Prophetic Paradigm: Vision

The prophets did not pop up out of nowhere and then disappear.  They were part of something larger than themselves–larger than their location, their time, and their message.  They were threads in God’s larger tapestry of redemption.  I call this larger reality the prophetic paradigm, a way of identifying and connecting with God’s ongoing transformation.

To describe the prophetic paradigm I will use a threefold model developed by Richard Foster: vision, intention, and means   He wrote, “These three operating under the the grace of God will immerse us in a life that is penetrated throughout by love, that responds to everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, and that has the power to overcome evil with Christlikeness. [1]  This is surely in keeping with the prophetic task as Brueggemann describes it. We begin with vision.

In their communion with God, the prophets saw the Kingdom of God.  The big word for it is shalom. [2]   Wes Granberg-Michaelson writes, “This biblically infused vision, resonant from Genesis to Revelation, pictures a world made whole , with people living in a beloved community, where no one is despised  or forgotten, peace reigns, and the goodness of God’s creation is treasured and protected as a gift.” [3]  This vision ignited and sustained the original prophetic task, and it is what continues to keep prophets speaking and acting when resistance comes. [4]

Brueggemann describes how vision was woven into God’s call to Moses.  Vision is essentially what he calls “imagination.”  The challenge to deliver the Israelites from Egypt was set in the larger context of God’s promise to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey.  Imagining an alternative community in a new location meant that the exodus could occur in the hope that freedom would overcome bondage. [5]  Brueggemann refers to this vision as an alternative consciousness–a new mindset that energized action.

Vision gave the prophetic task its purpose (telos), and it gave guidance on the way toward the goal.  It was the “north star” by which the prophets navigated the journey toward deliverance.  Vision is also what preserves hope when opposition arises, and it is what re-charges our batteries when we grow weary in well doing.

I was deeply moved watching the movie, “Selma.”  In a memorable scene, Martin is driving around one night with John Lewis.  King is ready to quit, given the movement had turned deadly and innocent folks had become martyrs.  Lewis empathizes, but then revisits the vision which got everything going in the first place.  At least as far as the movie went, it was his reconnecting with the vision that kept Martin from throwing in the towel.

Brueggeman sees it similarly when he writes that vision is that “in which everything is seen clearly and radically.” [6]  The prophets needed that to keep them going.  So do we.

[1] Richard Foster, Life With God (HarperOne, 2008), xi.  He first applied this model as a spiritual formation paradigm in The Life With God Bible (HarperOne, 2005) creating what he calls “the with-God life” (the Immanuel Principle), using it as the hermeneutic for observing the unfolding narrative in the Bible.  Walter Brueggemann was the Old Testament Consulting Editor for this Bible.

[2]  I have long known that the Kingdom of God was the central teaching of Jesus.  I first read about this in E. Stanley Jones’ The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person (Abingdon Press, 1972).  More recently, I have seen how Jesus’ teaching of the Kingdom of God put him on a collision course with the political and religious leaders (see Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan,The Last Week, (HarperCollins, 2006), loc 3092). And now, Walter Brueggemann is adding the latest brush stroke to this canvas by showing how the message was (and is) the subject that gives rise to the prophetic task.

[3] Wes Granberg-Michaelson, “From Mysticism to Politics,” Oneing, Vol. 5, No. 2 (CAC Publishing, 2017), 17.

[4]  John Lewis writes about this in relation to the civil rights movement in his book, Across that Bridge (HarperCollins, 2012).

[5] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Task, Second Edition, 6-7.

[6] Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own (Westminster John Knox, 2017), 22.

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Person: Messenger

We can summarize the personhood of the prophet in a fourth characteristic.  The prophet is a messenger. Morality gives the messenger credibility.  Mysticism gives the messenger content.  And mediation gives the messenger commission.  All this comes together in the words, “Thus says the Lord.”  The prophet as a messenger is important for a number of reasons.

First,  being a messenger keeps clear that the prophet is a representative. [1]  It is the idea Paul had in mind when he said Christians are ambassadors for Christ.  This preserves necessary humility, but it does something else: it confers authority. 

Brueggemann notes that the representative nature of the prophets is what makes them countercultural.  They are not in the midst of Israel making suggestions which they think are important, they live in the society to declare how God sees the situation, and to show God’s way out of the bondage of empire into the freedom of shalom. [2]

Second, being a messenger places the prophet under the same mandates as those who are addressed.  Prophets speak and act in the midst of the people, not apart from them. They must live up to the same expectations as anyone else. 

During my more than fifty years of preaching and teaching, one of the things I believed most was the necessity to stand within the circle of the message, not outside it.  This is what gives the message a modeled authenticity; that is, messengers are accountable to live by the message they proclaim.  Parker Palmer calls this the autobiograhical nature of teaching. [3]

We see the absence of this in the ministry of Jonah, who spoke the message, but was unable to rejoice when the people accepted it. The book ends with Jonah outside the city, pouting under the bush.  And even today, we sometime find messengers who are unable to find joy in delivering the message because they stand outside the circle of grace that the message offers.  That is a sad place to be.  It is not where genuine prophets live.

Third, being a messenger provides a “hiding place” when the message is resisted.  In a very real sense, we can say, “God this is your message, not mine.  You must comfort me as I deliver it.” This is one of the things we see in the interchanges between Moses and God.  Moses is not hesitant to say, “You did this to me!  You must give me the courage, strength, and patience to carry on.”

Honestly, I do not think I could have preached and taught without realizing that even as I was sent from God, I could flee to God when “soul drain”‘overtook me.  Brueggemann also speaks of the importance of hiddenness in his ministry–those times and places where he discovered both revelations and restraints. [4]  Prophets must have a cleft in the Rock.

I hope you realize that these posts about the prophetic task are not exclusively historical.  The prophetic task is one for us to engage in today–as Brueggemann emphasizes over and over in his writings and audio/video teachings.  Nowhere is this more important than in the rooting of the prophetic task in the prophet’s personhood.  Like the biblical prophets, we too must be persons who are moral, mystics, mediators, and messengers.

In the next round of posts we will explore the prophetic paradigm–the milieu in which prophets operate: a paradigm that includes vision, intention, and means.

[1] Robert R. Wilson,  Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel (Fortress Press, 1980).

[2] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, 21.

[3] Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach (Josey Bass, 1998).

[4] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, 117.

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Person: Mediator

Prophets personify a third quality. They are mediators.  Just as morality and mysticism are linked, so too are mysticism and mediation.  Prophets are apostles, sent by God to tell what they have seen and heard.  Alan Watts noted this decades ago by writing that, far from keeping their encounter with God to themselves, mystics communicate their experience of God. [1]

Brueggemann recognizes this as well, devoting a section in his book, Old Testament Theology  to the theme, “Prophet as Mediator.” [2]  Far from being esoteric and abstract, prophets are mediators who link heaven and earth.. They do this in several key ways.

First, they create “thin places” where what God wills can be compared and contrasted with what is.  Brueggemann calls this the interfacing of tradition and enculturation. [3]  The interface is one of incongruity.  The Kingdom of God (shalom) is at odds with “kingdoms of this world” (empire).  The gap between the two is often wide, but never total. [4]  But whatever the distance, the redemption of people from empire and their return to the peaceable kingdom is a matter of life and death.

Moses, the first and paradigmatic prophet, brought this message to the fore in his final sermon in Deuteronomy, “I have set before you life and death….Choose life!” (34:19).  The interface is that clear, and that radical.  Every prophet after him stands at the same fork in the road and issues the same challenge.

Second, the prophets invite.  We see this in the first point, but it is good to give it attention and emphasis.  In a previous post, we noted that prophets are loving people.  Calling out empire is not motivated by the anger of retribution, but rather by the hope of restoration.  Our fundamental problem is that we are “away from home”–exiled into ways of living that diminish life. [5]  But…there is always a land (a way of life) to which we can return. 

The incongruity of empire is not the final word.  An invitation to congruity–to life–is the final word.  Isaiah captured it, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy, and eat!” (55:1).  Brueggemann describes this as “an invitation to respond with sanity to our special craziness.” [6]  In other words, heeding the prophetic invitation is the smartest thing we will ever do!

