Sabbath As Resistance: A Review of Walter Brueggemann's Latest


Years ago I attended a Presbyterian minister's conference for the express purpose of hearing Walter Brueggemann teach.  He was the featured speaker at the conference---or should I say he was supposed to be the featured speaker.  I can't remember exactly why he couldn't make it at the last minute, but I do remember being fairly bummed about it.  You simply don't get too many chances to sit at the feet of one of the most esteemed Old Testament scholars in the world, after all.

Brueggemann's work has in alternately inspired and convicted me whenever I've had the opportunity to study it. My personal library is stocked with more than a few of his books.  But I have to say that his latest, Sabbath As Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now has had the most personal impact on my life.

This short study of the Fourth Commandment is, in my opinion, the perfect Christian counterpart to Rabbi Abraham Heschel's seminal work The Sabbath.  Brueggemann reads the Sabbath command as the lynchpin for all other commands.  The Fourth Commandment, he asserts, looks backward to the first three commands relating to our relationship to God and forward to the final six, which govern our relationships with others.

"YHWH is a Sabbath keeping God," Brueggemann writes, "which fact ensures that restfulness and not restlessness is at the center of life." The restlessness which Brueggemann refers to is behind the commodification of all aspects of life in our culture.  The culture that has been shaped by the commodification of people, work, creativity, education and the like has created a system that is designed to de-humanize people and use them as a means to and end.  "The gods of this system," he explains, "are the gods of market ideology that summon to endless desires and needs that are never met but that always require yet greater effort."

He cites as an example the rise of a "test-taking" approach to education that turns both teachers and students into commodities---both used to perpetuate a culture of immediacy and endless, efficient production.  Our culture is to Brueggemann the new Egypt from the Exodus account--a place of slavery and endless work without rest.  The Market in this analogy is the new Pharaoh, never satisfied and always striving for more with less.

I have to say that this is some of the most profound and accessible teaching on the Sabbath and why it must be kept that I have ever read.  I am still pondering Brueggemann's work on how Sabbath-keeping resists exclusivism, and I am horribly convicted by how my obsession with multitasking prohibits me from truly living a Sabbath life.

I highly recommend this book to serious students of the Bible who are not afraid to have their pre-conceived notions about the Ten Commandments challenged and reshaped.
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