Walter Brueggemann —
The Prophetic Imagination

The people we later recognize as prophets, says Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, are also poets. They reframe what is at stake in chaotic times. Hear a very special voice in conversation to address our changing lives and the deepest meaning of hope this season.

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is professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia. His books include The Prophetic Imagination.

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In the Room with Walter Brueggemann

We streamed live video of Krista's interview with the renowned Christian theologian from our recording studios in St. Paul, Minnesota. Watch it and enjoy!

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Brueggemann's comment about the destruction of the world trade center as our age's destruction of the second temple is an absurd reflection of the American conceit that what happens to us is some how more important than what happens to everyone else. Two buildings in one city were knocked down; the rest of us live in our cities, on our old streets, in our own homes. Virtually nothing has changed. At the fall of the second temple, the Hebrews' leaders were tortured to death, they were flayed alive, .... Their entire civilization was destroyed, ... And the Jewish profits lamented not only the destruction of the second temple but the of that of the first temple when the entire people were driven from their homes. A contemporary equivalent would be what is happening in Darfur or what the Talaban did (are doing) to the Afghani people. And, in some ways, what has happened to the Palestinian people who are being used as pawns. Also, while I feel less passionately about his comment that violence is increasing, social scientists who study societal trends are saying that in fact overall world violence has decreased in the last 50 years. His "lamentation" for the the present is a personal conceit. While there are evils in today's America, where is his superior future? How does he inspire congregants to work toward that future? By preaching a harangue from the pulpit?

Dear Sir or Madam, i believe you missed his point. While I agree with you America is conceited in relationship to its place in the world I d nt believe Walter feels the way america does. I am deeply sorry for your obvious pain. please do not let it obscure your vision. Peace. Tim McCoy.

Walter Brueggemann compared the destruction of the Temple to 9/11 for his students. I think that the destruction of the Temple was much worse for the Jews at the time. The whole religion was based on the Temple and the sacrifices, but the Temple was destroyed and the sacrifices could not be carried out. Jews had to rebuild their whole religion. Modern Judaism is a rabbinic religion. Prayer, good deeds and study replaced the sacrifices. One of the purposes of Jewish law was to sanctify everyday life. The home became a portable Temple. Judaism would have died out otherwise and the Jewish people would have disappeared.

Reappraisal of spiritual life in the contemporary US, and a new reading of the Bible as poetry in Brueggemann's sense. Beautiful language spoken. A very nice gift for Christmas morning.

Your interview with Walter Brueggemann reinforced that power of prophecy as mediation in our society, which points to both the individual (or group) and the literary corpus. It is forms such as lively poetry and irony that often help us to move from being held captive by the dominant societal script of "technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism" (Brueggemann) and allow us to escape and embrace a new script of hope. Thanks for the interview!

Professor Brueggmenn stated that the US Church does not speak of how Capitalism commodifies every aspect of our lives, i would direct him to both the Secular and Religious Left; only there will you find this stand. Example Chris Hedges

First, let me thank you for your work. While I local npr station does not carry your program, I do support your work and catch all the programs online. I was a United Methodist minister for 27 years and only wish you had been around as a great resource. Walter Brueggemann is a long time favorite - my reading group just finished Prophetic Imagination. I have a suggestion. For me, the most important north american theologian still living is Douglas John Hall retired from McGill University. He lives in Montreal, studied at union with the greats, and has spent a lifetime working on a theology for north america. What made me think about him is his phrase that ministers today are "chaplains to the empire". I thought of that while Brueggemann was talking about why it is hard for minister to be prophetic. Halls work is extensive, accessible, and he is a wonderful human being. check him out!!! I think he would be a most engaging interview for you an d your listeners.

Thank you Don. I will definitely check out Douglas John Hall. A theology for North America and chaplains to the empire. Much food for thought in those phrases. I heard Walter Brueggemann in person and read Prophetic Imagination. A real gift. Looking forward to your recommendation.

What a beautiful interview.

I listened to it while in the middle of conversations about the nature of complex adaptive systems, emergence and order for a fascinating work project. It led to the following blog - I'd love all of your thoughts and feedback on it!

I might write another blog in the near future about lamentations - it reminded me of the importance of Joanna Macy's work.

I was reminded of the parable of the wine-skins. Maybe it's human nature, but Dr. Brueggemann highlights for me how our attempts at grasping, owning and describing God and The Gospel is like pouring new wine into old wine-skins... The outcome of such handling is certain. We need new wine-skins for this stuff, it's imperative!

Professor Brueggemann's interview offers thought provoking conversation that provides each us in in our own personal lives some greater understanding of what can be a deeper relationship with God.

I was in conflict, however, as to a global application of his "theology." What specifically struck me was a comment that life does not turn out as we planned and biblical references should be seen in this context.