Third, the prophets intercede.  We see this in Moses’ repeated intercession on behalf of the people.  He is not questioning God’s knowledge about them, but rather calling God to act graciously toward them.  Moses holds in tension the nature of human sin with the nature of God–hesed–steadfast love.  His intercession is an experience of trust in God’s core nature and confidence that from that nature grace will prevail.

Years ago, Dr. Dennis Kinlaw taught that the basis of intercession is our belief that God takes our lives seriously.  He used the conversation between Abraham and the Lord in Genesis 18 to illustrate this truth.  The text reads, “Abraham remained standing before the Lord” (v 22).  That is the way we would expect it to read; that is, Abraham stood reverently before God.  And that’s what prayer is, right?

Well, of course.  But the amazing thing is that the text has also been translated, “The Lord remained standing before Abraham.”  God stands reverently before us?  Kinlaw said, “Yes!”  And that is the basis of prayer–it is a conversational relationship in which God takes us as seriously as we take God!  [7]  It is that mutual seriousness which enables prayer to be specific, forthright, and even courageous.  In fact, being a mediator only makes sense in the context of a mutually-respectful relationship.  The prophets are mediators who pray this way, and so can we.

Mediators are as needed today as ever. Standing between shalom and empire is the place from which revelation can come and response made.  It is the place which simultaneously calls for repentance (i.e. to look at life in ways that are not imperial) and offers hope that transformation is always possible. [8]

[1]Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit (Vintage Books, 1947/1971),  loc 106.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament (Fortress Press, 2005 edition), 622-627.

[3] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, 2.  In this case, ‘tradition’ means Torah before it fell prey to the contamination of misinterpretation and false application at the hands of those who misused it for their ends rather than God’s glory.

[4]  Empire never completely destroys God’s will, as Bureggemann points out.  This is why the call of God through the prophets is the ‘redemption’ of people and systems, not starting over from scratch.  It is why Jesus said he did not come to do away with the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).  We will explore this further when we look at the reconstructive nature of the prophetic task.

[5] This was one of Henri Nouwen’s major emphases, and he wrote about it in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son (Doubleday, 1992). After he died, friends compiled some of his unpublished writings where he reflected further about our needed return to the Father’s house, and published  the book, Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Doubleday, 2009).

[6] Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own (Westminster John Knox, 2017), 16.

[7] Dennis Kinlaw, Prayer , an audio teaching (The Francis Asbury Society, n.d.), Disc 1.

[8] Oneing journal, Vol. 5, No 1 (CAC Publications, 2017) features “Transformation” as its theme.  But long before this, E. Stanley Jones noted that the synonymn for Christianity is ‘transformation.’

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Person: Mystic

The morality of the prophet is connected to a second characteristic of prophetic personhood–the prophet is a mystic.  Mysticism is a necessary pre-requisite if the prophetic task is to occur.

For some, the necessity of mysticism takes getting used to because the word ‘mystic’ carries a lot of baggage–at its worst a description of someone “who is so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good.”  If that is our operational definition of mysticism, it can never be used to describe prophetic personhood.  Whatever else prophets were, they were people called to do much earthly good.  In fact, it was their ordinary down-to-earthness that gave them added credibility.

So, this post rests upon another definition of ‘mystic’–a definition that is the historic and classical one–namely, a mystic is someone who believes that a direct experience of God is possible precisely because we are made in the image of God, a likeness that makes a relationship with God possible. [1]  We have a God-made capacity for relationship, and our desire for it is the deepest hunger of our hearts.  From that center point we live, move, have our being and engage in the tasks to which God calls us

With this understanding of mysticism, we can properly use the word ‘mystic’ to describe prophetic personhood.  And from this vantage point, several important things can be seen.

First, the prophet is a God-oriented person.  Eugene Peterson says it this way: “First God.  God is the subject of life.  God is foundational for living. If we don’t have a sense of the primacy of God, we will never get it right, get life right, get our lives right.  Not God at the margins; not God as an option; not God on the weekends.  God at center and circumference. God first and last; God, God, God.” [2]  With respect to the prophetic task, this means the prophets always know that their ministry is a divine gift, not a human impulse. [3]  That is, the prophet is one who lives vocationally–lives with a sense of call.

