Long-time Biblical scholar positions himself apart from Progressives and Evangelicals
Walter Brueggemann has been writing for the American church for six decades and continues to produce four to five books a year. Best known perhaps for his popular and still relevant Prophetic Imagination (Fortress 1978), Brueggemann’s biography has finally been written by Conrad Kanagy, Professor of Sociology at Elizabethtown College, PA.
The biography is a candid reveal of a Brueggemann whom most readers of his books never encountered. At ninety years of age, the provocative theologian has nothing to lose in revealing the depths of his soul while also speaking a challenging word to the rapidly receding American church. Brueggemann states that “with some important exceptions, my theological writing is nearly all autobiographical.” This means that until we know his story we will never really understand his theology.
Brueggemann reveals that he has “never moved from the German Evangelical Pietism” of his childhood formation, which while tolerant of theological differences also saturated Walter in the biblical text. “I take the Bible seriously but not literally, says Brueggemann. “And I regret that my habitat was among progressives because they have given up on the Bible!”
Furthermore, “I don’t like to be pigeonholed. That’s particularly true of my location in the Church. Evangelicals certainly think I’m a progressive, but I am very suspect among many progressives. And that’s a place where I like to be. I am suspect among progressives because I stay very close to the Bible. I count on the old formula that progressives regard as obsolete and passe. That formula is that we are saved by grace alone.”
At the same time, Brueggemann rejects the current version of evangelicalism, which he sees as stuck in theological categories of the 18th and 19th centuries. And he sees both progressives and evangelicals as coopted by the political and economic empires of the day. Brueggemann offers a viable third way between left and right–a path that embraces the Bible, accepts God as a sovereign and active agent who is capable of being moved by our prayers, focuses on theological essentials, and offers hope in a free God who commands and even uses empires for providential purposes.
While these revelations have surprised many who thought they knew Brueggemann, his biographer remarks that “Walter has been amazingly consistent in his Christian commitments since childhood. He was post-critical before anyone else, but with an interpretive mode that kept him deeply connected to the scriptures and in an intimate relationship with the God of those scriptures.”
“As a pastor deeply impacted by church upheaval during COVID-19 and increasingly in trouble for challenging the local and national church’s cooptation by Trumpism and Christian nationalism, I turned to Walter for his biography. When he told me he didn’t have one, out of desperation I asked if I could write it. He said yes, fully collaborated, and we completed it within six months.”
Professor Ellen Davis of Duke Divinity School says “This is the only biography I am aware of written about a contemporary biblical scholar.” Sales of the book have been unprecedented for an academic work, and it was named one of the Top 15 theology books of 2023 by Englewood Review of Books.
Kanagy has been appointed Editor by Fortress Press of three Brueggemann books. The Emancipation of God (Fortress, 2024) is a collection of essays about contemporary social issues, that offers a biblical defense for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church, addresses God’s “dismantling of the contemporary church,” and compares the “prophetic imagination” with much of the church’s current “pathetic imagination.”
A second book is forthcoming (Fortress, August 2024) and available for pre-order entitled Poverty in the Promised Land. Those who pre-order will receive advance excerpts from the book, a study guide, and three video recordings of the Editor discussing the book (email [email protected]). A third volume entitled Old Worlds for New Worlds is forthcoming in the Spring, of 2025 (Fortress).
“While Brueggemann has always been special, his current writing reflects the sharpness of a sword honed by decades in God’s words and in a dialogical relationship with that God. In addition, he has an eye on the eternal horizon that seems to be energizing one who was already the most prolific biblical scholar of the last half-century,” says Kanagy. “For those looking for hope and a guide for faithfully living out the biblical story, there is no better read right now than Walter Brueggemann.”
Purchase all of these wherever books are sold–Amazon currently offers a 45% discount bringing the paperback to 13.80. Kindle study guides for all books are or soon will be available.
Conrad L Kanagy
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.