How Does Brueggemann (in His Orientation-Disorientation-New Orientation) Build Bridges Between Form Criticism of the Psalms, Theology and Spirituality?

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‘Form Criticism' of the Psalms has been around for less than a hundred years. Prior to 1920's study use of the Psalms was pretty much limited to a ‘historical-critical' approach and a ‘Christological' approach. That is – the establishing of who wrote what and why and the reading of psalms within the context of ‘Christ', respectively. To fully appreciate how Brueggemann builds these bridges between form criticism, theology and spirituality we will first look at a basic understanding of the foundations of form criticism onto which Brueggemann offered his new schema. Secondly we shall look at Brueggemann's schema and how he builds and develops these bridges into theology and spirituality. Finally we shall be reflecting on ‘Christian spirituality' That is; we shall be reflecting on how this schema helps us in our engagement with secular spirituality with particular reference to the area of ‘urban hip-hop' and ‘new punk'. I am basing my understanding and framework of spirituality on the work of Bob Mayo in his work ‘Making Sense of Generation Y' (2006). In it he proposes that spirituality can be understood in two ways – Formative spirituality; that is a level of spiritual understanding and awareness that everyone is born with and everyone has. And secondly transformative spirituality; that is a level of spiritual understanding and awareness that builds on formative spirituality into having a personal and communal outworking. And so in answering ‘How does Brueggemann build bridges between form criticism of the Psalms, theology and spirituality?' I shall be addressing spirituality in a Christian transformative understanding and from a secular formative spirituality understanding.

As stated earlier it wasn't until the 1920's and the work of Hermann Gunkel, and his student Sigmund Mowinkel, that form criticism really started. Gunkel and Mowinkel observed that the Psalms only really had a very limited framework of approaches and styles – The Hymn, Communal Lament, Individual Lament, Royal Psalms and Individual Thanksgiving. Further work identified five further, less common categories of Psalm – Communal Thanksgiving, Wisdom, Pilgrimage, Entrance Liturgies and finally Mixed Poems . According to Gunkel in classifying the Psalms and putting them into the separate groupings three conditions had to be met; a.The psalms had to have a similar setting or basis in worship b.The psalms had to have similar feelings or sentiments running through them c.The psalms had to have a similar structure

It was through using these conditions that he came up with his five main categories and subsequent five lesser categories. Since these categories have been set down most form criticism of the psalms have pretty much followed this framework. It is into this arena that Brueggemann proposed his schema of orientation, disorientation and new-orientation.

Brueggemann suggests that all the Psalms can be roughly grouped around three general themes of orientation, disorientation and new-orientation. He proposes this not as a solid unyielding framework but as a way of helping us; "see things we might not have seen otherwise."

Within the Psalms of orientation we find an expression of confidence in a creator God that consistently maintains life and provides for his people. "One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendour of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate." Brueggemann does not see these Psalms ‘as the most interesting' because of their lack of ‘tension' and ‘movement' in their feeling and construction. Parallels with Westermann's mode of classification are clear at this point with what he calls ‘descriptive hymns'. "The function of such description is the continued reaffirmation and reconstruction of this good world. Thus songs of creation, wisdom, retribution and blessings, all...
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