People of the Books: Finally Comes the Poet by Walter Brueggemann

Dear Interpreter,
With all the love in the world, I really hate you sometimes.

Finally Comes the Poet was loaned to me many (many) months ago in a stack of other books with far more intimidating titles.  I picked it first of the collection thinking it was about writing.  Hey, great; I’m a writer.  I like books on writing.

Surprise!  It is, in fact, on preaching (whole different kind of writing).  And not on the mechanics of preaching, but on the risk-taking, soul-baring, Spirit-filled, impactful nature of preaching, the place of mouth and mouthpiece the preacher occupies in the relationship of God and His people.

No pressure.

If I didn’t want to run screaming for the hills at the very possibility of ever becoming a preacher before, I sure as hell do now.  The incredible responsibility and burden Brueggemann articulates for the preacher are enough to make sane folk head toward easier pickings, like brain surgery or rocket science.

And yet…

There is such vitality in Brueggemann’s writing—doubly so, as this version on loan had a lot of Interpreter’s notes and reactions in the margins from when he was just figuring all of this out, which was awesome. It created a three-way conversation of sorts, which helped ease the shock of the first few chapters.  Brueggemann recognizes the weight of the task he describes—but his passion for its necessity sucks you in.  He quotes Joseph Stittler for the assertion that “that’s what a sermon is for:  to hang the holy possible in front of the mind of the listeners and lead them to that wonderful moment when they say, ‘If it were true, it would do.’  To pass from that to belief is the work of the Holy Spirit, not of the preacher or the teacher.”  (162n30)   This is what makes the book work; Brueggemann continually returns to this idea that the preacher must indeed act in incredible responsibility, but never without the presence and strength of the God Who asks for the relationship in the first place.  He wonders also if perhaps “because of the odds and the challenge, the preacher must speak.”  (142)

So much is tackled in these relatively few pages.  The chapters are “Numbness and Ache,” “Alienation and Rage,” “Restlessness and Greed,” and “Resistance and Relinquishment.”  No fluffiness to be found.  And that’s fantastic; preaching—well, effective preaching—doesn’t pretend that the world is perfect and God does everything we want Him to.  That’s not real, and no one going into preaching should try to make it real, because it undermines the power of a relationship with a living deity.  So Brueggemann says sure, go ahead, get mad at God.  Admit that sometimes you feel like He’s left.  Israel did.  And there is the exhortation to preachers to be that conversation starter, to allow for their own feelings of betrayal but also give a voice to the congregation seeking the God Who may or may not have left the building.  It’s a very tight space, really, and Brueggemann never hides that fact—which I appreciated.  But at the end of it is this ineffable God Who desires so much more, and the ability to name that more is also the preacher’s, which is really, really cool.

Brueggemann’s exegesis isn’t always in line with mine (which is a gutsy thing to say, considering what a heavyweight of an intellectual and theologian he is and what a non-entity of the field I am), but a lot of it I’d never even begun to consider before.  What he does with Daniel especially is wonderfully interesting.  Do keep in mind, when reading, that Brueggemann is an Old Testament scholar, so that’s where he spends most of his time and the Hebrew will come to play.  (Learning it has moved a bit further up my to-do list.)

Only a few less-than-praises; I felt like the continual return of every chapter to the title/thesis was a bit forced sometimes.  Also, the book itself can’t be taken at a run—it took me some eight or so months to read this, partially due to school and work, but also because this book is like taffy.  You have to take small bites and chew thoroughly in order to savor the sweet and not choke on it.

Other than that, I will likely be tracking down and buying my own copy to read and re-read and, perhaps, pass on my own marginal notes someday.   Well played, unintentionally sneaky Interpreter, well played.


Rating:  5/5 stars   

3 thoughts on “People of the Books: Finally Comes the Poet by Walter Brueggemann

  1. […] almost every name in the Table of Contents, but man, there are some heavy hitters here.  Walter Brueggemann has an essay, Barbara Brown Taylor has an essay, Fred Craddock has an essay, Thomas G. Long has an […]


  2. Sheila Bigelow says:

    Yep. And another well-written analysis on your part. As you said, you do write very well. Sheila



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