January 15, 2015

Walter Brueggemann’s Coercive Collectivism

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann is very influential in some Evangelical and Protestant circles as an exponent of social justice. In this latest interview, he describes some of today’s most pressing social witness issues for Christians include combating “military consumerism,” supporting Obamacare, and, of course, LGBTQ advocacy.

Per Brueggemann, who’s taught at Columbia Theological Seminary for years:

Younger people that are committed to the gospel have to think carefully about how to critique that dominant system of military consumerism and how to imagine alternative forms of life that are not defined by those corrosive pressures.

So what is this “military consumerism” that’s holding us captive? He sort of explains:

That ideological system causes us to be very afraid, to regard other people as competitors, or as threats, or as rivals. It causes us to think of the world in very frightened and privatistic forms.

Earlier this year Brueggemann explained a little more thoroughly:

The military helps us control markets and resources, and we all recognize that the media, especially social media, and a captive marketing audience constantly reinforce the demands of consumerism. Thus, the United States enjoys an unparalleled influence and affluence when many around the world live on as little as a dollar or two a day and without clean water, pure air, jobs etc.

In his 2005 book, Theology in the Old Testament, Brueggeman further explains that military consumerism describes how dominant market economies, after Marxism’s fall, sustain their wealth by military advantage. In shorthand, he likely would cite U.S. military actions in the Mideast, defending oil sources, as military consumerism run amuck.

How to resist this military consumerism? Be neighborly by supporting Obamacare!

A paradigmatic example is the conversation that we’ve had about healthcare, the Affordable Care Act. Providing healthcare for all of our citizens is a mandate for any workable society. Our resistance reflects our kind of privatized notion that everyone ought to get what they can pay for – and if they can’t pay for it, they ought not to get it. And [that] identifies and fosters a kind of disadvantaged class that is excluded from all of the resources of society.

Apparently Christian neighborliness also requires LGBTQ affirmation, overcoming “fear,” and “stereotypes,” and understanding the “Bible is a dynamic tradition that’s always on the move to new truth.”

Brueggeman elaborates:

Well, what we do is to pick and choose things out of the Bible that conform to our fears. It’s not a matter of obeying the Bible — it’s about obeying the gospel. The gospel is about God’s saving love that wants to restore all of humanity to full communion. To reach back to an ancient text that has now been corrected by the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is simply a bad maneuver and poor methodology and theologically irresponsible. Those texts are not the determinative texts.

Who gets to decide what are the Bible’s “determinative” texts? Traditional Christians understand the Bible is not read individually, like a “consumer,” but is read collectively, with all the saints, across history and culture, or, in other words, with The Church.

Protestant liberalism has long rejected The Church as counsel in favor of the empowered individual who picks and chooses, which is not “military consumerism” per se, but certainly is theological and ecclesial consumerism.

Brueggemann urges:

The gospel very much wants us to think in terms of a neighborhood, in terms of being in solidarity with other people, in sharing our resources, and of living out beyond ourselves. The gospel contradicts the dominant values of our system, which encourages self-protection and self-sufficiency at the loss of the common good.

But the privatistic liberal Protestant project, which rejects the full “neighborhood” of The Church in favor of a self-defined enlightened elite is all about “self protection” and “self sufficiency” and neglecting the “common good” in favor of the empowered autonomous individual.

Accordingly, the liberal Protestant project rejects or neglects The Church’s core mission of evangelism, holiness and charity in favor of a coercive secular collectivism that sacralizes state control over health care and other vital human spheres while overthrowing marriage and family as unwanted voluntary, organic competitors to state dominance.

What Brueggemann offers is not a societal vision based on either Old or New Testament but a far less lovely and more sterile alternative premised on power, force and the absence of voluntary love. In contrast, The Church works to redeem temporal society with sacrificial love, based on its vision of the eternal Kingdom of God, where Love is King enthroned forever.

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2 Responses to Walter Brueggemann’s Coercive Collectivism

  1. Dan says:

    I like the term “coercive collectivism” so much that I plan to start using it, with your permission. For a supposed scholar, Brueggemann has a very convenient memory about adhering only to the Gospel and not considering the Old Testament. Jesus himself said that he had not come to overturn the law but to fulfill it by absolving us of our sins by his atonement and sacrifice.

  2. 1Cor7v23 says:

    I’m came here predisposed to accept your judgment on WB. I’m not saying Walter Brueggemann doesn’t support “coercive collectivism”–I am agnostic on the question–but I will say you have failed to make your case. For instance, the excerpt you provided on Obamacare doesn’t clearly show even that WB supports the ACA, it only demonstrates the WB finds fault with “the conversation”. I’m not being coy here, I think conclusive judgments require conclusive evidence and you have not provided that.

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