I had the great honor of asking renowned Old Testament (OT) scholar Walter Brueggemann a few questions regarding the OT and it’s relationship to the New Testament. My questions are in bold.
What authors, scholars, and/or theologians have most influenced how you approach the text?
Walter: Gerhard von Rad, Paul Ricoeur, Jon Levenson, Norman Gottwald, Samuel Balentine.
[From a reader] Many Christians are in a fog when it comes to how the Old Testament relates to the New. In your own experience, what factors contribute to the idea that the Old Testament is not really “that important” or relevant as compared to the New Testament?
Walter: Anti-Semitism, caricatures of Old Testament “law,” and the desire for a private, spiritualized, other-worldly gospel, none of which is permitted in the Old Testament.
How can church leaders practically combat this notion?
Walter: By being good informed teachers. Both conservative and progressive Christians tend to practice interpretive laziness and assume we can know the text at a glance. The text requires more work than that.
What are Christians to make of the so-called “texts of terror” of the OT (e.g. Psalm 137:9, 1 Samuel 15:3)?
Walter: Each text must be studied without easy generalization. In Psalm 137 the wish for vengeance in v. 9 comes at the end of a poem that engages in nostalgic over-remembering. When we engage in nostalgic over-remembering (as with an illusionary Jerusalem), we then hate those whom we think have taken it from us. In the case of the Psalm this was the Babylonians, so there is hope for vengeance against them. In our case, for example, it is the loss of “white America” that is blamed on gays, or immigrants, or Muslims. As a result, we are ready for vengeance against them. The text rings true to our own propensity.
Certain OT passages or books are very dense and dry, which may leave many readers at a loss for how to approach and understand them. For the Bible-reading Christian who has trouble making headway in understanding the OT, what advice would you give them?
Walter: Read and study in a sustained disciplined way. No time for laziness!
Thank you for your time!
Walter Brueggemann is William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary. The author of over one hundred books as well as numerous scholarly articles, he is a leading OT scholar and prominent voice in Christianity, as well as a sought-after speaker. His most recent releases are two small books on Advent (see below).