Review: Materiality as Resistance

materiality as existence

Materiality as ResistanceWalter Brueggemann (Foreword by Jim Wallis). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020.

Summary: Explores how the material aspects of life informed by Christian spiritual commitments may be lived as a form of resistance to a materialistic culture.

Through much of Christian history, there has been a divorce of the spiritual and material aspects of life. Yet the material aspects of life–money, food, the body, time, and place–pervade our lives. Neglected as a necessary part of Christian teaching and formation, we are vulnerable to the allures of a materialistic culture, one in which all that matters is matter, and spirituality is marginalized or jettisoned. Walter Brueggemann proposes the alternative is materiality. The idea is that our spiritually formed values shape our engagement with each of these five material aspects of our lives.

He explores our relationship to money, using Wesley’s “earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” He raises questions about how our commitments to earning might be skewed by a limitless accumulation of wealth, how spending all we can undermines the saving that enables one to deploy our resources within our community, and how giving all we can calls for disciplined planning for sustained giving.

Brueggemann contrasts a material world’s focus on the scarcity of food with the trust in God’s abundance that runs through the pages of scripture. He explores what this means in terms of our commercial/industrial food production, the inequities of food distribution, and how we might think of ourselves as citizens and creatures of God in how we consume food.

We often abuse or indulge our bodies. Brueggemann invites us to consider what it means of offer our bodies as spiritual sacrifices in both our self-care and covenantal expression of our sexuality. One question I had in this chapter was the de-emphasis on genital sexuality to focus on the more spiritual and covenantal aspects of human love. On one hand, our culture focuses almost exclusively on the genital expression of human sexuality. Yet this is a book about materiality. It seems necessary to address the meaning of the aspects of pleasure, the unitive character of sexuality, and the reproductive potential that is inherent in our reproductive anatomy.

We live within time, hours, days, weeks, months, and years, that reflect our physical existence on earth. Materialism only knows production and consumption. The scriptures teach us rhythms of work and sabbath, and particular seasons to tear down and build up, to weep and laugh, to silence and speech, to go slow and speed up and to be born and die.

In our virtual world, we become homeless and placeless. We are invited to think what it means to be attentive and loyal to place. He contrasts inhabiting a place as user, consumer, possessor, exploiter, and predator versus living as heirs, neighbors, partners, and citizens.

Brueggeman concludes by commending five biblical disciplines, captured in five words that defines a materiality that resists materialism. They are justice, righteousness, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness toward our neighbors in our materiality. What he does is bring together spiritual formation and material life.

This concisely written book is a distillation of Brueggemann’s thought. The study questions that conclude each chapter suggest it was written for an adult education class or other adult formation meeting. It combine’s the author’s biblical insights with practical insights for how we might live truth in our material existence–and resistance to a materialist culture.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

One thought on “Review: Materiality as Resistance

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: May 2020 | Bob on Books

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