I have just finished reading Walter Brueggemann’s book “The Prophetic Imagination” (1978, revised 2001). From the outset I want to make it clear that I don’t understand all of it. His descriptions, allusions and theological ideas left me floundering on more than one occasion. I found his writing style difficult. Yet, it is one of the most exciting books I had read in recent times.
Breuggemann’s main thesis is that the prophet’s task is to lead the people in the groans and complaints (grieving) over the current order (which he calls the “royal consciousness”) with its lack of compassion, justice and with its propensity for self-justification and self-preservation. Positively, the prophetic is called to lead the vision and praise for a new kingdom – a new future led by Jesus himself.
Brueggemann takes us on a journey through the Old Testament, from Moses to Solomon and then onto Jeremiah. He explores the idea that the God in the midst of His people in Moses time had been subsumed to the King’s wishes from Solomon onward. The “Royal consciousness” of Solomon’s kingdom (much like the arrogance of pharaoh’s royal consciousness) had overrun the alternative community inaugurated by Moses when he led the people out of Egypt. The prophets’ task then was to grieve for that which had been lost and the kingdom’s deathly future and to herald a new possibility.
Brueggemann says much about the grieving of the prophet for the addiction to the culture of death. This resonated with me. Because we live in a culture of death at present and we, like many of our fellow citizens, are blinded to its decay and futility. The powers of our age with their spin, bread and circuses camouflage the fact that our present social order is toxic and deadly. Even our churches have taken on many of the attributes of royal consciousness in the way they operate.
This book also made me think about so many issues our society faces – refugees, minorities, aborted children, in fact all those dis-empowered and on the fringe. His solution however is Christ centred. The answer he discovers from Scripture is a real king and a real kingdom that has been inaugurated and that calls its citizens to both grieve for the present but also energize the new.
Brueggemann also reminded me of the “prophetic” element of the Christian’s “prophet, priest and king” calling. There is the challenge for the body of Christ to be far more grief stricken for that is which is unjust, deadly and flawed in our culture and to proclaim and embrace a more Christ-like vision.
Even though this book has been around for a while I believe it has a particular relevance for our present time. And moreover, you are probably smarter than I am and can even get more out of it.