The Prophetic Imagination: Part 1, "Let My People Go!"

I teach a class at ACU entitled "Psychology and Christianity." In one of the units of the class we talk about the relationship between faith and violence. If not physical violence, then at least attitudinal violence toward others. The question we ponder during this unit is, "How can we believe in God non-violently?" 

Following an argument I make in The Slavery of Death, I introduce the students to Walter Brueggemann's notion of "the prophetic imagination." Cultivating the prophetic imagination creates a non-violent capacity within ourselves and faith community. In my class I walk the students through three distinct expressions of the prophetic imagination.

The first expression is the one Brueggemann starts with in this book, Moses going to Pharaoh and declaring "Let my people go!" 

As Brueggemann argues, the first slave that has to be set free from Egypt is God. The gods of Egypt had come to sacralize, legitimize, and justify an oppressive status quo. Thus, the first act of the prophet is to proclaim the "freedom of God," to undermine the sacred justifications of current power arrangements. God has to be "at liberty" to stand over and against Pharaoh in divine, sacred indictment. When God is free to speak against Egypt a capacity for a new social imagination is created as God stands in solidarity, not with Pharaoh, but with the slaves, not with the oppressors but with the oppressed. 

So this, I tell my students, is where the prophetic imagination begins. Is God being used to legitimize current power arrangements or to criticize current power arrangements? Is God standing with those at the top of the power hierarchy or with those at the bottom

To be clear, the issue here isn't about some specific policy recommendation but is, rather, the capacity to hear the word of God speaking from the margins against the status quo. And critical to this capacity is the freedom of God, the ability to imagine some daylight between God and current power arrangements. When that gap exists a capacity for moral, prophetic critique is created and cultivated. God is now at liberty to speak in prophetic indictment and critique.  

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