Here’s part two of my re-posting of my original reviews and reflections from Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination. You can find part one or my original post here. I originally discussed the difference between the royal consciousness and the mosaic alternative community and that the prophetic role is call people to that alternative community when the royal consciousness has undermined God’s agenda for His people. Brueggemann writes,
“The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing. The same royal consciousness that makes it possible to impleement anything and everything is the one that shrinks imagination because imagination is a danger. Thus every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.” (pg. 45)
Remember as I write, that the “King” does not necessarily mean a literal King or an equivalent like the President of the U.S. It is a symbol, a representative of the politics of power, a symbol of those who have versus the have nots, a symbol of those who have power versus those that do not. That this royal consciousness can be very much alive and well in the minds of ministry leaders and spiritual authorities is a given, such was the reality frequently in the Old Testament.
I find Brueggemann’s analysis of the prophetic role of criticizing to be fascinating. As mentioned before, he identifies 2 primary prophetic roles: criticizing and energizing. There might be various imagery that comes to mind when thinking about prophetic criticism, but Brueggeman asserts that this prophetic ministry is achieved primarily through the leading of the community towards an engagement with their grief. The royal consciousness needs to be challenged and even undermined first and foremost by public displays of grief and suffering that bring reality into the forefront of people’s minds. He writes, “It is the task of prophetic ministry and imagination to bring people to engage their experiences of suffering to death.” This, he argues, is what exposes the “royal numbness” (51) and announces it’s sure end.
The other aspect of the prophetic ministry is energizing which he argues simply as the task of being a voice of hope to the community with attention being given to the hope that is found in God’s alternative kingdom. These two tasks, Brueggemann emphasizes as the core of prophetic ministry.
What I would offer as a possible test to determine the degree to which the prophetic voice or ministry is active or permitted in your community is as follows (based on Brueggemann):
- Is your community an environment which is comfortable with the language and experience of grief? Is grief permitted or silenced?
- Is there a strong vision of how your community exists as an alternative community to the world?
- Do the leaders of your community keep power to themselves or do they seek to give it away for the sake of those under their leadership?
(Or do your leaders embrace the worldly hierarchies of authority in order to feel secure in their leadership?)
Brueggeman’s work and analysis of Old Testament prophetic ministry as well as that of Jesus indicates that the above questions can shed great light into whether our communities of faith have benefitted from the prophetic ministry or whether they are in desperate need of the prophetic voice.
This post was originally posted August 22, 2007.