My use of the word “prophetic” is largely derived from Walter Bruggemann’s development of the role of prophecy in his wonderful book, The Prophetic Imagination (revised and updated edition, 2001, Augsburg Fortress Publishers). The quote on my right sidebar comes from the introduction to that edition, on p. xv.
The main point of the book is that the Biblical texts reflect the perspective of communities struggling from within the confines of an empire that sought to totalize the whole of life, to consume the reality of Israel (and later the church) within its dominant story of reality as it pertains to legitimating the power of the official kingly worldview. The texts reflect their efforts to capture among them a sense of a world fueled by an alternative imagination, that of Israel as the covenant people of God according to a worldview focused on the love and justice of that God embodied in their community practice. He also takes steps in some places to relate this analysis to our life today in Western society, discussing how the sense of this prophetic imagination can fuel our countercultural communal practice (which is, after all, what the church should be) in the face of this monolithic McWorld (Benjamin Barber’s term, not Brueggeman’s) empire of global technopolistic consumerist USAmerican culture.
Bruggemann states that the task of empire (what he terms the “royal consciousness”) is to eliminate a sense of past and future, encompassing all the reality that matters into an eternal now. No past is imaginable that did not contribute to the now, and no future can be envisioned that does not spring from it. The task of the prophetic community, then, is to present a radically different imagination, the imagination of God, rooted in symbols from the larger community’s past and animated by the hope of a future that is brought about not by the continuance of the oppressive machinations of the royal regime but rather by the decisive acts of God (such as the New Exodus themes found in Isaiah 40-66 where Isaiah uses Exodus imagery to describe the return from exile and coming of the Messiah) so that the people are freed from the imperial imagination into the vision of God.
It is my view that if we are to follow Christ as did the early church, we need to recapture this sense of the prophetic not only through debate and dialogue, but through images, poetry, art, music, and all other ways of engaging not only the logical mind but all senses that contribute to the construction of our human imaginations. This further includes creating environments to encounter God and truth, sacred spaces and worship gatherings and liturgies/modes of service, ways of encountering the eternal kingdom of God that will fuel our belief, thought, and practice in all areas of life. We will resist the privitization of religion that relegates belief to a sphere separate from daily encounters with the outside world; we will prophetically speak the truth that the Kingdom of God transcends and supercedes human governments, that all humans are created in the image of God, and that God is calling people from every race, every place, every social stratum, every economic class, every culture, every language, and every other sphere of life that we humans use to divide ourselves to come into radical faith, worship, and practice. We will proclaim freedom to captives, sight to the blind, life to the dying; we will question publically and privately the assumptions which the powers would have us accept a priori, without reflection and alternative experience; we will proclaim that another world is possible, and not only that but that other world is, in fact, victorious over the empires that would oppress us. And we will do this in such a way that we honor the God-created differences between us both as individuals and as members of cultural groups, recognizing that the Imago Dei is so great it cannot be contained by one ethical understanding, by one culture, by one race. After all, to gain freedom from one type of oppression, only to be told you have to act like an Anglo-American, for example, is not liberation at all but transferrence from one type of imperialism into another. The story of Christ must fulfill us in both our sameness and difference; in our communities and our individualities.
We will be prophetically countercultural, subversively holy, and radically orthodox.
One church, holy, catholic, and apostolic, not afraid to embrace and celebrate both our unity and our diversity.