Walter Brueggemann – materiality as resistance

SaveSavedRemoved 0
Deal Score0
Deal Score0

Theological integrity and love embodied

A review of

Materiality as resistance:
Five elements for moral action in the real world

Walter Brueggemann

Paperback: WJK Books, 2019
Buy Now: (Amazon) (Kindle)

Reviewed by Gwen Gustafson-Zook

The fear, the anger, the fear, the trauma can be felt today. Driven by a global pandemic, racial injustice, economic inequality and a looming climate crisis, the church is at a crossroads: will it withstand the rising tide or withdraw into the monastery boundaries of padded pews and volatile theology?

In this tense moment, a modest offer (100 pages) by the well-known, respected and talkative theologian Walter Brueggemann was created. This small volume has the potential to empower the Church to be relevant to the crises that are rapidly becoming tsunami in our lives. Walter Brueggemanns Materiality as resistance: five elements for moral action in the real world is a resource that the Church needs at this time. Brueggemann researches materiality in five well-researched essays and connects the points with his distinctive knowledge of biblical material and the wisdom that he has gained from years of contemplating the world. The result is a concise study guide that should enable the Church to embody mature faith in the face of the many disasters that mark our era.

The Church, Brueggemann says of the New Testament Book of Hebrews, must go beyond infant milk and mature to the place where solid food is consumed. Food that enables the Church to respond to “the urgent matters of good and evil” that are revealed in our world. With such ripe food, the Church – and those who follow Jesus, Christ – will be empowered with “skills and abilities for moral thinking and acting in the real world” (Brueggemann, 4) and will be able to the material needs to respond around us with conscious attention.

The introduction provides a historical context for an understanding of materiality. Materiality is not to be confused with materialism. Rather, it refers to understanding one's own place in the world as a physical being and responding to the needs of others who are also material. This concept arises from the recognition of God as the creator of a material world; a world in which Jesus, the Christ, was incarnated – that is, materially – and responded to the material needs with which he was confronted. Brueggemann identifies five dimensions of materiality, which are then examined, one per chapter: money, food, body, time and place. However, the explorations go beyond what is expected or obvious in areas that have a profound impact on our lives today.

Based on the Wesleyans' admonition to “Earn everything you can, give everything you can, save everything you can,” Brueggemann expands the framework to examine the detailed implications of these seemingly simple statements while addressing questions a mature materiality regarding issues of money dealt with. He explains: “These matters (related to our relationship to money) are complicated for members of our society because an ubiquitous practice of consumption, made possible by a theory of capitalist privateism, treats money as autonomous and not in a broader context related to society. And if money is handled autonomously, all Wesley's mooring policies are lifted immediately. “(Brueggemann, 8). What follows is a thorough investigation of Wesley's dictates for money in the light of our context. Among other things, he deals with economic inequality and the growing gap between rich and poor, the need to “save” not only money but also the earth and the widows and orphans, and the need for resources to improve poverty and the common good.

Bargain Theology Books

In his critical reflection on food, which is based on numerous biblical stories about lavish tables and hungry crowds and blessings around food, Brueggemann examines in detail the scarcity and abundance, the distribution of food and the food consumption. It raises questions about where food is grown, how it is grown, how it is delivered and what effects our practices have on the climate. He addresses the inequality inherent in our distribution systems and the challenge of adopting alternative practices that improve our relationship with Earth as well as our relationships with our sisters and brothers.

While each of the chapters stimulates thought, Brueggemann's discussion of mature materiality and the body is particularly relevant to our time. Based on the understanding of Romans 12 as an invitation to present his body as a "living sacrifice" for God, Brueggemann first deals with appropriate self-care and healthy sexuality. But he doesn't stop at these apparently obvious problems. Brueggemann quotes the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates and examines how black bodies in our country have been “kidnapped” in the past through racial injustice practices. After a long quote from Coates, Brueggemann explains, "I have absorbed so much from Coates because 'innocent' Christianity, which is often concerned with spiritual matters, has not developed the ability to cope with the ongoing brutal physical reality of public space, the a is to honestly assess concern for the mature self … So it's a current, even pressing, question of how to find a steady place and support companions that enable the long, tedious work of transformative resistance to body robbery as common practice and ordinary politics . "(Brueggemann, 43, 45). This is work that is vital, and Brueggemann offers a way to explore this reality in our world and in our churches.

Chapters on time and place are equally compelling, each dealing with issues relevant to our time, including the need to rest amid hectic life, the importance of a hometown, and the confusing reality of homelessness. Brueggemann concludes by repeating that the Bible is concerned with material matters. Likewise, our life is lived in a material world that creates both hope and fear. He explains: "The convergence of the materiality of our life and the materiality of the Bible recommends us to think honestly, critically and faithfully about the material dimensions of our life in accordance with God's intentions and promises" (Brueggemann, 91).

Brueggemann's extensive biblical knowledge makes this narrow volume a treasure trove of thought-provoking material for use in the community (i.e., series of sermons), discussions in small groups (or teaching / Sunday school material), or for personal learning. If I were to use this book in a teaching environment, I would schedule a week to explore the forward (written by Jim Wallis) and the introduction (written by Brueggemann), followed by a week for each chapter. Each of the short chapters concludes with thoughtful “questions for discussion” that differ from chapter to chapter so that people with different learning styles experience interest and commitment. The very thorough endnotes and extensive references provide ample material for further study and exploration for those who want to delve deeper into these issues. The Church would do well to embrace, study, internalize the content of Materiality as resistance so that she can respond to the realities of these days with theological integrity and embodied love in the world.


Gwen Gustafson-Zook

Amid illness, inequality and struggle Gwen Gustafson-Zook aims to live a quiet life and find beauty in simple things: knitting, cooking, taking care of their chickens and seeing their garden grow. Gwen is an ordained pastor at Mennonite Church USA and is currently completing a doctorate in the Department of Spiritual Leadership. Find her online:

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply