Book Reviews – June 2020

At Mass with Jesus on Calvary: Reflections on the Prayers of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
By Fr. Gene Martens, SJ. Reviewed by Fr. James Swetnam, SJ. (skip to review)

Hope to Die: The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body
By Scott Hahn with Emily Stimpson Chapman. Reviewed by Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ. (skip to review)

A Legacy of Preaching: Vols. I & II
By Benjamin Forrest, et al. Reviewed by Fr. Benjamin A. Roberts, DMin. (skip to review)

Church Money: Rebuilding the Way We Fund Our Mission
By Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran. Reviewed by Jon Ericson. (skip to review)

Personal Prayer: A Guide for Receiving the Father’s Love
By Fr. Thomas Acklin, OSB, and Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB. Reviewed by Dcn. James Keating. (skip to review)

Preaching from the Old Testament
By Walter Bruggemann. Reviewed by David L. Hottinger. (skip to review)

At Mass with Jesus on Calvary – Fr. Gene Martens

Martens, SJ, Fr. Gene. At Mass with Jesus on Calvary: Reflections on the Prayers of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. St. Louis, MO: En Route Books and Media, LLC, 2019.
Reviewed by Fr. James Swetnam, SJ.

Fr. Gene Martens, SJ, holds Licentiate Degrees in Philosophy and Theology from St. Louis University and a Certificate of Higher Religious Education from the Institut Pastorale Catechetique of the Catholic Faculty at the University of Strassbourg in France. He has also taught religion at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Missouri, and given many retreats and days of recollection as well as lectures on the nature and meaning of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

A summary of the book’s contents on the back cover gives the value of what Fr. Martens says as well as this reviewer can:

For the ordinary Catholic, this book will clarify the teaching of the Catholic Church on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Even more, by reason of its in-depth reflections on the prayers of the Mass, it will inspire and help Catholics in their daily lives to experience in an ever more meaningful and more enriching way their belief in the Real Presence, their participation in the celebration of the Mass, and their visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Furthermore, should a Catholic who has given up belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist happen to read to read this book, it will enable him or her to realize the truth of this most marvelous gift of God to his Church and thus to accept again its blessing in his or her life.

All of this is achieved in six chapters and three appendices of very readable large type.

Fr. Martens is well aware that the Mass is a mystery that cannot be fully understood or explained in purely human terms. And progress in the study of the Old Testament background of the Eucharist is being made in scholarly circles. (See, for example: Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986 (reprint 2006)]; a translation of J. Ratzinger, Das Fest des Glaubens, 1981.) But the sources Fr. Martens does use he uses clearly and forcefully. Finally, this is a must read for anyone dissatisfied with his or her life in its relationship to the Mass and the Eucharist.

Fr. James Swetnam, SJ, is Professor Emeritus from the Pontifical Biblical Institute and a leading world expert on the Letter to the Hebrews. His website is jamesswetnam.com.

Hope to Die – Hahn, Stimpson Chapman

Hahn, Scott, with Emily Stimpson Chapman. Hope to Die: The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body. Steubenville: Emmaus Publishing, 2020. 176 pages.
Reviewed by Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ.

The indefatigable Scott Hahn of Franciscan University never seems to slow down, even during a time of pandemic, even in the face of death itself. His latest work, co-authored with Catholic writer and blogger Emily Stimpson Chapman, is a timely and profound reflection on the Catholic view of death, rite of burial, and the overall theology of what it means to live in an embodied condition that will come to an end as we know it for each and everyone of us. We might call this a theology of embodiment, as these pages focus our thoughts on the centrality of the body in a creed that hinges upon a God’s becoming flesh. Think of it: the invisible, immaterial God is the very one who invented earth and eggs, fur and fleece; he is the same God who took on the human body and blood of a Virgin Mother; he is the Messiah who became food and drink before he ascended bodily back to Our Father; and he is the same God who promises not to destroy but to redeem a new heaven and a new earth. As all Church Fathers and Medieval Doctors knew, at the heart of this drama is the body of Christ, that one living reality which proves God’s love for his creatures:

