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.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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