The Prophetic Imagination

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I’m going through The Prophetic Imagination again this month and over the next two days I’m going to re-post two of my original reviews and reflections focused on the book.  This is one of the largest influences on my spirituality and leadership philosophy so if you’ve never heard of it maybe this will get you interested.

Here’s Part One:

One of the books I’ve enjoyed the most over the past month has been Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination. I was first exposed to Brueggemann while we were attending Peninsula Bible Church in Cupertino, CA during my time doing ministry at Stanford University. I noticed that one of the pastors, Brian Morgan, continually referred to Brueggemann as a source for some of the ideas in his sermons on the Old Testament. As I’ve come been immersing myself in my free time into systems theory, the prophetic ministry is an aspect I am quite intrigued by and I thought Brueggemann’s book on the prophetic imagination might spur some new thoughts or ideas.

His thesis is this, “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. (pg. 13)”

Much of this book is examining the dominant (or royal) consciousness in contrast to the alternative consciousness which is the embodiment of the Kingdom of God in this life. The prophetic imagination is that ministry which seeks to “nurture, nourish, and evoke” this alternative consciousness in the context of a dominant culture that is diametrically opposed to such a consciousness. Brueggemann uses Moses’ as the symbolic type of alternative consciousness while he uses Solomon as the symbolic type of that which represents the dominant or “royal” consciousness.

He writes that, “the dominant culture, now and in every time, is grossly uncritical, cannot tolerate serious and fundamental criticism, and will go to great lengths to stop it.” (pg. 14) The prophetic ministry has a criticizing as well as energizing function in the context of the dominant culture to awaken it to the alternative Kingdom community. I’ll post more on those two functions of prophetic ministry, but this is what Brueggemann writes of Moses’ counter-cultural revolution of Israel’s Egyptian tyrant, “his work is nothing less than an assault on the consciousness of the empire, aimed at nothing less than the dismantling of the empire both in its social practices and its mythic pretensions.” (pg. 19) Prophetic ministry undermines the dominant culture by exposing the inadequacies of the royal consciousness and by capturing the imagination of the people to embrace a genuine alternative community that builds the dignity of “the least of these” as opposed to protecting the power of the “have’s” in society.

I’ll end with this quote on the alternative community patterned after Moses,

“That prophetic tradition knows that it bears a genuine alternative to a theology of God’s enslavement and a sociology of human enslavement. That genuine alternative, entrusted to us who bear that calling, is rooted not in social theory or in righteous indignation or in altruism but in the genuine alternative that Yahweh is. Yahweh makes possible and requires an alternative theology and an alternative sociology. Prophecy begins in discerning how genuinely alternative he is.” (pg. 19)

Prophetic ministry is not just about disagreeing with the dominant culture. All of us could claim that at one point or another. It is about seeing and acting from a profound insight and vision into how God’s Kingdom is to be on this earth and how the dominant consciousness has built community and society based on false ideas.

This post was originally posted on July 23rd, 2007.

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