It was, of course, within His power thus to have raised His body and displayed it as alive directly after death. But the all-wise Savior did not do this, lest some should deny that it had really or completely died. Besides this, had the interval between His death and resurrection been but two days, the glory of His incorruption might not have appeared. He waited one whole day to show that His body was really dead, and then on the third day showed it incorruptible to all. The interval was no longer, lest people should have forgotten about it and grown doubtful whether it were in truth the same body. No, while the affair was still ringing in their ears and their eyes were still straining and their minds in turmoil, and while those who had put Him to death were still on the spot and themselves witnessing to the fact of it, the Son of God after three days showed His once dead body immortal and incorruptible; and it was evident to all that it was from no natural weakness that the body which the Word indwelt had died, but in order that in it by the Savior’s power death might be done away. (St. Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation §26)

Notice Athanasius’ point here: the body of the Savior was the focal point of all Christian belief. As such, if it had been in the tomb only one day, no one would have believed he really died; if it had been longer than three days, we fickly fallen folk would have forgotten about Jesus. So, in the fullness of time, the Triune God raises up the now “immortal and incorruptible” body of the Incarnate Son and in so doing defeats death for all.

It is this kind of attention to an embodied existence that Hahn and Stimpson Chapman bring to a modern reader. In thirteen brief chapters they discuss the human body as “sacrament,” as the locus of hope for a final condition which knows neither decay nor death, the role of the Eucharist Body of Christ as the Bread of Sojourn for pilgrims still on their way home, what it will mean to live in a glorified body and how the resurrection will prove to be the Trinity’s final “logic of love.”

Perhaps today’s leading biblical theologian, Hahn naturally takes us through the “resurrection hope” of the Old Testament to how Jesus slowly reveals the means and manner of the bodily resurrection to those who find it a hard teaching. Among the more beautiful highlights of this work is how the Sacraments of Christ’s Church continue his fleshy and healing touch. As this time of “social distancing” has shown, the lack of human touch is unnatural and not what we have been made for, certainly not how God has chosen to redeem his world:

Again, throughout the Gospels, Jesus’s body does to our bodies what the sacraments do to our souls. Jesus’s body heals bodies. Jesus’s body teaches bodies. Jesus’s body feeds bodies. Jesus’s body raises bodies from the dead. Throughout his public ministry, powers go forth from his body, restoring people to the fullness of natural life. (64)

What is amazing about these middle chapters is how Christ’s resurrected state is almost always recognized at a meal of his ecclesia, thus binding his ascended power over death and bodily limitation with this embodied God’s promise never to leave us orphans.

When we turn to the Lord’s promise of the resurrection, we learn from the saints and mystics on what the redeemed body in Christ will be: impassible, subtle, agile, and the clear realization of our holiest desires. As the resurrected Body of Christ, the faithful will shine as sings of God’s promises to his people now perfectly and irrevocably fulfilled. But what about the sins and shortcomings? How will the wounds we freely inflicted on ourselves and others appear in heaven? This is where only a cosmically Christian vision can make sense of divine mercy. For in the end, God does not reveal himself as a senile codger who cannot remember the particularities of his children’s life; instead, eternity reveals a God who is so powerful and loving, he mercifully weaves the sins and scars of our earthly life into a story ultimately beautiful and profound:

In a sense, it’s like all of our lives and all of time form a symphony that no human could write and no master musician could perform. And when we hear that symphony in heaven, we will understand how all the dark experiences, all the tragedies, all the minor chords and dissonant sounds contributed something important, making the whole greater and more beautiful than the sum of its parts. (101)

As Hahn and Stimpson Chapman show, from this closing symphony comes the Church’s teaching on bodily care, funerary practices, and the cult of relics. A strong theology against the more modern practice of bodily cremation is advanced here; yet being faithful theologians, our authors refuse to condemn what the Church allows, distinguishing between steadfast doctrine (the body dies and decays but will be resurrected in toto) and discipline (while intact burial is a more fitting symbol, cremation is just the honest admittance that the body will one day be ash anyway). These concluding pages accordingly challenge how we are to think about revering the body and how we are to treat these earthly remains of God’s own.

