from every other perspective… It calls into question every other way of seeing life. Thus at bottom the Bible invites us into a very different way of knowing, discerning, and deciding… [it] affirms a very different paradigm for humanness.

May God continue to shape Coram Deo into a people of the Book.


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  1. A bit off topic but …

    Isn’t architecture a reflection of theology? You seem to separate the two when you reference “theologically poor” and “apostate Roman Catholic theology” – yet it’s this theology that resulted in the sacred space you enjoy. Could it be that not only could evangelicals learn from Catholic architecture, they could learn from some aspects of Catholic theology that under gird that architecture?

    I’m not looking for a fight here. From all of your sermons I’ve listened to I’m confidant we share much in common theologically. There is much in Catholic theology I would disagree with. At the same time, there was a church in existence before the reformation. Even Martin Luther could bring himself to say, “We on our part confess that there is much that is Christian and good under the papacy; indeed everything that is Christian and good is to be found there and has come to us from this source.”


  2. Great, another book on the long list of books that I want to read!

    Thanks Bob! As if I wasn’t already overwhelmed!


  3. Sure, Benedict. All truth is God’s truth, and we should learn all we can from every source possible.

    As long as you’re OK with acknowledging that Roman Catholic theology as a whole is apostate, I’m OK with learning everything we can from the broad history of the church.

  4. Bob, what a joy that you’ve discovered Brueggemann! God has used this mans deep theological love for God to challenge and shape my devotion for Christ. Next time you go on a day of solitude, I highly recommend you take his book of prayers Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth.

  5. Brueggemann is the man! I suggest you read “The Prophetic Imagination”. Be forewarned; it will make your head spin. I had to read it a few times and I’m still pretty trying to make heads or tails of most of it.

  6. Thanks for posting this. I just found your web site and I was glad to find a church like this one in Nebraska. I have been visiting the Imago Dei website for some months now and I just found your church so my hope is to come visit soon. Anyway this spoke volumes to me today because I am a master of pretending…and quite frankly I am tired of it..anyway thanks.

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