Second, the prophet is a love-saturated person.  How could it be otherwise if we are in relationship with God, who is love (1John 4:8) and who manifests love (‘hesed’ in the Old Testament and ‘agapé’ in the New Testament) directly through the Holy Spirit and indirectly through us, as the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5) . Brueggemann notes that prophets are lovers because they are in an ongoing lover/beloved relationship. [4]

Third, the prophet is a compassion-driven person.  In the lover/beloved relationship, compassion (i.e. love for others) is our first response.  We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).  God’s compassion is revealed in Exodus 3, as God’s having heard the cry of people, seen their oppression–and come down to deliver them.  Moses, as God’s first prophet, is one who is to have eyes to see and ears to hear–and then to act to deliver God’s people.

Compassion is the sign that we have God’s heart and that we are willing to be instruments of God’s peace.  In classic Christian formation, the “gift of tears” is often the sign that we have a heart of compassion.  Brueggemann puts it this way, “I believe that the proper idiom for the prophet…is the language of grief.” [5]  We see this same compassion evidenced in Jesus multiple times in the gospels, and climaxing when his prophetic heart moved him to weep over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44).

Taken together, these qualities create the prophet who is mystic–that is, one who embraces, embodies, and expresses the great commandments, loving God and loving others.  .  Far from being irrelevant, the prophets (as mystics) join together what humans (empire) have put asunder.  Prophets work to restore what has fallen apart.

[1]  Evelyn Underhill’s classic work, Mysticism, originally published in 1911 and republished many times since, has redeemed the concept for many people.  Underhill’s life and work, in addition to her writing, show the down-to-earth nature of mysticism. In 1914, she wrote Practical Mysticism, making it even more clear that to be a mystic is to live fully in the world.

[2] Eugene Peterson, Conversations: The Message Bible With Its Translator, since retitled, The Message Study Bible (NavPress, 2007), 24.

[3] Brueggemann’s latest book, Gift and Task (Westminster John Knox Press, 2017) pays tribute to the connection between God’s generosity and the prophetic task; that is, the prophet is one who is invited (a sign of divine generosity) to be a co-creator with God.  This same connection also appears in earlier books by Brueggemann.

[4] In The Prophetic Task, Second Edition, Brueggemann shows that love is the reason for the covenant and its essence, 76.

[5] The Prophetic Task, Second Edition, 46.  After this quote, Brueggemann moves into an eleven-page exposition of the idea, using Jeremiah as the illustration of it.  For more on the idea of “the gift of tears,” see a book Brueggemann himself recommends, Daniel Berrigan’s Isaiah: Spirit of Courage, Gift of Tears (Fortress, 1996).  In historic.Christian spirituality, Ignatius of Loyola is one who speaks about praying for the gift of tears.

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Person: Moral

If we are to understand prophetic task, we must begin with the prophet.  Personhood sets the trajectory for performance.  Character is always the basis of conduct.  Brueggemann recognizes this when he says that the prophetic voice is rooted in something deeper than itself. The messenger is the pipe through which the message flows.  So, we must begin with the personhood of the prophet.  If we bypass this, we will almost certainly misunderstand and malpractice the prophetic task.

I want to note that while I will describe the personhood of the prophet in four ways: moral, mystic, mediator, and messenger, they are essentially parts of one whole, each interacting with and energizing the others. We gain insight by looking at the aspects, but the prophetic person is one even as God is One.

We begin with the prophet as a moral person. For Brueggemann, the root of prophetic imagination is its morality. [1]  The prophet is a moral person who incarnates the message.  Incarnation gives the message credibility, and it also means the message is liveable.  Credibility and liveability make the message real.  The prophets speak and enact the message to make it clear: God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven–the very thing we say in the Lord’s prayer.  We cannot ignore reality, especially when it is Reality–that is, when it is of God.

Prophets are those who have integrated the message in themselves before communicating it to others.  Brueggemann says this is exactly what happened to him prior to, and following, writing the first edition of The Prophetic Imagination in 1978.  Between 1978 and 2001(second edition of the book) Brueggemann testifies to a process of formation in which his inperpretation of the prophetic imagination became increasingly incarnate in his own life. He does not hesitate to say that this integration enriched both his scholarship and his capacity to apply it to today–thus making the prophetic task contemporary and urgent, as it was for the original prophets [2]  Brueggeman became a prophet through his study of the prophets.

