Dec 072015

In his book, A Social Reading of the Old Testament: Prophetic Approaches to Israel’s Communal Life, Walter Brueggemann explores three different stages in the life of Israel and asks questions about how they can inform different models of the church – arguing that it is important that the church continually needs to re-examine the models it bases itself on.

(For quotes and references see chapter 13 of his book)

The three different phases he refers to are:brueggemann social reading

  1. Monarchy (David to exile)
  2. Pre-monarchy (Moses to David)
  3. Exile / post-exile


Here Brueggemann identifies four things relevant to this phase in the life of God’s people:

  1. There were legitimate and well-financed religious structures with recognised, funded leadership with the temple and its priesthood playing a major role in society
  2. Civic leadership – through the kings – was publicly committed to the same theological bases
  3. The educated and the bureaucrats were part of this system
  4. It was in this context that the prophets were most vocal and prominent as they spoke out against deviation from God’s law. They were recognised as valid participants in conversations about life and state

He argues that this combination of religion, government, education and public scrutiny were tightly integrated and suggests that this is the ‘governing model of modern, established Christianity in the West’. And historically he is right. The question must be whether, in a society that is very different from this, does the church still see itself in this way? If so, is it seeking to engage in ways that are no longer appropriate as how it is perceived by society has fundamentally changed?


Brueggemann recognise that even though monarchy may be the dominant model we think of there was something before this – something that governed and informed the life of Israel after they entered the Land and before they had a king. He identifies five characteristics of this model:

  1. Life and faith were modelled around the events of the Exodus which involved disengaging from the prevailing power structures of the day
  2. The meeting with God at Sinai, and the ongoing reinterpreting of the law, to reflect different contexts, caused them to continue to rethink faith and practice in light of its liberation
  3. It had none of the structures described in the monarchic model – no temple, no king, no central teachers, no prophets. It had to “make up everything as it went along”
  4. It was not unified nor really connected – very much a tribal system with local authority (if that)
  5. it was living on the margins in terms of social and economic sustainability – and had to rely on God as opposed to its own resources

He suggests that this model is typical of what we might see in a new church as it is planted and grows – populated by people who are ready to risk everything and to centre themselves in what God has done for them.

Exile / Post-Exile

The third model Brueggemann recognises is that of exile and the return from exile. And he suggests another five things that characterise this model:

  1. The people of faith lived in a society where they had “little influence over public policy”. None of the great emperors of the day really worried about them or what they were doing as they had become politically insignificant
  2. There was a great temptation to conform with, and be absorbed by, the culture of the day
  3. In the face of these two realities the community had to work hard even to survive and it did this by reminding itself of its past, rooting itself in what it believed and ensuring they were connected together
  4. They engaged in “the intense practice of hope” – particularly in that which God had promised to do for them
  5. They became “an intensely textual community” with the text they had been given being a controlling and guiding influence on who they were

He concludes that:

circumstance required a shift from a temple-royal-prophetic community to a textual community that struggled with the text in all its truth and in all its dangerous subversiveness, continually witnessing to another mode of reality

Walter Brueggemann, A Social Reading of the Old Testament: Prophetic Approaches to Israel’s Communal Life (ed. Patrick D. Miller; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), 272.

One of the questions Brueggemman raises is whether the church sees itself as existing in “monarchal times” (with associated models) whereas it is really existing in “exile / post-exile” and should be engaging as such. And it is difficult to deny that the first three points of his “exile / post-exile” model strike a chord with the church in the West today, and raises the question as to whether we are / are prepared to be “people of hope” and “people of the text”.


At the end of his chapter, Brueggemann suggests three things:

  1. With the collapse of “modernity” – and with our dominant models of church being based on modernity – some of our presuppositions around “being church” are no longer valid
  2. Conventional kinds of theological speech are no longer accepted as “public speech”
  3. Many of our young people have “only the vaguest idea of what we intend in our faith”

He argues that we may need to look at living in pre-monarchic or post-exilic models and that this may not be something we should, or God will, cringe at.

The context for us all will be different but Brueggemann’s analysis is worthy of consideration and reflection as we seek to re-imagine how we should live as communities of God’s people and as carriers of his blessing to the world.

Sep 102014

A group of us have just returned from a trip to Israel. It was a wonderful and fascinating experience and I’ll

jerusalem under herodprobably reflect on other aspects of the trip in later posts. But here I want to focus on the privilege of being in Jerusalem and visiting some of the sites which were (or were near to) places which figured in the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus. Walking those streets, looking out over the city, thinking about some of the events was a powerful and moving experience and reminded me of the eternally significant encounter and confrontation which was taking place.

From the top of the Mount of Olives we looked over the valley mount of olivesand onto the hill of Jerusalem – a sight which would have confronted Jesus as he made that journey.


We went down into the Garden of Gethsemane and saw the olive trees – some of which may have been there when Jesus contemplated what was ahead of him, when He cried out to his gethsemanefather, where he was betrayed by a close friend and when He was arrested and led away. Here we see the start of the confrontation – between those who were seeking to ensure ritual and legal purity, those who were seeking to maintain the status quo with the occupying Roman forces against a man who was making claims about who He was and the importance of following Him.

As we went into St Peter in Gallicantu – built to commemorate the house of the high priest where Jesus endured gallicantuhis first trial – we thought about how he was denied by one of his closest followers, was subject to an illegal trial and interrogated as to who he really was. Before the high priest, the religious leader of his people, he confidently stated that he was, indeed, the Messiah – the one whom God has promised to send to redeem his people. He made it clear that he would, one day, by seen seated in power and authority at God’s right hand (Matthew 26:63-54). This was too much for the priest, as he saw all that he stood for being challenged and under threat and so sent him on to the Roman governor for further examination.

We saw the place where Jesus was thought to have been examined by the Roman governor, the local antonio fortressrepresentative of the most powerful empire in the world who found him not guilty but – under pressure – still caused him to be beaten and condemned him to death.

For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. (Luke 23:22–25)

And, soberly and thoughtfully, we visited the Chapel of the Flagellation where, traditionally, that beating took place.

We walked the streets which (or near which) Jesus would have walked and visited the most likely sites of his crucifixion, burial golgothaand resurrection and reflected on those word-changing events and their significance.

There was a sense of pilgrimage, a sense of history, a sense of something amazingly significant happening as we remindedgarden tomb ourselves of how one man, in humility and gentleness and love, stood against the forces which were massed against him, endured all they could heap on him and emerged victorious.

He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: (Luke 24:6)

On one hand we see the inhumanity of man, the desperate desire to hang on to power, the willingness to forgo justice in order to achieve their goals and the surprising alliance between opposing forces united – for a moment – against a common perceived threat. And how often we see the same happening today. On the other hand we see someone who, even when in chains and beaten, was in total control of the situation, behaved with quiet confidence, knew what he was going to do and accomplished his purpose for the benefit of all creation.

A clash of kingdoms but where the one who seemed outnumbered, outgunned and defeated was victorious and triumphant. And for those who have chosen to follow him he calls us to continue to stand against the forces and power of evil wherever we find it and work to bring his kingdom to earth.