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BOOK REVIEW: Words of prophets speak to us today David Mosser, Apr 14, 2011
By David Mosser Special Contributor
Out of Babylon Walter Brueggemann Abingdon Press, 2010 Paperback, 178 pages
In 2003 Emmylou Harris sang, “Time in Babylon.” Using the song’s words as a backdrop, along with texts from the major prophets, Hebrew scholar Walter Brueggemann compares and contrasts an ancient and a modern society. He looks at how contemporary American culture mirrors that of biblical Babylon, showing ways the church can “sing the Lord’s song” in a foreign environment.
In many ways, Out of Babylon is quite painful to read; Dr. Brueggemann pulls few punches and names our broad culture for what it is. He sees modern America as self-serving, on a treadmill of non-reflective activity and having little concern for the poor, dispossessed or the alien. Most of his observations won’t surprise anyone who pays attention to general culture and its descent into trivial ends.
What is surprising, though, is how he relates our 21st-century predicament to that of ancient Babylon. The question that will lodge in many readers’ minds: Could what eventually happened to Babylon happen to us? Of course, in the big picture of biblical prophecy and world history, the answer is decidedly yes!
Besides naming our social demons, the book suggests a pathway toward redemption. Just as the prophets reminded ancient Israel that God rules and overrules, the final chapter reminds us that God remains steadfast and that all evidence to the contrary will never make God’s promises any less authentic.
The prophet’s word to power in Babylon foreshadowed Jesus’ later words to Pilate: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). Out of Babylon assures us that faithfulness can still speak to power.
For persons who possess a good will toward all God’s children, this book will make us think deeply. Dr. Brueggemann calls us to turn to lives of more value and timeless substance.
The Rev. Mosser is senior minister at First UMC in Arlington, Texas.