As the eyes of the world are watching the numbers of death each day, and as the world’s material fragility has never been as strongly admitted as these days of COVID-19, Hahn and Stimpson Chapman offer an antidote, a modern memento mori of sorts. These chapters are clear and concise and this book would make a tremendous gift for anyone who allows him or herself to think deeply about truths most would rather ignore as long as possible. But we shall all die. We shall all make a final account of how we spent these years in this very body. Let us all therefore prepare even now, prepare our hearts to be purified and our minds to receive the hope to die, in Christ.

Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ, is editor of Homiletic and Pastoral Review and the Director of the new Catholic Studies Centre at St. Louis University.

Legacy of Preaching – Forrest et al.

Forrest, Benjamin, with Kevin King Sr., William J. Curtis, Dwayne Milioni, Timothy George (eds.). A Legacy of Preaching, Vol I: Apostles to the Revivalists & Vol II: Enlightenment to the Present Day. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018. 800 pages.
Reviewed by Fr. Benjamin A. Roberts, DMin.

The history of preaching lives in the history of preachers. In this two-volume work, various scholars, who are predominantly from the evangelical protestant tradition, offer an analysis of sixty preachers. Each volume recounts the lives and homiletical contributions of thirty preachers. The first volume begins with St. Paul and concludes with preachers from the eighteenth century. The second volume examines thirty preachers from the nineteenth century to the recent past. All of the recent preachers included in the second volume are either deceased or retired.

The goal of this work is to provide a history of preaching through the lens of biography. Each preacher is treated in approximately fifteen pages and most of the essays follow a similar format. They present a biographical sketch, an analysis of the preacher’s theology of preaching, an examination of his or her methodology for preaching, and an assessment of the preacher’s contribution to preaching. Each essay concludes with an excerpt from a sermon. The format employed for each preacher serves to situate each of them historically and illuminate each of their contributions.

The analysis provided for each preacher is, in almost every case, a work of sound scholarship with a substantial bibliography. The footnotes and bibliographical references provide the reader with avenues for further research and investigation. The brief essays contained in these two volumes do not claim to be the definitive scholarly assessment of any of the preachers who are included. These volumes present an introduction to each of these sixty preachers and with that goal, it succeeds.

There is, however, a significant limitation in these two volumes. On the cover of the book, though not included on the title page, is the claim: “The Life, Theology, and Method of History’s Great Preachers.” As noted earlier, these volumes do include an examination of the life, theology, and method of many preachers from history; but the preachers selected here are a rather exclusive group. These two volumes present only some of the great preachers from history. Admittedly, part of historical analysis is the difficult selection of sources, issues, movements, and persons to be included. The choice of the editors to present thirty preachers from the first 1800 years of the Christian faith in the first volume and the thirty preachers from the last 200 years in the second volume demonstrates a definite historical preference. Also, among the sixty preachers included there are only two women and only five African American preachers. There are no Catholic preachers included in the second volume. The limitation of these volumes is in the preachers selected. These volumes provide a thorough presentation of the preachers included. However, the preachers included do not present a complete, or even a completely representative, company of preachers in the history of Christianity. These are good works to have on the shelves but should not be the only works on the history of preaching.

One of the main strengths of these volumes is that those selected for inclusion were primarily preachers, not primarily professors of preaching. The analysis of their homiletical theology and methods flow from an examination of their practice of preaching. Most of those included are preachers and pastors who know the diverse burdens and responsibilities of proclaiming the Word in the midst of the variety of ministerial obligations. By presenting regular practitioners of pastoral preaching as models from our homiletical history, these volumes offer encouragement to contemporary preachers.

This two-volume work offers a relatively brief yet thorough examination of sixty preachers from the Christian tradition. While primarily from the evangelical protestant perspective these books present sound historical research and homiletical analysis that make them suitable additions in the libraries of students and preachers.

