Calvinism and Brueggemann: Queer Theological Bedfellows

The Calvinist rallying cry of “God is Sovereign,” while hauntingly similar to the  Islamic phrase, “Allahu Akbar”, claims that God’s Will defines what is morally right versus what is morally wrong.  That is, when backed into a corner about what they really mean by that phrase they give tacit acknowledgement that what God actualizes in volition (or will) is, by the very occurrence, good.   Where ever it goes it is good and man has no business questioning the motive behind God’s “Sovereignty.”

The utilitarian convenience in that statement is that the Calvinist thinks it is an invincible shield when being taken to task for the immediate implication that God must therefore be subject to no law.  God is Sovereign, and your rational mind is too small to grasp the eternal rectitude of a theology that when taken but a few logical steps from any one of their five tenants places one in an intellectual and theological Twilight Zone.

For the Calvinist, “the Sovereignty of God” is the final hermeneutic for all theological affirmations large or small. So how can Brueggemann be compared to Calvinism.  I will show the similarity that I see.

But first Brueggemann’s peculiar “hermeneutic” in reading the text of the Old Testament should be understood.  Brueggemann’s claim is that to properly engage the text, any text of the Old Testament one must leave behind all presuppositional notions or guiding paradigms about the whole text aside.  Prophetic unity of the whole of Scripture, or Covenantal dispensations and even Christology is not allowed in.  If we really want to know what the Jew’s understood the text to mean, we must void ourselves of an preconceived knowledge of God.  We are to take the earth bound perspective of a group of bedouins who somehow came to be the peculiar people of an ‘unknowable’ God.

To understand the particulars of any given narrative one must understand how a Jew of that period would have engaged the text allotted to their generation.  To hear him tell it, the Jews almost never knew how God was going to react and were on constant alert to bind Him to customary forms of agreement, e.g., ledgers of names to remind God to make good on His promises (Mal. 3:16).  And they had learned by painful experience that sometimes God “goes off” and destroys people, cities and nations when He gets “angry.” The best bet is to try to “saddle soap” Him during one of his “fits” and try to calm Him down so something wicked their way doesn’t come.

The queer commonality of Calvinism and Brueggemann is that they both posit Yahweh as that inscrutable other ‘Whose’ actions or reactions can never be predicted or understood, but only accommodated.  The irony is that there seems to be more moral definition in those God has created as far as their understanding of what basic justice and good entails than what can be predicated in God.  Indeed, man seems to have greater uniformity of moral impulse than either paradigms of the exclusive purview of God.  Queer bedfellows indeed.