Three Responses to Exile (Walter Brueggemann)

BrueggemannW300This past weekend in my message, “New Life,” which launched our new series “Exiles: A Study of 1 Peter,” I mentioned the work of Walter Brueggemann on how we respond to the situation of exile. While I did my best to summarize what he wrote, I’m posting his full outline of the three responses to exile below., This material is drawn from Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles, page 116f.

The question this leaves for us is how to embrace our exile when we sense God’s absence, how to respond in faithful ways to such an odd circumstance. I have already suggested that three lines of response are possible.

  1. It is possible to respond in assimilation. There were a number of Jews in Babylon who found Jewishness too demanding, and who capitulated and simply joined dominant  Babylonian values and identity. It is possible for baptized Christians to assimilate into imperial America in the same way, to embrace the dominant American hopes and fears that are all around us, to live so that the world does not notice our odd baptism or our odd identity.
  2. It is possible to respond in despair. We can recognize the power of Babylon and the absence of Yahweh, concluding that this situation of homelessness and displacement is permanent, knowing that though Babylon may be very wrong, God has failed and we are helpless. This is the temptation for those of us who know better than to assimilate, but for whom resistance is a defensive posture without buoyancy or expectation. This response to displacement has most in common with the grim resolve of Stoicism.
  3. The third possible response to exile, for persons who refuse assimilation and eschew despair, is to respond with fresh, imaginative theological work, recovering the old theological traditions and recasting them in terms appropriate to the new situation of faith in an alien culture. It is thus my urging that this new time of beginning for the church be a time and place for imaginative theological recasting that takes full account of the church’s new cultural situation.

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