With tens of thousands of refugees in camps in Syria, conflict in CAR and across the Middle East, how does this interpretation apply to the disparity of wealth as seen in many countries as in our own United States?

Many people lives are being lived exactly as they plan, in extreme comfort, by way of greed, while others are at the mercy of despots and tyrants living in desert tents without heat or food.

What are we to make of this in biblical terms?

It's been awhile since I read The Prophetic Imagination, but I remember Professor Brueggemann's writing about how the Kings in the Bible (e.g., Solomon re-enslaving some of the Israelites to build the Temple) and the tyrants and powers that rule and have ruled human societies, (and yes even today's American leaders/bankers/millionaires and billionaires) all would stifle the prophetic imagination; would have us think "this is the way it is, it can't be changed, this is the way the economy works, just accept your lot and don't try to change it, or to stop what we are doing." Brueggemann argues that the prophetic imagination is the imagination that we all are capable of, individually and working together, to imagine that things can be better, that we can challenge injustice and we can bring about a better life, a life that would be more the way that God created us to live. It is a wonderful book, and I plan to re-read it and invite some others in my parish to read it with me. Thanks for this program!

fascinating. thanks again! talking about "today's prophets" as just people with words or wearing the collar (bishop tutu) overlooks the huge reality that the prophets today speak with actions - human rights activists in poor countries, edward snowden and steve jobs, who if you understand his real soul wanted to change the world for the better first and foremost. there is a saying in buddhism that you know a being is an avatar by one measure: they do not fail. also bob dylan is obviously a prophert in the way discussed.probably the most obvious.

Thank you for today's show. Very special.

Walter Brueggemann......Thank you for the introduction to another treasure of worldly and heavenly wisdom.

Carolyn kc

A thoughtful realistic view.

Sure was glad that the topic of eternal damnation didn't come up. I found, from the interview at least, Brueggemann to be a Humanist and not really a Christian? I'm an agnostic and the interview made my doubts stronger. Regardless, a great & inspiring interview for a God I'd like to believe in.

Professor Brueggmann's interview informed and enlighten me ... his insightful commentary of the prophetic writings edified my understanding ... Krista, you are a master teacher and a most skilled interviewer .. Thank you "On Being" broadcast!!!

Brueggemann is at the farthest, the illogical end of the spectrum of the prophetic imagination. He rants vituperatively against the rich of the world, and in doing so forgets that Christ came both the rich and the poor. Contrary to Bruggemann's fevered imagination, God is not partial to the economically disenfranchised. Too often the good professor goes off on a rant against capitalist driven economic system, and forgets that the system is necessary for the functioning of a village's well being, a city's life, a nation's prosperity, and a world's functioning. After all, if philanthropy is the salubrious outcome of capitalism, then philanthropy enables at least one poor village in central Africa to taste the good life: clothes, water, medical clinics, and electricity. How then can capitalism be a bad thing? Bruggemann whilst talking about capitalism engages in a false dichotomy-bad v good, and thereby looses standing to appeal to those who love, benefit and appreciate capitalism. (Pope Francis has also been cut from the same cloth as Bruggemann in this regard.) I am not denying that there is great economic injustice in the world, but one cannot blame economic injustice solely on capitalism as Bruggemann does. There are other factors: human actors, and human greed. Why does not he talk about human greed, sin and folly? Surely there is a material richness in talking about folly, sin and greed that infects most of our individual and collective intentions!

I suggest for a more comprehensive understanding of the socio/theological bases behind these issues read: "The Powers that Be" by theologian Walter Wink.

This is one of the most meaningful conversations on theology that I have heard. It is lengthy and I know we are all very busy so will post it again after Christmas. It is well worth the time and full of insight that makes some sense of issues that have puzzled me for years.
I share this as a gift to my dear friends on Facebook.

I fully understand my fellow Jews being insulted by Brueggemann's contextualizing the horrors of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem recorded in the book of Lamentations by using 9/11 as an analogy. As they have stated above, the terrors of the two events are nowhere close to being on the same scale. That said, it is a useful analogy to provide young people with *some* degree of a reference for understanding Lamentations. In fact, I recall a few years ago Rabbi Irwin Kula took the transcriipts of phone calls made by victims of the attack on the World Trade Center to their loved ones during their last moments of life and set them to the melody used for reading the book of Lamentations on Tisha Be-Av, the Jewish holiday commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem nearly two-thousand years ago. It can be heard here:

I loved this interview and was inspired by it to read further in Brueggemann, and then to write a brief devotional based on it. I hope you like what I've done. I love your show, and it's not an exaggeration to say that it's changing the way I think and live. May God bless you in this exciting and influential ministry he's given you Krista. Here's what I wrote: