“An On-Going Imagination” (Brueggemann and Beale, 2019) Review

My review of An On-Going Imagination: A Conversation about Scripture, Faith, and the Thickness of Relationship by Walter Brueggemann, Clover Reuter Beal, and Timothy Beal.

What does this book offer the Church?
Imagine being able to sit down for coffee with one of your favorite theologians. During the time that you had together, you were able to ask them about their theological lineage, what they are currently thinking about, things that they have re-considered as time has gone on, and whatever else you would be able to think of in that time period. This book is similar to that concept (or, really, as close as you’ll ever be able to come!)

This book chronicles discussions held between theologians Walter Brueggemann and Clover Reuter Beal, a former student of Brueggemann’s. These conversations have a wide range of topics, covering Brueggemann’s time in college, the publication of some of his books, and the theological issues he is currently thinking through. Brueggemann is a hugely prominent figure in Old Testament studies and seminaries across the country, so this book will probably prove invaluable as time goes on and more students write about his work.

Broadly, this book serves two purposes: to either introduce Brueggemann to a new audience (or help his existing audience get to know him better) and to help readers fall back in love with the Bible. The conversation drifts to the Bible naturally, leading into several valuable insights and tidbits on the text of the Bible itself.

There are two prominent areas that I think would be the most valuable to touch on with regards to this book in the short space I have in a blog review. First, I would like to talk about the way that this book is formatted. This book is not written in the regular, theological prose you might expect from any of Brueggemann’s other works. Instead, it is formatted as an edited transcript of the conversation between the two friends. This could be distracted for longer reads, but I think it lends itself well to shorter bursts. Despite being framed as a conversation, all parties are given plenty of time to speak and articulate any ideas that they float out. Don’t think of this as a podcast, where everyone jumps to speak over one another and be heard. Instead, think about this as an intimate conversation between friends, both of whom want to hear what the other has to say.

The second is the claim that this book will re-introduce you to the Bible and help you fall in love with it. I think this claim is generally true: when reading the Bible, I felt convicted about how little I actually know about it, and I felt myself wanting to read more about it while I “listened” to the two speak with each other! That being said, I can’t say that I’ll always like what Brueggemann has to say, and I find myself disagreeing with him a bit more than I did in his previous works. (I’ve worked extensively with his books, as I graduated with a focus in Old Testament studies from seminary.) That doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn a lot! His perspective forced me to think differently about the Bible and drove me to prayer and reading to test what he said against the Scriptures.

This book is a must-read for Brueggemann fans and students. If you are taking an Old Testament class in college or seminary, you’ll probably engage with his works, which makes this book a helpful introduction to his life. You can read more about the book on John Knox Press’s website. You can also order the both on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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