The Prophetic Imagination – The Alternative Community of Moses, pt.1

This Tuesday, we are beginning our study of Walter Brueggemann’s seminal work The Prophetic Imagination. If you need a book, please let me know. I will have copies at church on Sunday morning. Books are available for $13 each. This email is available online.

The Biblical Foundation:

By trade, Brueggeman is a Professor of the Old Testament with an emphasis on the Hebrew Prophets. As he writes about in his Preface, the prophets can be studied within their historical context, like any other facet of any other ancient civilization. But keeping the prophets within their historical context does them and us a disservice. Although the Church confesses that the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets, the Church actually believes that the Holy Spirit is speaking through the prophets as well. As Paul writes, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, etc.” 2 Tim. 3:16. Therefore, Brueggemann wants us to see not only how the Spirit spoke at the time of the prophets, but for us to see how the Spirit is speaking to us in the same way today through them.

Two Worlds:

The basis of Brueggeman’s book is that there are two worlds. The first world is the world that we inhabit. It is the world of the dominant culture and the government that exists to keep order in this world, and which will enlist religion and God’s name in furtherance of this order. It is a culture whose values are based on the things of this world. Think of the importance we place on ourselves, our children, and our neighbors on being “good Americans.” But as John writes, we are called to not be of this world. 1 John 3, John 15:19, John 17:16. (A good brief discussion on the tension between Christianity, Capitalism, and Democracy from Richard Beck is here and here.)

The prophetic imagination is intended to allow us to see the alternative to the dominant culture and thereby allow us and the church a way of evoking, forming, and reforming an alternative community. Brueggemann is careful to note that this imagination is not about trading in one dominant culture for another. The prophetic imagination is not about a conservative resurgence against a sexually libertine culture or a progressive overturning of an evil capitalist system (or pick your own examples). These are battles that the world fights. As a people of God, we are called to an alternative vision. What that alternative vision encompasses is the theme of the book.

The initial example that Brueggemann uses to speak about the world and the prophetic imagination to both criticize the world and to energize an alternative vision is Pharoah and Moses. If you have time this week, read Exodus 1-3 and see where the Scriptures describe the world versus the prophetic alternative.

The Prophetic Imagination Today:

I commit two examples to you of the prophetic imagination today. Pastor Tim Soren’s book Everywhere You Look which we read last fall, is his attempt to put Brueggemann’s prophetic imagination into action. My notes from the study are Here. As we go through our Lenten Study, I encourage you to keep flipping back through Pastor Soren’s book to see how he envisions the outworking of the prophetic imagination today in our world.

Another example of the prophetic imagination today (or at least yesterday) is the works of Flannery O’Connor. Brueggemann writes about her works as prophetic in Part III of his Preface. pp. xxviii-xxix. (O’Conner lived in Milledgeville, Georgia which is less than 100 miles from Columbia Theological where Brueggemann taught.) If you have a collection of her works, I encourage you to re-read some of her stories. (A deeper discussion of O’Connor’s prophetic imagination by Karl Martin is here.)

For example, her story Revelation shows what happens when an individual is overcome by the prophetic imagination. The story is about Mrs. Turpin who sees herself as a good Christian woman with a good disposition, but who is extremely judgmental and sees herself as better than people in the lower social classes. Through the events of the story, Ms. Turpin comes to the revelation of the truth that God sees all people as equal, regardless of social class.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is beef barley soup. Discussion about 6:45. Compline around 8. I hope you can join us as part of your Lenten journey.

A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the (purple streak at sunset) as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it, a vast horde of souls was tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black (people) in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away. . . . In woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah.

Flannery O’Connor, Revelation

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