Years ago, Henri Nouwen described authentic ministry this way: the minister is someone before he or she attempts to do some thing. [3]  More recently, Richard Rohr has said essentially the sane thing, “Truth is a person.” [4]  The prophets knew this, and lived accordingly.  They stood as ensigns of the very truth they declared. [5]

Unfortunately, we have departed from this essential integrity/integration, creating a gap between our character and conduct.  We are reaping the whirlwind of scandal as a result–and doing so currently in the political, religious, and entertainment areas of life.  But as is always the case, personal and collective life is debased whenever performance (conduct) is separated from personhood (character)–when appearance eclipses authenticity.  “Looking good” is not the same as being good.  When we settle for “image” and ignore integrity, we pay a high and tragic price, individually and collectively.  Immorality is one of the perils of empire as Brueggemann defines it. We will explore this further later in this series.

The prophetic task can only be studied legitimately in the larger context of the prophetic person.  The prophet is a moral person, and only then can the message be genuinely holy.  An old adage says it well, “Who you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”  Personhood is the pivot that makes the message swing toward or away from God. The prophets knew this, and engaged in the prophetic task standing on the good foundation of morality.

[1] Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, loc 84.

[2] The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, loc  64. I can only say that as I have been reading his books chronologically, I can see the “prophetic energy” (his term) growing in what and how Brueggemann writes.  In a very real sense, he has become a prophet himself.

[3]  Sadly, I have lost the reference to Nouwen’s words.  If you happen to know the source, please email me (oboediresite@gmail.com). 

[4] Richard Rohr, What the Mystics Know (Crossroad Publishing, 2015), loc 1439.

[5]  The prophets were not faultless, but the were blameless.  This is a critical distinction.  To be blameless means they were faithful, inside and out, to the task.  It does not mean they had no rough edges or made no mistakes.  To be blameless is to live so that no accusation of infidelity can prevail.  This is a covenant concept we will return to later–a theme that appears in the psalms (e.g. Psalm 15) and is echoed by the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 33:15). To lose this distinction runs the risk of making prophets “plaster saints” (Thomas Merton’s term)–“little saviors” (my term) who are driven by perfectionism and who fall prey to their own narcissism.

Posted in The Prophetic Task

On the Edge of the Inside

Years ago, Richard Rohr got my attention when he said we are called to live “on the edge of the inside.”  He calls this an alternative orthodoxy (that is, a genuine orthodoxy that is distinct from certain prevailing views in the status-quo society and in segments of the institutional church) that messages the Gospel in terms of the two great commandments and the radical advocacy of those who are oppressed for the lack of that love.  Rohr finds this location in his Franciscan tradition, and now seeks to apply the spirit and substance of it to 21st-century matters.

I do not know the extent to which Rohr may have been influenced by Brueggemann at this particular point [1], but I do know that Brueggemann is another voice pointing in a similar direction. In words akin to Rohr’s, Brueggemann wrote, “We are called to live between the voices of promise and seduction”–that is, between shalom and empire. [2] Even before that, in The Prophetic Imagination, he makes it clear that prophets live on the margins, creating the necessary distance from the center of empire and bringing the prophets into the sacred space of the anawim [3]–the ones Jesus called “the least of these” and “little flock.”

This is a subversive location (more on this later), and one that is necessary to generate the prophetic energy (Brueggemann’s word) to move us from “the kingdoms of this world” into the Kingdom of God.  Living too close to the center of empire keeps our souls “sold to the company store” (institution, association, organization, group); living too far away makes us revolutionaries who no longer see any value in current realities. Living on the edge of the inside gives us eyes to see and ears to hear, so that the de-constructive/re-constructive actions can occur together.

Living on the edge of the inside is risky for many reasons–one of which is that we lose friends in both the empire and in the anawim. [4] As Brueggemann notes repeatedly, the prophet is often a lonely person called to speak and act in the perilous territory of “the already and the not yet.”  Prophetic disorder, as Brueggemann also shows, challenges everyone, including the prophets themselves.

But living on the edge of the inside is exactly where we are called to be.  How to locate ourselves there and remain there is what this series aims to address. It is what I am calling “the prophetic task.” I will describe this task from four vantage points: the prophetic person, paradigm, process, and purpose.

