Dreaming of A New World

The core of the prophetic vocation isn’t merely to rebuke unjust systems.

IN WALTER BRUEGGEMANN'S first article for Sojourners, published in November 1983, he described the “radical break” we prepare for in Advent as “the Bible’s effort to break our imagination.”

In the decades that followed, Brueggemann’s keen analysis of scripture has called out some of the darkest practices of American empire, including consumerism, gun violence, financial corruption, environmental exploitation, and sexual assault. But while he’s never shied from speaking truth to power, Brueggemann has repeatedly emphasized that the core of the prophetic vocation isn’t merely to rebuke unjust systems, but rather, as he wrote in 1983, “to think a genuinely new thought, to dream of a genuinely new world that will displace the old failed one.”

This call to replace the mind-numbing vision of empire with a radical vision of God’s kingdom is the subject of Brueggemann’s best-known work, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2018: The Prophetic Imagination. In this issue, we asked Howard University Divinity School’s Kenyatta R. Gilbert, who focuses on the theory and practice of African-American preaching, to revisit Brueggemann’s classic work, listening for the resonances between the biblical prophets and prophetic voices of today. Building on Brueggemann’s work, Gilbert finds that prophetic imagination is alive and well—sometimes in places far from church pulpits.

As we enter a new year, this is the challenge we all face: to use imagination, creativity, and resourceful perseverance to confront a culture hell-bent on obscuring the reality of human suffering, if not actively furthering it—while never forgetting that Jesus shows us the way to a hope-filled and life-giving alternative.

Read Kenyatta Gilbert's essay in the January 2018 issue of Sojourners and watch Gilbert's conversation with Brueggemann.

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