The role of the prophet is to help society grieve the death of its own future and excite hope for God’s future. That is a quickie summary of The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann.
In setting the context for the Old Testament Prophets and the need for modern prophets, Brueggemann lists three facets of the “royal consciousness” which marginalizes God’s activitiy in its zeal for self-preservation. These are the hallmarks of almost every dominant society.
First, the royal consciousness makes economic affluence the primary good in life. The strongest power structures then completely satiate people’s physical needs, cementing the government’s role as the supplier of all good things.
Second, the royal consciousness “reforms” God so that God’s only concern is for order and affluence. In other words, God becomes the champion of the power structure. Brueggemann calls this the “religion of immanence.” God is no longer transcendent, no longer calls people to repentance or radical faith, and becomes completely intertwined with the government.
Third, the royal consciousness practices the politics of oppression. Instead of a society that values every person, all people become commodities to be marketed to, objects to use, or sources of state income.
When I read these words (originally written in 1978 and revised in 2001), I feel like I am reading the latest headlines from cnn.com.
The solution to the numbing oppression, according to Brueggemann, is for prophets to fire our imaginations with the possibility of an alternative reality. This begins by mourning the loss of freedom, hope and God in the dominant culture. Then it energizes creative living by focusing on a hope that only God can give.
I have never thought myself a prophet, but when I read this book, and see how religion has been co-opted by consumerism, the politics of war, and reliance upon government, I think we need a few more prophets.
(continued in my next post)