[1] In his book, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2008), 10–Rohr cites a direct affinity with Brueggemann with respect to the idea of “covenant love” which takes us into the presence of those who suffer and into the heart of God who suffers with us.  Rohr references Brueggemann’s book Theology of the Old Testament (Fortress Press, 2009), 215.  Rohr writes of this again in A Spring Within Us (CAC Publications, 2016), 214.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own (Westminster John Knox, 2017), 8.  This book is coordinated with the season of Lent, but it can be read with great value at any time.

[3] I have chosen the word anawim deliberately, both because it is the right Hebrew word to describe the forgotten and oppressed, but also to highlight early on in this series my indebtedness to Brennan Manning for opening my eyes decades ago to God’s heart for “the little ones.”  His book, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Multnomah, 1990) is all about us anawims. In 2001, I had the privilege of attending one of his retreats, the theme of which became his book, The Wisdom of Tenderness (HarperSanFrancisco, 2002)–a book that further developed the idea of anawim, and how we “little ones” are the recipients of God’s mercy in a world that is too often unmerciful.

[4] Gandhi experienced this, having enemies both in the British Empire and among radical Hindus who did not share his non-violent aporoach.  Similarly, Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis were vilified by the white-racist establishment and also by the militant black-revolution groups, including later on, members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference they had helped to begin. 

Posted in The Prophetic Task

No Exemptions

Calling out empire is a pervasive and never-ending task because empire-making is what fallen-world individuals and groups do.  No longer guided by original righteousness (Genesis 1 & 2), we are gripped by original sin (Genesis 3 ff), manifested in innumerable expressions of personal (egotism) and collective (ethnocentrism) self-interest.

Because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), no one and no system is exempt from being calling out for its manifestations of empire. In ways that vary in kind and in degree, we are all subject to the contaminating influence of empire. To make this point, Brueggemann illustrates each of the main characteristics of empire in the reign of Solomon–characteristics which continue into the present day. [1]

By recognizing the existence of empire in Solomon’s reign, one that included many good things and one in which the spirit of wisdom was seen, we are prevented from falling into two extremes.

First, it prevents idolatry–that is, a too-high and unrealistic assessment of “the kingdoms of this world” that is only possible by omitting certain facts and creating a sanitized history and current narrative.  Idolatry creates illusion which destroys humility–the very quality which enables us to live in the world (or any sub-set of it) without selling  our souls to it.  Idolatry alleges that “the kingdom” is beyond critique and that to do so is a sign of disloyalty.  Idolatry makes its earthly leaders little “saviors”–something the ego thrives on.

Second, it prevents anarchy–such dismantlement/elimination of the current “kingdom” only leads to the replacement of it with another one subject to the same sin and decay as the one destroyed.  Anarchy arises from an arrogant self-righteousness that operates with a “purist mentality” where ends justify the means. When seen in religious contexts, anarchy forgets that Jesus himself said he did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill (restore and complete) it–to take it out of the hand of legalists (regulators) and put it back into the context of love (relationships) where it was meant to be all along.

Both idolatry and anarchy exist apart from love.  Idolatry violates the love of God, and anarchy violates the love if neighbor.  As we will see later in this series, the prophetic task is essentially about the re-construction of love through a restoration of the two great commandments–the very things lost in empire.

By using the reign of Solomon to illustrate the major characteristics of empire, Brueggemann is emphasizing the wholeness of the prophetic task (de-construction/re-construction), which is always at the heart of renewal and reform.  Prophets are non-dualists–both/and people, not either/or people. They simultaneously critique empire and generate the energy necessary for the overcoming of it. [2]

By forgetting the union of de-construction/ re- construction, we continue to fall prey to  idolatry on the one hand (“America first”) and anarchy on the other (“destroy the establishment”). Neither extreme saves the nation.  Neither extreme expresses the prophetic task.

[1] Brueggemann explores the Solomonic aspects of ’empire’ in detail in Chapter Two of his book, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition (Fortress Press, 2001).

[2] Brueggeman emphasis the both/and nature of the prophetic task in Chapter One of The Prophetic Imagination.

Posted in The Prophetic Task