The Prophetic Imagination

Every now and then I come across a book that seems to speak the language of my soul. Where the words connect on a deeper level than normal and it feels like reading someone else’s profound articulations of thoughts you’ve felt emerging inside you. As should be expected, it is rare to find books like this. I was beyond excited to read Walter Brueggemann’s book, The Prophetic Imagination, originally written in the 1970s. It has since been revised and I easily rated this a five on my reading list this year.

Brueggemann explores the role of the prophetic voice throughout the scriptures and invites the church to continue living out this role in any culture today. He sets it up like this: “the essential question for the church is whether or not its prophetic voice has been co-opted into the culture of the day.” When we live out this role, we as the church “will be prophetic voices crying out in the wilderness of the dominant culture of our day.” While the book itself is not all that long, it is a deep dive into ideas which call us to question many accepted norms around us. This is a much-needed read for the American church. Below are a few of my favorite ideas from the book.

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.

We are indeed made in the image of some God. And perhaps we have no more important theological investigation than to discern in whose image we have been made.

It is the task of the prophet to bring to expression the new realities against the more visible ones of the old order. Energizing is closely linked to hope. We are energized not by that which we already possess but by that which is promised and about to be given.

In the imperial world of Pharaoh and Solomon, the prophetic alternative is a bad joke either to be squelched by force or ignored in satiation. But we are a haunted people because we believe the bad joke is rooted in the character of God himself, a God who is not the reflection of Pharaoh or of Solomon.

The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing.

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 futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.

What a commission it is to express a future that none think imaginable!

Exiles must always learn that our hope is never generated among us but always given to us. And whenever it is given we are amazed.

Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context. Empires live by numbness.

Jesus had the capacity to give voice to the very hurt that had been muted, and therefore newness could break through. Newness comes precisely from expressed pain. Suffering made audible and visible produces hope, articulated grief is the gate of newness, and the history of Jesus is the history of entering into the pain and giving it voice.

The resurrection of Jesus is not to be understood in good liberal fashion as a spiritual development in the church. Nor should it be too quickly handled as an oddity in the history of God or an isolated act of God’s power. Rather, it is the ultimate act of prophetic energizing in which a new history is initiated. It is a new history open to all but peculiarly received by the marginal victims of the old order. The fully energized Lord of the church is not some godly figure in the sky but the slain Lamb who stood outside the royal domain and was punished for it.

The risen Jesus announces his new royal authority. He is now the king who displaces the king. His resurrection is the end of the nonhistory taught in the royal school and a new history begins for those who stood outside of history.

Prophetic ministry consists of offering an alternative perception of reality.

Sign up with your email and never miss a post!



Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan. Husband to Michelle and father to Gavin, Madsen, Adelyn, Aiden, and Abel. Author of Redeeming Pleasure and Lead Pastor at Abundant Life Church in Portland.

More in Reading
How to Survive a Shipwreck

I had marked Jonathan Martin's book How to Survive a Shipwreck as one to read for months before I actually...

Close