I had the honor of asking Dr. Walter Brueggemann, renowned Old Testament scholar, some questions about what it means to be “prophetic.” Dr. Brueggemann has written extensively on the prophets and has a popular book, The Prophetic Imagination. My questions are in bold.

When the world “idol” is used in Christian discourse, it may conjure up images of ancient idols and of primitive people sacrificing to certain gods. What do you find are some subtler forms of idolatry alive and well in America, the West, and perhaps the world abroad?

 Walter Brueggemann: Racism and Nationalism above all.

What does it mean to be prophetic? As individuals? Communities? And what do you mean by the phrase “prophetic imagination?”

 Walter Brueggemann: I take it to be an act of hosting the world as though the God of the gospel were a real character and an active agent.

In what ways do you find the American Church failing in her call to be prophetic? Are there ways in which you see her fulfilling her prophetic role?

 Walter Brueggemann: Mostly the US church is quite domesticated. Even where its leadership does otherwise, most church folk are numbed to the issues. Happily here and there are exceptions to this pattern.
Too many of us accept the fading status quo as the way things should be.

Mostly the US church is quite domesticated. Too many of us accept the fading status quo as the way things should be. -Walter Brueggemann

How can individuals and communities be faithful to their prophetic call while avoiding burn-out? Or is burn-out inevitable?

Walter Brueggemann: No, it is not inevitable. The best antidote is involvement with the folk who are actively engaged. Such involvement must include joy, singing, good eating, and worship as regular practices in a way that keeps us and our efforts as penultimate to the work of God.

Can you speak into if you have a favorite Old/First Testament prophet and how they’ve helped shape you?

 Walter Brueggemann: Jeremiah: Our time is like his time, yet again our holy city and temple are being destroyed by the power of God. It is time for weeping and hope.

If he were somehow able to travel to our time and our modern American faith communities, what do you imagine his response might be? What might dismay or perplex him? What might he resonate with?

Walter Brueggemann: I think he would call us to pay attention to what the holiness of God might be up to among us in our displacement.

For many believers, the prophetic books seem dull and dry, hard to understand. For the reader who wants to overcome this hurdle and understand the prophets more deeply, what advice can you give? Pointers? Recommended resources?

 Walter Brueggemann: Get in a study group that attends to the actual nuance and specificity of the text. It does no good to generalize; one must see about the actual text, and then ask about how the text rings alive in our contemporary context. But first the text!

[End of interview]

Dr. Brueggemann has a forthcoming book titled Our Hearts Wait: Worship through Praise & Lament in the Psalms.