Prophetic proclamation is an attempt to imagine the world as though YHWH—the creator of the world, the deliverer of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whom we Christians come to name as Father, Son, and Spirit—were a real character and an effective agent in the world.
This understanding of the prophets stands in contrast to both conservative and liberal theological traditions:
- Conservatives tend to view the prophets as fore-tellers of the future.
- Liberals tend to view the prophets as people who scold other people’s lack of social justice.
Brueggemann’s understanding of the prophets—that they imagine a world where God is King, then speak to a world where it’s evident that his rule isn’t carried out—gives them a new lease on life. The world of the prophets (where the Davidic monarchy was apostatizing in the name of God and abusing the downtrodden) looks a lot like modern Western culture.
The world we live in today can be described as “therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism” (4). This is a world that the prophets need to speak to.
Old Testament prophets spoke of judgment and loss when the monarchy was running away from God. Once exile happened, the prophets changed their message to hope and future. One of the highlights of the book for me was chapter 5, “The Burst of Newness amid Waiting.” Israel was in exile, living out the effects of continued disobedience to God. This cause-effect relationship is clearly detailed in Deuteronomy—what hope was left? It was then that the prophets traveled further back to the creation narrative to call upon a God who can bring life out of nothing. Ezekiel’s famous valley of dry bones story illustrates this. To be sure, Israel was suffering for their sins—but the God who breathed life into dust in Genesis can breathe life into the exiles.
When I consider the message of the prophets today, I’m discouraged. The prophets who spoke of judgment and loss to the self-satisfied and secure kingdom would likely say the same things to the West today. Brueggemann notes that there have been some signs of real brokenness, though. 9/11 has stolen our sense of invulnerability. The sub-prime mortgage crisis has stolen our financial security. I’m not sure how far our fall will be, but I know God’s final words will be new life.
The author gives a good 14 minute overview of the book here:
—Walter Brueggemann, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013).