Prophetically engaging with the culture.

It’s taken me a while to get through this book, although it is only about 120 pages long. Walter Brueggemann’s Prophetic Imagination is quite a dense read.

His basic thesis is that we need to engage in a critique, calling out, and imagining or our cultures, as this is what the prophets have done all throughout Biblical times. At every point there is what he calls ‘a Royal Consciousness’ which reveals itself in the politics or power, contrary to what God’s community was called to be. The trouble is that in every age and society, we like the royal way. We know it and it is comfortable. We have become so used to it that we are unable to see past it to how God might be calling us beyond it. The second paragraph of the book critiques the American church for its attitude to consumerism, the dominant royal way that we cannot see past. Brueggemann invites us to imagine and critique in the ways that the prophets did.

From the days of slavery in Egypt, God challenged Moses to lead the people in an exercise of imagination as he led them out of slavery away from the ‘Royal Power’ of Pharaoh. In the wilderness they were free, but couldn’t quite get their heads around the freedom that God has given and started grumbling for a return to the royal consciousness.

In the promised land a similar thing happened. “We want a King like the other nations!” they said. So that is what they got and they became like the other nations. But the prophets once again challenged them to grieve over the departure from God that their own community had taken and to imagine something better – grieving through Jeremiah and others, imagining through second Isaiah. And then Jesus comes in the ultimate expression of God’s critique of the Royal consciousness – born in an occupied land in a barn and hunted down by the powers that rule. He embodied and invited us into the ‘imagining’ of god’s community, where all were, the poor in spirit and grieving are blessed, and where warnings are given to those in power. The royal was is coming to an end.

In his conclusion, Brueggemann writes:

The task of prophetic ministry is to evoke an alternative community that know it is about different things in different ways. And that alternative community has a variety of relationships with the dominant community.

This is where, albeit briefly, Brueggemann gets practical. Christian communities are to prophetically criticise the dominant culture and to invite ways of imagining God’s better way. I goes Tom Wright might say it is living the resurrection life now. Here are some specifics from Brueggemann.

  • This prophetic imagining involves the whole aspect of ministry – counselling, preaching, educating. “It concerns a stance and posture or a hermeneutic about the world of death and the wow of live that can the brought to light in every context.”
  • It should ‘penetrate the numbness’ of the state in which e are caught. And in many cases to do this we need to learn to lament and grieve.
  • “There is a yearning of energy in a world gone weary”. Only Hope can penetrate this.

So, I guess we are to create communities that know how to lament and mourn as well as to live with the hope of God in sight. Are we seen as placed where the reality of life is shared as well as just joys. Perhaps, in our Facebook twitter world where we filter only the good things that we don’t mind the world seeing, such a real community is attractive. But are we also engaged with the world in such a way that shouts out, ‘another world is possible’, ‘it doesn’t have to be this way’, ‘come and share the journey’.

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