I’ve read and deeply enjoyed Walter Brueggemann’s works on the Old Testament for quite some time now. Brueggemann is nothing if not a rigorous and creative reader of biblical texts. Indeed, his early book, The Prophetic Imagination will always continue to be one of my favorite books. Central to Brueggemann’s whole attempt to read Scripture is his insistence that the text not be allowed to be domesticated, flattened out, or synthesized in a way that would blunt its cutting and decisive edge.
Now, this claim is clearly right and good and should be affirmed. However, one of my problems with the way this all plays out in Brueggemann relates to his skittishness to see anything other than cacophony in the Scriptures. He is so intent that in allowing the texts to “explode” and “linger” in all of their otherness that he never gets about the business of allowing various texts otherness to confront or inform one another. In short, by opting for a sort hermeneutic of disintegration, Brueggemann appears to be allowing texts to speak with their own voice, but this ultimately happens at the expense of the texts really ever entering into conversation with each other at all.
Brueggemann’s main hermeneutical goal often seems to be that of preserving rather than ironing out tensions, discontinuities, and disequilibration in our encounter with the biblical text. However, his overarching hermeneutic of disintegration actually has the opposite effect. In allowing the distinctness of texts to just sit there on their own, as discrete integers, his attempt to preserve the tensions in Scripture actually becomes a way of dissolving all tension by hermetically closing them off from one another in the name of avoiding a totalizing or flattening hermeneutic.
In other words, while to be sure it is wrong to simply try to harmonize the Bible in a facile manner, Bruggemann’s allegedly pluralistic approach does essentially the same thing. It allows the differences to stand, so long as we don’t try to actually struggle with the differences and attempt to bring them into conversation. As such, the truly daring, truly dangerous mode of engagement with the Bible is neither one that offers an integrative hermeneutic for everything, not a disintegrative hermeneutic that hermetically seals texts off from encountering one another for the sake of preserving their distinctness. A truly daring and dangerous hermeneutic is one that actually enters into the hard work of dealing with text as a whole, and yet does so in such a way that it does not assume, in advance the sort of whole that the Bible is and what that will mean for how we read and how we live.