Celebrating Biblical Commentaries

& Books.

Students who have had me as a professor within the last six years or so are probably aware that my very favorite commentary on any book of the Bible is Matthew: A Commentary, 2d ed. by Frederick Dale Bruner (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004; paper 2007).  This massive, two-volume commentary is, so I would argue, in a league of its own.  Now, it should be said that I have a large set of commentaries and, in fact, have updated a bibliography of commentaries several times over the last decade.  I know commentaries fairly well.  And I know massive commentaries rather well.  But Bruner’s is different.  Unlike most commentaries of its size, it is not filled with minutiae, details that might interest lexicographers or historians but would bore many preachers.

Repeatedly Bruner’s rich spiritual reflections usher the reader not only deeply into the theological meat of the text, but also, to the attentive and prayerful reader, often into the very presence of God.  He has a way, in almost every set of reflections, of bringing to life the clarion call and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  At times he reminds me of Karl Barth, other times of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He has the passion for grace of a Luther and the commitment to serious discipleship of a Menno Simons.  Or put differently, discerningly mining twenty centuries of a rich interpretive tradition, Bruner seeks again and again to hear the active voice of a living God speaking afresh through the text of Matthew’s Gospel—attempting with his considerable gifts to convey it to the reader.

One of the reasons I am posting this now is because I am going to use my blog to alert readers to important books.  For any who have not heard me say it in class here: “buy Bruner’s commentary on Matthew.”  It not only will enrich your preaching; it will enrich your soul.  (And I should say—to those who use the lectionary—that I always see if there is serious overlap between, say, the Gospel of Mark and Matthew; if there is, with an awareness of the differences, I use Bruner as my commentary of choice even when preaching from Mark.)

However, I am writing this now because a significant event transpired last week.  For over ten years I have been waiting for Bruner’s commentary on the Gospel of John, actively for more than a year.  (Following a brief conversation with Bruner in the library of Fuller seminary well more than a year ago, he graciously sent me the pre-published version of his comments on John 13, so I could consult them as I revised an essay I had written for The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics on footwashing.)  I now hold in my hands the long awaited 1281-page The Gospel of John: A Commentary by Frederick Dale Bruner (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012).  Though I have only read his comments on a couple of passages thus far, I still feel confident in saying: “buy it, BUY IT!(more…)

Walter Brueggemann, Take Two

& Uncategorized.

The following long quote that opens a recent essay by Brueggemann reminds me of why I have loved his writings over the years:

“As the Holy One of Israel, [YHWH] consecrates his people to obedience and service and separateness from the ways of the nations; as King, he rules the world with justice and the peoples with his truth; as Father, he exercises his power and authority, yet with compassion and love; as leader on the way, he guides his people on its way through history; as teacher, he grasps the pupil by the hand and instructs him, and subjects him to his firm but merciful discipline.  It is this God to whomIsraelis urged to listen, the God who granted the inspiration and motivation to obedience in the glad good news of liberation from slavery and who provided the basis for allegiance and fidelity in the covenant at Sinai.

“Amidst all the feverish preoccupation with riches and power and comfort; all the bustling commercial activity and the ever-rising prices; the building of fortifications for defense and of fine houses for the privileged; the elaboration of cultic observances with their sumptuous festivals and celebrations, their pilgrimages and rites, their music and choirs, and, withal, the syncretism with the cults of nature and prosperity—amidst all there was one voice that was stifled and repressed.  It was the voice ofIsrael’s covenant-making and covenant-keeping God.  But was it stilled?  Not quite!  For there were prophets in the land to sound the cry of protest and outrage, repeating with the urgency born of faith and memory and holy awe, God’s categorical and insistent ‘thou shalt not.’”

(James Muilenburg, Brueggemann’s former teacher, quoted in “”Vision for a New Church and a New Century: Part I: Homework Against Scarcity, “ in The Word That Redesribes the World: The Bible and Discipleship by Walter Brueggemann, ed. Patrick D. Miller (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 157.)

This wonderful, theologically rich quote points more than anything else to God—the God of Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And yet, knowing that this God is in a covenantal relationship with Israel, Muilenburg (and thus Brueggemann quoting him) also names the faithfulness required of those in covenant with this God.  (However, Brueggemann’s essay that supposedly unfolds from the quote is both less rich theologically and less holistic in its claims.)

Reiterating what I said in my last set of reflections, I want to continue to point Christians, including preachers, to Brueggemann’s writings, especially his commentaries.

However, in recent years I have been less taken with Brueggemann than in the past.  Perhaps this is in part simply because I have read a lot of his writings; he is often repeating himself these days.  But I think it is more than that.  I have become clearer about some of my criticisms, a few of which I will name.  All of them are interrelated. (more…)

Walter Brueggemann, Take One

& Uncategorized.

Noted Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann is speaking this week during our School for Leadership Training at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, where I teach.  Something like ten years ago, while I was director of the London Mennonite Centre, London, England, I wrote a few paragraphs about Brueggemann basically for in-house use for our book service, in order to promote Brueggemann’s books.  I happily did this because I believed what I wrote:

No one writing on the Bible is more consistently provocative, interesting, challenging, and imaginative than Walter Brueggemann. I imagine there is no Scripture scholar in America who sells more books or informs more sermons. For those Christians who yearn for serious, biblically informed engagement with our contemporary world there is no one more stimulating to read than Brueggemann. The man rarely writes a boring page. He is thoroughly knowledgeable as an Old Testament scholar–not to mention reasonably informed on theology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and several other fields–and yet he writes with such verve that he is a joy to read.

One of the most famous American preachers once said at a conference on preaching that if there was only one book every preacher should have, it was Walter Brueggemann’s The Message of the Psalms. I would almost go so far as to say that if there is any one author every preacher should have in her (or his) library, it should be Walter Brueggemann. Any preacher who does not use Brueggemann as a companion in preparation of sermons is cheating herself and her congregation! (more…)

Anabaptist Nation? “True Evangelical Faith”

& Uncategorized.

A former student suggested “Anabaptist Nation” as the name of my blog.  There are various reasons I’m fine with that name.  However, I begin this blog with the most famous quote from Menno Simons, the sixteenth-century Anabaptist whose name was adopted by one of the groups that has carried on the Anabaptist heritage.  I follow this brief excerpt with the full paragraph from which the excerpt is drawn, thus appropriately complexifying the excerpt, beginning to locate the brief quote in a larger theological context.  The whole paragraph is a wonderful set of challenges to live with.  The excerpt and the paragraph from which it is taken begin, in various ways, to name some of my central passions today. 


“For true evangelical faith is of such nature that it cannot lie dormant, but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love . . . it clothes the naked; it feeds the hungry; it comforts the sorrowful; it shelters the destitute; it aids and consoles the sad; it returns good for evil; it serves those that harm it; it prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes. . . it binds up that which is wounded; it heals that which is diseased and it saves that which is sound; it has become all things to all people.  The persecution, suffering, and anguish which befall it for the sake of the truth of the Lord is to it a glorious joy and consolation.”