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Book Review The Prophetic Imagination
by Walter Brueggemann Fortress Press, 1978
Reviewed by Tom Smith
(Walter Brueggemann is a widely published author, United Church of Christ minister, and professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.)

Brueggemann presents a classic study of the prophet as a change agent in the face of a recalcitrant power structure that exploits the weak. He uses Moses as the paradigmatic prophet, and the pharaoh and his hierarchy as the governing power elite. To the extent that the Israelites were brought from freedom into slavery, the power elite have a need to suppress memory of truth and historical freedom and to ridicule hope. The elite replace Yaweh with the religion of static triumphalism and the politics of oppression and exploitation. Thus, Egypt organizes against history, which means everything must be frozen in the now, either in urgent now or an eternal now. Energizing memories or radical hope is held to be a curiosity and a threat. As the Egyptians gather around the static god of order who only guards the interests of the "haves," oppression cannot be far behind. Brueggemann reminds us that it is the aim of every totalitarian effort to stop the language of newness, and we are now learning that where such language stops we find our humanness diminished.

Moses offered an alternative consciousness of a God who answers the cries of the oppressed. This alternative consciousness is characterized by criticizing and energizing. Real criticism begins in the capacity to grieve. Grieving is the most visceral announcement that things are not right. Bringing criticism to public expression, in the primal scream of grieving, began a new history of the Jewish people in the Exodus. Energizing is launched through the prophet who retains the memory of things the way they used to be, and understands the power of language - the ability to speak in ways that evoke newness, amazement and, above all, hope. In Moses' case, the newness and hope sprang fresh from "the Word." All of these factors must precede the action it takes to effect change. Real change begins then, when the prophet imagines how things should be. Brueggemann offers three parts to the prophetic imagination: the use of symbols adequate to the horror of the situation, bringing public expression to the suppressed emotions that need visibility, and to speak metaphorically but concretely about the deathliness that hovers over them and gnaws within them.

There is much more to this book beyond this short review. Brueggemann shows how the prophetic imagination can transform the present in powerful and unexpected ways. He describes the prophetic imagination as a force which brings traditions together with the realities of our society.

Tom Smith is a deacon in the Archdiocese of Boston.



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In the Vineyard
VOTF One-Year Anniversary

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Reflections of
Dr. Jim Muller

Jim Post Looks Back with Gratitude

Convocation Reflections

VOTF- Hope in Action

National VOTF Office Staff

Book Review
The Prophetic Imagination

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