An On-Going Imagination
A Conversation about Scripture, Faith, and the Thickness of Relationship
- ISBN: 9780664264130
- Published By: Westminster John Knox
- Published: October 2019
An On-going Imagination: A Conversation about Scripture, Faith, and the Thickness of Relationship, a slender volume, contains a collection of conversations between Walter Brueggemann and Clover Reuter Beal. In these conversations, Brueggemann, the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, and Reuter Beal, co-lead pastor of Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Denver—and one of Brueggemann’s former students—discuss the intricacies of Brueggemann’s scholarship. These conversations took place at various times over several years, the first of which was in 2011 at Forest Hill Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where Reuter Beal was then serving as pastor. Others took place at Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Denver (another church Beal served), and some happened over coffee. All these conversations have been transcribed and edited by Timothy Beal, another student of Brueggemann’s and spouse to Reuter Beal.
In the foreword, Timothy Beal writes about the origins of this volume: as he listened to these conversations between Reuter Beal and Brueggemann, he became aware that “something special was happening” (xi). The student-teacher relationship become longtime friendship created a space for open and honest dialogue to explore “fresh ways of accessing some of Walter’s most challenging ideas and most influential publications” (xi). These conversations, brought together into one volume, provide a succinct and accessible guide to key themes in Brueggemann’s opus: his emphasis on the “doxological imagination” (40), his stress on the “world-making” power of language (53–54) and his literary approach to reading the biblical text (68), his commitment to social justice (107, 115), and the role of doxology and preaching/teaching in providing the church with an alternative imagination to “totalism”—the ideology or constructed world of empire (90).
The informal dialogue allows for autobiographical asides, creating poignant resonances between Brueggemann’s life and work. For example, Brueggemann’s experience of psychotherapy (19–21) gives him language to describe the God he meets in the text. On Brueggemann’s reading, this “irascible” God cannot be “domesticated” to fit categories determined by Western Enlightenment rationality (60–61). Rather, Brueggemann finds it helpful to describe this God as being “in recovery from having been an agent of violence” (52, 64–68).
This volume excels in ascribing honor to an influential biblical scholar who has shaped and inspired the imagination of the church. However, the book focuses on summarizing what Brueggemann has already written instead of generating new directions based on his work. To take one example, at a couple of points, Reuter Beal and Brueggemann discuss the entrapment of the church in “static” notions of Greek philosophy as opposed to the dynamism of the God in the biblical text (21, 49–52, 77–78), and they tease out Brueggemann’s thoughts on the tension between “Jesus” of the Bible and the formulae of the “creeds” (78–79). Yet later in the book, Brueggemann answers Reuter Beal’s question about identifying the “marks of the church” by saying that the church fails when it loses what the doctrine of the Trinity is trying to capture (121). The reader is left wondering how to understand the interplay between the biblical witness, the later creeds, and ecclesial authority. While Brueggemann’s emphasis on relationality provides a direction for further thought, a more comprehensive hermeneutical mapping is not to be found here. One is still left with the question of what relationships are authoritative for understanding the God of the Bible. The dialogues could do more to move Brueggemann’s conclusions beyond the level of summary.
Yet, the value of the book is in this very dialogical format. The warm back-and-forth of the two interlocutors is refreshing—and appropriate for the work of a scholar who stresses relationality throughout his writing. Additionally, for those wondering what this scholar’s work is about, this volume presents a helpful summary—a “very short introduction.”
In a conversation recorded toward the end of the book, Reuter Beal asks Brueggemann what he is most proud of and what he wants to be remembered for. He answers that he is most proud of his students, the notion of imagination, and his work for sake of church (129–31). He hopes that he will be remembered as a close reader of the biblical text (129), and for his emphasis on social justice and reformation of the church (131). This book facilitates that memory.
Amy Whisenand Krall is assistant professor of biblical and theological studies at Fresno Pacific University.Amy Whisenand KrallDate Of Review:February 14, 2022