If you have not been following along Greg Walter’s book tour please check out posts by Clint, Geoff, and Steve. Greg Walter is a professor at St. Olaf College in Minnesota and has written a new book entitled Being Promised: Theology, Gift, and Practice.
I was lucky enough to interview Professor Walter upon the completion of his new book.
1. Existence of a promise: I have had many conversations with people who question the existence of God. When I have those conversations eventually they lead back to the idea of faith and the assurance that God promises us eternal life and salvation. Is there a way to explain the promises that God gives us in such a way that instills at least some hope and faith?
I think there is a lot to say about the promise creating faith. This means, I think, that God’s promise in the Crucified One invites and opens up an adventure, a risk, which is a willingness to go with it, to see what comes, to welcome whatever shows up on our doorsteps. Because an adventure in a way is not just our going out on a quest of some sort but also is about advent, about that which comes to us, promise can do this, and God’s promise asks for a bizarre and joyous adventure.
The other way to do this is to say that to reflect the God who promises is a lot more interesting than to explore the God who exists. I suppose someone might say that existence is somehow a more basic feature of God to establish before exploring promise, but I don’t know that is so. Because a God who promises is a different sort of God than one who doesn’t risk or wait on faith to be God, as Luther radically puts it.
2. I have said once or twice in a sermon “God does not break promises” is there an instance from your view point where God has broken a promise? If so, what is it? If not, why not?
In the book I write a bit about the way that God’s promise must be tested. This is a strange way to read Genesis 22:1 — usually we think it is a test of Abraham by God but a promise is always up for grabs, if it is a promise. Many theologians will write things like “God can be trusted because God does not lie” or “God’s promises are true because God’s power knows no bounds.” I think the first is better than the second though it seems that the Binding of Isaac has its fair share of deception on God’s part. Part of God’s history in keeping God’s promise is part of God’s credibility. And God’s promise must be tested because so many tings speak against it. Luther called this the “contradiction of promise” in his late Genesis Lectures.
3. What is your biggest breakthrough personally by writing this book? What is the one nugget of information and/or inspiration that you would like everyone to take away from reading your book?
I benefited immensely in sorting out promise as gift. Since most human beings implicitly or explicitly understand how gifts work and the dangers and joys of gift-exchange, promise is readily intelligible in those terms. And I think most people seem to get that a promise behaves differently than most acts of giving even if they’re not sure how. In the book I try to show how promise can have an effect on most human practices and ordinary human situations, engendering a kind of impure giving. I don’t think promise can clear up the muck of human life, but I think it provides, in the promise of the Crucified One, a form suitable to that mess.