The Prophetic Imagination (Revised and Updated Edition)

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Topics: Theology & Religious Education. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “The Prophetic Imagination (Revised and Updated Edition)

  1. Review

    During the years between the publication of this book in 1978 and the Revised Edition in 2001, the author has experienced three changes, which have impacted his work. First, the discipline of historical criticism, which seeks to understand the historical context of biblical texts, has been enriched by social-scientific criticism which seeks to understand texts within the contexts of social forces out of which they arose and to which they may have spoken. Contributing to this enrichment is the emergence of rhetorical criticism and "its appreciation of the generative, constitutive power of imagination" which, given voice, offers "alternative worlds" of reality. Second, he has experienced an intensified appreciation of various forms of liberation theology, which have helped him see "the intimate contact" between prophetic texts and social justice. Third, he is convinced that because the ‘mainline churches’ have become institutionally enculturated and politically marginalized, the "old confrontational model" of "prophet versus established power" is no longer viable. Today, the prophetic texts of the biblical tradition need to be used by the church in more imaginative ways and applied to concrete circumstances in order to effect changes in contemporary "social perspective and social policy"

    Walter Brueggemann, who is Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia, begins his study with an exploration of his hypothesis that "The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the dominant culture around us." He sees the foundational biblical paradigm of this task in "The Alternative Community of Moses." The Exodus marked the beginning of the formation of a new social community of an "alternative consciousness" characterized by "prophetic criticism" and "prophetic energizing." Moses was "critical" of the Egyptian Empire, and also "energizing" in offering, for his people, an alternative future to the "politics of oppression and exploitation" practiced by the Pharaohs.

    Brueggemann then devotes a chapter to "Prophetic Criticizing and the Embrace of Pathos," using Jeremiah as a model. He also devotes a chapter to "Prophetic Energizing and The Emergence of Amazement," using Second Isaiah as a model. He then uses the categories of "criticizing" and "energizing" to describe the prophetic mission and ministry of Jesus, which was, to oppose "the politics of oppression with the politics of justice and compassion." The radical criticism of Jesus revealed in his words and deeds, culminated in his crucifixion, "the ultimate act of criticism." The author understands the resurrection of Jesus as "the ultimate act of prophetic energizing in which a new history is initiated." The author writes, "It is a new history open to all but peculiarly received by the marginal victims of the old order."

    The book concludes with some reflections on the practice of prophetic ministry. The mission and ministry the local parish, as well as the church-at-large, is to "evoke an alternative community" which lives out of an "alternative perception of reality" from the dominant culture. As an alternative community, the church is concerned both with criticizing the dominant cultural consciousness and energizing the culture to focus on the "the will of God for justice and compassion." A parish "mission statement" which described the church as a "criticizing" and "energizing" alternative community to American culture would be worth getting excited about!

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