A Feature Review of
Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture
Reviewed by Aaron Woods
Power is a tricky thing for many of us to understand. What is power? How does it work and should we use it? Can it be used well or does it always corrupt? How does Scripture reframe the use of power? These questions and more are the focus of theologian, Walter Brueggemann, in his latest book, Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture.
In his retirement, Brueggemann continues to write extensively, and his books continue to enlighten. Truth Speaks to Power invites readers to reconsider commonly known Old Testament narratives in a new light: through the lens of truth and power. He challenges the reader through this hermeneutical lens to see that, whether the reader recognizes it or not, Scripture is in a process of contesting power.
Brueggemann defines power by a “network of influence and leverage that may be channeled through the state apparatus or…through the private sector with its huge corporate combines.” This power relies on the “symbolizers” (the church, the academy, and the media) to validate their use of power. Truth, however, stands against this power. Truth may be held by the structures of empire (or so it is thought) but there is another truth that Brueggemann finds in Scripture, a truth that subverts this official “truth.”
Through an exegetical reading of four popular Old Testament narratives, Brueggemann unveils the dynamics of power that are active within and behind these passages and equips the reader to read with an hermeneutic of suspicion; to move past common misleading assumptions about power to a slower, more accurate reading of the narratives. Brueggemann shows God at work to bring the world to right through God’s people as truth-tellers, and not the pedigreed, power hungry rulers on the throne.
In Moses’ narrative, Brueggemann encourages the church to cry out and challenge power that oppresses by contesting for an alternative way. In Solomon’s narrative, the violent and deceptive truth beneath Solomon’s rise to the throne is uncovered. In Elisha, God uses the un-credentialed, prophetic truth-teller to transform the world—not the pedigreed power-wielding king. And yet, in the next narrative, King Josiah responds to truth and moves beyond royal exceptionalism that so often accompanies the powerful, to humbly and passionately seeking the truth of God’s covenant. Finally, the concluding chapter of the book offers an insightful critique of power today and ways the Church can continue to read and to live as “unintimidated contestants” of power.
This book is saturated with Scripture. Brueggemann does not let the reader miss what he calls the “contestation of power” throughout Scripture. He artfully connects Old Testament narratives to the New Testament teachings of Jesus and further into the life and witness of the Church in matter of fact ways. He shows how the church today must live as an alternative to the world and its ways of power to the ways of Jesus. Brueggemann brings the reader face-to-face with the subversive messages in Scripture which demand our response to live as contests for truth.
Brueggemann’s Truth Speaks to Power would be an excellent asset to the pastor, the small group leader, or anyone else interested in closer readings of Scripture. It is a useful tool to further examine how Scripture speaks of and contests power throughout the biblical narrative. Often interpreters misunderstand the dynamics of power in the Scriptures, but Brueggemann elucidates these dynamics in understandable pieces for anyone interested in learning more about the biblical witness of truth as it speaks to power.
Walter Brueggemann’s website currently offers a reading group with insightful questions that may be helpful for reading this book in a group setting.