Fr. Benjamin A. Roberts is Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Monroe, NC, and holds a DMin. in Preaching from Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis.

Church Money – White, Corcoran

White, Michael and Tom Corcoran. Church Money: Rebuilding the Way We Fund Our Mission. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2019. 224 pages.
Reviewed by Jon Ericson.

Once again Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran have collaborated on a book, have given of their time and talent to lay bare the difficult topic of money and the church. The authors make it clear in the beginning that their single focus is on that one aspect of stewardship and their intended audience is pastors, financial managers, lay church leaders, and the like. The introduction provides clarity for what is to follow while it establishes a need for a clearer understanding of the relationship of faith, money, and the church. To that end the authors have provided an abundance of practical advice grounded in the concept that a right sense of giving leads to a right spirit within us, spiritual growth that is the foundation for growth in the church.

The book is sensibly organized into three parts: The author’s parish experience, the scriptural basis for giving, and the ways and means for asking for money. Each part has three chapters, each devoted to the presentation and enumeration of facts, insights, lessons, rules, principles, or recommendations.

The five facts discussed in the second chapter are presented with supporting illustrations which both add interest and relevancy to the facts. The third chapter’s “Insights,” which concludes on page 37, speaks of the relationship of scripture, faith, stewardship, and money. The page should be read, then read again for it expresses the essence of the book: Giving is an expression of our faith.

The fourth and fifth chapters provide the scriptural basis for giving, with possibly too much focus on the eternal rewards and too little on the joy and satisfaction enjoyed in the here and now . . . rewards made vivid with specific illustrations. The strength of chapter six, on giving and growth, is reflected in the chapter summation which restates the important nine principles discussed. There are, however, some confusing elements regarding how commitments are made. We are first told that on Stewardship Sunday the congregant’s commitment for the year is made at the Sunday service when “we leave time at the offertory for everyone to fill out a pledge card.” In addition, it is allowed, “If they prefer . . . they can take the card home” (83). On the other hand, when Tom and Father Michael attend to their commitment cards, they pray over it for a week or more (99). Should not the parishioner do the same? To add to the confusion (104) we learn that during Tom’s “Tomily” on stewardship, given weeks before Stewardship Sunday, the commitment cards are handed out. Moreover, we are informed (106) that “Every year we invite every parish household to make a commitment to their plan for giving in the coming year.” My stressing this important sentence focuses attention on the parish household. An illustration here of father, mother, and children praying and planning together would give life to this otherwise mortal prose about “inviting every household.”

On the subject of changing lifestyles, the historical references are excellent, but the concept could be made compelling by using contemporary examples. While the story of the slave ship captain is hardly contemporary, “Amazing Grace” does come to mind. Father Michael likely has dozens of examples of real-life stories. Regarding the principle of just compensation it is stated that “if someone has blessed you spiritually, you should provide them with material blessings.” This presumably was intended to apply to the particular context of a pastor and his church, but as stated it is too broad a generalization to be applicable to real life.

The chapter moves on to the subject of having “a right vision” for mission support without giving some substance that might lead to a right vision. The availability of information is enormous. As for “teaching the rich,” it might begin by describing the richness of the congregants. For example, if one has ten dollars, shoes on the feet, a roof for shelter, and one hot, nutritional meal a day, then that person is among the top 18% of the richest people in the world. The point here is that although this is a strong chapter, it could be even stronger with vivid examples and illustrations drawn from the author’s rich, personal experience.

The third part of the book centers on the critically important matter of the ways and means of asking for money. Both the shy layperson new to fundraising and the experienced professional can benefit from the informed judgments and wise counsel drawn from the author’s personal experience. Part of that experience for each of them is to begin their commitment journey with prayer. Congregational prayer is then described, but no application of the pastor’s prayer practice is made to the individual congregant or to the parish home. It seems it should have been.

The conclusion begins weakly and negatively with attention to wrong images of God and ends strongly by once again presenting the idea of giving our money as a reflection of our capacity for trust, of our faith, and our love for God and his whole creation.

As an addendum to this review it needs to be observed that the publisher’s editing of this book is inconsistent with the quality of the contents. For a book that will likely have a positive impact on the Church for many years, errors such as “here are our ten ideas” (119), when nine is correct, should simply not be made. More subjectively, the language “we went ahead and took . . . ” (25) might have been noticed as an inelegant departure from the author’s style as well as employing the contemporary abomination of using and as a verb. Less subjective is the contradiction on pages vii and viii on the meaning of stewardship. One statement informs us that “a comprehensive view of stewardship includes time, talent, and treasure — really the whole of our lives.” Shortly following it is observed that “when we get serious about stewardship, what we mean is simply giving money.” While one might discern that what was meant was to convey a popular view of what some think of as stewardship, that is not what was said. Moving right along to another subjective observation, it might be observed that the book’s copyeditor has a high tolerance for superfluous adverbs. The initial page of each chapter has both the chapter number and the number of facts, insights, or lessons stated as numerals. At least one, or preferably both, should be stated in language. Finally, a book of this quality deserves a clearer printing. Compared to the Neuwen book cited in the text, the difficulty of reading light print is exacerbated by the less than bright background of the low-quality paper.

Dr. Jon Ericson’s academic experience includes teaching at Pacific Lutheran University, Stanford, and Central Washington, and concludes as Dean Emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts at Cal Poly, SLO.

Personal Prayer – Acklin, Hicks

Acklin, OSB, Fr. Thomas and Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB. Personal Prayer: A Guide for Receiving the Father’s Love. Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2020. 392 pages.
Reviews by Deacon James Keating.

There was an energy that stirred when I began to read this book. It was the energy of my mind and heart working together as a result of what the Church has been gifted with from the Benedictine priests, Acklin and Hicks: a book about real humans praying in a human way. It is a work of both Christian anthropology and psychology integrated with a work on the nature of contemplation and prayer. It will stir you as you read it because in it, you will both recognize yourself and have your deepest desires for God explicated.

The result is a page-turning book on spiritual living, leaving you saying repeatedly, “That is true.” The authors tell us, “Our focus in this book is on the contemplative dimension of prayer, understood as vulnerable, attentive, loving presence in the relationship between God and man” (xxxiv). Yes, that is it — a book that plumbs the depths of relationship, of holy communion. It is a book that reveals who we are as human beings and in doing so, leaves us ever more aware of the One who wants to secure that communion with us. As the authors reveal who we are as human persons, they ignite within us a desire for our true end: rest in God. This desire for God is human desire; contemplative prayer is for humans. It is for ordinary humans, “little ones,” poor ones, not elites. The book tours the many ordinary faults and faux pas of enfleshed creatures trying to reach God. The authors counsel us in our fatigue, our boredom or sleepiness, our fear of silence, our exhaustion at having to “do all the work” of prayer, and so on. The authors inhabit the experience of prayer connaturally, like mothers who mother without real consciousness . . . they just do it. Here are two men who know the human inside and out and share with other humans what it is like when we make ourselves available to be loved by the Divine. It is a book of sheer spiritual encouragement, theological aplomb, and psychological precision. In reading this work, we want to pray. If we were tempted to give up on prayer, this book gently whispers, “that’s a silly idea; come back.”

Everything is in the holy communion of prayer. By everything, I mean all human meaning, peace—and yes, frustration, boredom, routine, and silence, always silence. We are to remain in the darkness of faith (182) through many a prayer hour, welcoming ourselves and His presence along with all the persons we love, our patron saints, and the weight of our own finitude and brokenness. Prayer gathers up our lives in full and places them into the heart of Christ whose own heart echoes back that weight of living in a supernatural empathy that heals the one who waits in prayer. Some books on prayer display a “hope” for prayer, described in ideal terms and sure paths to enlightenment. This book sits with us in our flesh, in our ordinariness, and says, “just stay where you are and let Him love you.” In approaching prayer in such an enfleshed way, real hope is conveyed to ordinary folks, filled with complex wounds, who can finally say, “I guess prayer is for me, too.” It would seem the book was written by a housewife, one who knows and suffers love within the fabric of ordinary time; but no, it was written by men who live the ordinary even more deeply than housewives . . . monks. All of that “vowing stability” has a way of deepening human consciousness . . . sending a man deep and not broad. The book is a gift from those who drink in the ordinary day-to-day experience of prayer and work and relationships without running from them but, rather, embracing them. And it is an embrace of pain, of remaining, or suffering the ordinary until it gives up its gift of holy communion with the one inhabiting it at its deepest: God.

Of course, these monks are also seasoned professionals, as well as quotidian surfers. They not only walk around in the ordinary enough to invite us in, they do so with the expertise of spiritual directors and professors. Reading the book is imbibing a potent cocktail of knowledge: smart monks who use their brains to keep humans planted on the earth instead of using their brains to create fantasy worlds. If you follow these two men, you will remain on the earth, and that is their goal because they know it is the only place upon which God can find humans and humans can find God.

And finding God and ceasing our boring and tiresome self-absorption is the whole point of their book; it is the whole point of suffering contemplation. To become contemplative is to become ones who are finally fascinated with God and sick of themselves. Most people who begin to pray and maybe ones who have been “trying” to pray for decades need to hear Acklin and Hicks say to them in very gentle tones: “Focus on Him and not what you are experiencing in His presence.” Shazam! The gold has been found. Prayer is not about you. Most things that last unto eternal life are not. Eternal life is about that receptivity of holy communion; it is about a reciprocity and a circulation of love. If the authors say anything in this work, they say this: “Sit still long enough in faith to suffer the death of your fat ego and be carried, gifted, into a relationship with the Divine. Let prayer have its way with you, and stop fidgeting to protect, promote, or prosper the self in any way. You will be taken care of by Divine providence. Enjoy it.”

The book is eleven chapters long. The first six are treasures of both theology and anthropology. Just meditating upon the first six alone will deepen our prayer and disabuse us of any erroneous perfectionistic approaches to prayer. Christ and His identity are clarified as are the other Persons of the Holy Trinity. God never loves us less; He is consistent in His love, faithful and unchanging. He is also hidden, mostly silent, and compassionate toward our human condition. We are the focus of His love; we are made for Him; we are broken, little, and poor. In holy communion with Him, however, we will rise, and death itself will be overcome. The last five chapters are jewels of prose on the meaning of different prayer approaches — within the Liturgy, through Scripture, charismatic prayer, the Rosary, etc. It concludes with an appendix of quotes from saints on prayer and a very complete bibliography.

This book should be in every seminary, retreat house, and recommended reading for classes in spiritual theology. To ponder it slowly and prayerfully is to be led already into its own purpose for being written, contemplation.

Deacon James Keating, PhD, is a leading light in the Institute for Priestly Formation, Creighton University, Omaha, NE, and has now started to serve as Professor of Spiritual Theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, Saint Louis, MO.

Preaching from the Old Testament
– Walter Bruggemann

Bruggemann, Walter. Preaching from the Old Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018. 189 pages.
Reviewed by David L. Hottinger.

Aware that preachers routinely neglect the Old Testament texts, Walter Brueggemann writes to reinvigorate “preaching from the Old Testament.” Such is the title of this recent work motivated by the author’s belief that “the urgent work of the gospel in our society requires attentive listening to these ancient voices of bold insistent faith.”

The result is a brisk walk through most of the Old Testament canon, during the course of which Brueggemann — a prolific author and exegete of liberal, Reformed orientation (UCC) — identifies the “master narrative” of the various books and points to ways one might preach through the text to speak to master narrative in which one’s congregants live and long for more.

Thus, the Book of Genesis (Chapter 1) is cast as the intertwining tale of God’s blessing — carried by a frail and conflicted people — and the “totalizing” ambitions of human covetousness. For today’s preacher, it is a call to reaffirm one’s baptismal identity — the blessing God’s people carry — in a world dominated by the totalizing oppression of market ideology.

