You know how enthusiasts for one author or another say that each publication by their favoured writer is an "event"?
And you know how we all nod sceptically, roll the metaphorical eyes and forgive the enthusiasm but wish for some balanced realism?
Well it wouldn't be true to say every book Walter Brueggemann publishes is an "event". Some are slim, some are derivative of earlier work, and maybe he just publishes too much.
Or maybe not.
In any case this collection of essays and lectures does, at least for enthusiasts of Brueggemann's theological adventurousness, deserve "event" status. It is a hardback at £12.99 which is the least significant reason for buying it. It touches major areas of theological importance for Christian thinkers grappling with the implications for a fixed shape church, of a liquid world, and the cost and consequences of ignoring a culture that is rapidly transforming and transformative of human behaviours, perceptions and life goals. It is written with the usual startling originality of verbal juxtaposition - I use the clumsy term deliberately because there are few writers who so cleverly and persuasively write to undermine familiarity and subvert cosy worldviews long held in the cherished corners of our allegedly Christian pieties.
The book comes at the right time. Lent is nearly upon us - and rather than grovel around in the scary recesses of our own guilty and self-pre-occupied souls, here's a book that will dare us to look out, not in; to think of the other, not me; to listen for the strange voice of God rather than the familiar voice of our favourite devotional writers; to sing new and upsetting songs rather than the songs of our imagined Zion to which we are blithely marching; and to pay attention to the pain and hopes of the oppressed and vulnerable rather than worry about the prospects for the church in a postmodern culture which long ago stopped taking the church seriously as a cultural, intellectual or spiritual rival worth taking on.
And if all that sounds like a rant, it probably is. But I am no longer persuaded by the strident calls to do this and that; nor attracted to emotional, personal, individual apprehensions of spirituality, even when communally pursued and practiced. I am much more persuaded by, attracted to, a spirituality that is astringent, alert to the church's self-concern, critical of the cultural status quo (Brueggemann calls it the capitalist, consuymerist hegemony of empire!), and ready to listen to new ways of serving and following faithfully after Jesus come hell or high water. And the gates of hell shall not prevail - you will notice that I decline to capitalise hell - it has no ultimacy.
The Body of Christ in the world is a subversive community daring to embody a Gospel of reconciliation. We are people gathered beneath the cross but with our faces turned towards the dawn and that displaced stone, discarded shroud and defeated grave, - these are the realities for the church, by which we live, and by which we take on both the hell and the high water. And the last people who should be afraid of high water are baptised Christians, who through immersion declare the resurrection; and the last peopel to fear hell are those who have the nerve to call Jesus Lord, and in doing so hold their nerve in the face of whatever. I've no idea where the church is now going - how and in what shape it will survive in such a messy, mashed up, scintillatingly unpredictable world with its polarities and similarities, its paradoxes and possibilities. But wherever it's going - John 3.16 remains a defining statement of its destiny - it is a God-loved world, and the business of the church is to go on arguing that - by the way we live in faithfully following Jesus.