Money and Possessions (Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church), Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016 (forthcoming September 2, 2016)
Summary: A survey of the teaching of canonical scripture on the subject of money and possessions focusing on these as gift of God, meant for the mutual benefit of neighbors, and marred by extractive economics creating disparities of rich and poor, privileged and oppressed.
I’ve often remarked that the Bible has more to say about money than heaven or hell or a host of other topics. What we often treat as “nobody’s business” the scriptures treat as a matter of deep concern to God. And that is clearly evident in this new book by venerable Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann.
Brueggeman proposes six theses that he believes summarize the teaching of the biblical texts:
- Money and possessions are gifts of God.
- Money and possessions are received as rewards for obedience.
- Money and possessions belong to God and are held in trust by human persons in community.
- Money and possessions are sources of social injustice.
- Money and possessions are to be shared in a neighborly way.
- Money and possessions are seductions that lead to idolatry.
The rest of the book considers the different parts of the canon and how these illustrate and develop these theses. He begins with the Pentateuch and the tenth commandment’s prohibition of coveting, emblematic of the breakdown of neighborly sharing of resources. He explores the development of the kingdom of Israel, the hopes of justice and the ways kings become involved in “extractive” practices (one of Brueggemann’s favorite words for social injustices around money). The psalms focus on both Torah and Temple and source money and possessions in the gifts of God, the worship of God, and the trust reposed in kings. Turning to the prophets, we see their message against idolatrous wealth, the loss of exile, and restoration and another chance at neighborliness. The five festal scrolls include the tale of Ruth, a marvelous illustration of loss and redemption with economic implications.
Turning to the New Testament, we see how much money and possessions play a role in the teaching of Jesus who proposes an alternative economy for an alternative kingdom. In Acts we witness the extension of neighborly community against the backdrop of the ultimate extractive empire of imperial Rome. Paul’s works speak of divine generosity (“grace”) to be mirrored in human generosity epitomized in Paul’s collections for Jerusalem. The Pastorals and James warn of the dangers of riches and partiality to the rich and the requirements of true religion. Revelation speaks of the ultimate alternative to Rome (Brueggemann takes a preterist reading believing all or most of Revelation was primarily relevant to the time in which it was written).
This is not a highly technical work which makes it useful for lay adult education efforts. Brueggemann is not bashful when it comes to drawing contemporary parallels to the biblical text and a group using this book might take issue with his social justice positions. Where it is most useful is in identifying the many biblical texts that deal with the subject of money and possessions and providing helpful commentary and context for discussing these passages. If indeed this is used as a resource for the study of and use of scripture in the church as is the intent of this series, it can be quite helpful in summarizing what we find in scripture, and proposing a basic rubric of biblical theology of money and possessions around his six theses.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via a pre-publication e-galley through Edelweiss. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.