Chapter 2 portrays Exodus as the story of God’s salvation “interrupting” the totalizing propensity of Pharaoh (the epitome of the monopolizing force of human greed) in order to call His people into a covenant — re: an alternative political economy — of “neighborliness.” The Prophetic books (Chapter 3) are interpreted in a similar vein. The prophet’s vocation is to “utter the unutterable” against the dominant world empire in order to undeceive his audience about its false and to open them to what Brueggemann calls the “holy intentionality” that directs the course of history. Preaching from Exodus or the Prophets, the modern preacher can open the eyes of his audience to the regnant militarily-supported market ideology and lead them to “reperform” the Exodus event in their own lives.

The meta-narrative of the Psalms is somewhat different. Drawing on previous work, Brueggemann proposes that all the Psalms follow or comprise parts of the same basic plotline: experience of trouble, human petition, divine response, thanksgiving. “The preacher, by appeal to the Psalms, has a chance to recast daily life in the midst of [this] defining narrative.”

Lastly, in Chapter 5 Brueggemann treats of the truncated Protestant canon of Wisdom literature. He envisions the three books as a progressive meditation on the mystery of creation. In preaching from the Wisdom books, “the preacher’s task,” suggests Brueggemann, “is not to settle matters of solve the inscrutability by some form of certitude. It is rather to invite the congregation to dwell in the midst of such palpable mystery that marks our daily life.”

Brueggemann’s method is a helpful one. For example, though generally homilists are loathe to preach on the psalm, seeing it in relation to the four-step plotline of salvation opens possibilities for actualization. Likewise, understanding a given passage from Exodus in light of a master narrative will indeed enable listeners to participate in the “reperformance” of the salvation therein narrated within the context of the liturgy and their own lives. The preacher who can identify the meta-narrative of the book in question and project it (sufficiently abstracted and adapted) on to the lives of the audience will be an effective preacher.

One could argue that Brueggemann tends to give an overly-economic interpretation of the master narrative of the Old Testament texts. We might recall, however that Our Lord presented man’s fundamental allegiance as being either to God or to Mammon (Mt 6:24). In any case, one can take or leave (or improve upon) Brueggemann’s characterization of the meta-narrative in a particular book or the modern world and still benefit from the method he employs. Equally helpful are his many useful insights into, for example, the role of the prophet and his estimation of the avenues available (and the difficulties present) for fulfilling that role today.

The book is not without its limitations. Most fundamental would seem to be Brueggemann’s decision to prescind from direct Christological interpretation of the OT texts (depriving them, it would seem, of their fullest meaning) and the book’s scant engagement with patristic exegesis. Moreover, the reader must be indulgent with the author’s prejudices (for example, his allergy towards notions such as orthodoxy, certitude, and “chosenness”), his idiosyncrasies (one is left wondering, for example, what he means by belated, a favorite word), and his ambiguities or errors (i.e., stating that “resistance [to God] is essential in covenantal faith,” characterizing God as indifferent, characterizing Israel’s election as an “illusion”).

Those of the last category seem to result from Brueggemann’s attempt to be faithful to the plain sense of the biblical text before him, even when it offends the analogy of faith. At times, this leads to rather novel interpretations (suddenly Esau is a sympathetic character while the imperialist Joseph is a malefactor). And one may cringe at Brueggemann’s rather indiscriminate embrace of liberal political agenda items (regarding LGBT, environmentalism, American foreign policy, etc.) while being oblivious to the relation these may bear to the totalizing market ideology of which he is so critical.

None of these flaws, however, need be fatal for the discerning reader. To be sure, this book is not a quick-reference guide for procrastinating preachers on a Saturday evening. But for one interested in exploring a method that will enable him to give greater and more effective attention to the Old Testament text in his sermons, Brueggemann’s recent work is worth a look.

Deacon David Hottinger is a religious of Pro Ecclesia Sancta living in St. Paul, Minnesota, and studying for the priesthood at the Saint Paul Seminary.

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