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A New Challenge to #ReimagineSCRIPTURE...

 

A New Challenge to #ReimagineSCRIPTURE...

 

A Prophetic Imagination

 

The Bible Is Not Enough: Imagination and Making Peace in the Modern World

 

From my new book, The Bible Is Not Enough: Imagination and Making Peace in the Modern World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2023).

What is so clear to me today is that the world leaders and anti-leaders have lost their imagination. War takes no imagination. Peace does.

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Excerpt:

The prophets of the Bible cast powerful images of the future. Their eschatology is an imagination, and their images require an imagination to understand. The literalist interpreters burble on and on about international events and moments, fashioning each image of the prophets into a timeline of real events, in real history, in a real future. Literalism has no imagination. Not only do literalists fail to catch the vision the prophetic imagination offers, their fixation to fit the prophetic word to some modern event or person or nation has proven wrong every time. One could hope one of their own would stand up and announce they’ve been wrong all along and it’s time to abandon the literalistic reading of the Bible’s prophets. Such interpretations lack the imagination of the prophet, and so they blunt the power of a Spirit-prompted improvisation.

Prophets of the biblical tradition (Isaiah, Daniel, Jesus, John the seer) operate with a theopoetic and theopolitical scenario of what is about to happen, graphic in description, and then cast a foreground with images evoking an imagined future. And they do so as if the next event would be immediately followed by the end of history. The critics’ obsession with proving that the prophets got it wrong, because the end of history didn’t arrive, is hung up on the same literalism as the fundamentalists. Prophetic language is dramatic, fictive, rhetorically shaped imagination meant to provoke a response of repentance, justice, and peace. Imagination stimulating improvisation. Not predictions demanding closer readings of newspapers or websites.

Prophets stimulate a peaceful imagination. To enter their imaginations requires an aesthetic, if not an ecstatic, sensibility as their images turn words into vision as music turns words into sound. The prophet’s peaceful imagination is not a flight of fancy, it is not fantasy or marvel or even fiction as we might know it. The prophet is inspired by the prophetic Spirit to speak a word from God to the people, and so cast a vision for the transformation of society. Yet, a prophetic imagination expresses and appeals to the hope of the oppressed, the exiled, the marginalized. A peaceful imagination is a counterfactual of the present world. Imagination is required for what transcends the mundane, and few can doubt the need for transcendence when it comes to peace. Imagination is faith and, when a person steps in the direction of peace out of the mundane, faith becomes action. As such, the peaceful imagination is an act of resistance and becomes the natural language of dissidents. The words of the prophets are not so much prediction as imagination, but it is the kind of faith-inspired imagination that stimulates humans to live into that imagined, alternative world—or at least enter it. The prophet’s language is like the wardrobe into Narnia.

Among the Bible’s prophets peace is so broad one must contend that peace involves salvation and liberation, justice and material blessing, interpersonal harmony and health and economic justice . . . one could go on. Peace is an imagined reality that inspires a person to improvise, in her specific situation and location, a way of life that counters the way of violence and death. The reason we are stuck in the “humane” war and white Christian nationalism is in part because those who claim most to follow Jesus lack a peaceful imagination that can shake systemic structures of violence and war to the ground.

But for a Christian to form such an imagination, a renewed commitment must be made to Jesus’s kingdom, which in turn gives rise to an improvisation of peace.

   

 

 

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Guest Post ~ Three Ways to Seek the Wekfare of Our Cities

By Jim Denison 

 

Peter called his fellow believers “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). The former describes someone who is a foreigner or stranger; the latter refers to temporary residents. Taken together, they remind us that this world is not our home and that we are only here for a short time.

 

How are we to live in this foreign land?

 

The Lord’s letter to his Jewish exiles in Babylon is instructive (Jeremiah 29). It was preserved in Scripture because it has value not just for its original readers twenty-six centuries ago but for all readers across all times and cultures.

 

It begins: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce” (v. 5). This is the opposite of what they might have expected. Rather than finding temporary shelter, they were to construct lasting structures in which to “live” (the Hebrew is literally translated as “sit down and remain”). Creating gardens takes time, but they were not only to plant them but to “eat their produce” in the years to come.

 

In addition, they were to “take wives and have sons and daughters” to fulfill God’s call that they “multiply there, and do not decrease” (v. 6). Rather than allowing their nation to wither in exile, they were to seek to grow and prosper.

 

Now comes the most shocking instruction of all: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lᴏʀᴅ on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (v. 7). “Seek” means to “run diligently after”; the “welfare” of the city refers to its peace, prosperity, health, and success. The exiles were to do all they could to promote the Babylonian city’s welfare and then to “pray to the Lᴏʀᴅ on its behalf” that he might do what they could not.

 

The reason was simple: “In its welfare you will find your welfare.”

 

Three ways to “seek the welfare” of our city

 

One response to the brokenness of our secularized culture is to withdraw into spiritual “huddles” with little concern for those outside our circle. But this ignores our commission to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And it impoverishes us while denying others the good we can offer them in Christ.

 

What are some biblical ways we can “seek the welfare” of our broken culture?

 

One: “Show kindness and mercy to one another” (Zechariah 7:9). As the sign-holding man in Jacksonville reminds us, we cannot know the larger impact of a single act of encouragement and affirmation.

 

Two: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another” (1 Peter 4:10). John Grove argues persuasively in Public Discourse: “We do not need more self-conscious crusaders for the nation or even for Western Civilization, but instead more priests, teachers, businessmen, artists, writers, and parents who perform their own activities faithfully, serving . . . as ‘leaven for the whole lump.’”

 

Three: “Bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47). Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” because it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). According to Tim Keller, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

 

How to love well

 

Christians have a unique gift for our culture today: we alone can demonstrate the kindness of Christ by offering our best service to hurting souls while sharing the good news of God’s love. But we cannot love well until we embrace the fact that we are well loved.

 

To that end, let’s close with this intercession from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer: “Help us so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that was we may fully serve you, whose service is perfect freedom.”

 

Will you join me in offering these words from your heart to your Father today?

 

About Jim Denison

Jim Denison, PhD, is a cultural theologian and the founder and CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.


Denison Forum
17304 Preston Rd, Suite 1060
Dallas, TX 75252-5618
info@denisonforum.org
214-705-3710

 

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Guest Post ~ #Reimagine Deconstructing

Guest Post ~ #Reimagine Deconstructing

Taking it Down to the Studs (Mike Glenn)

SEP 17, 2023
 

By Mike Glenn

One of the things my tribe – Southern Baptists– do well is disaster relief. Whenever a river overflows its banks or a hurricane makes landfall, these volunteers show up in their yellow hats and trucks and begin to help rebuild what the storm has taken away. I thought about these disaster relief volunteers as I watched the news the other night. There were stories about hurricanes coming ashore in Florida and a horrific fire in Maui. There were floods in the northeast and another hurricane hovering off the eastern coast. 

With all of these disasters, I wondered how they would decide where to go first. Is there a ranking system for natural disasters?

Have you ever worked in a disaster area? When you show up, you and your team are overwhelmed by the power of nature and the devastation left behind. Houses are leveled. Power lines are down. Trees have been blown around like sticks. You can’t believe the power of the wind and rain. 

Second, no one knows where to start. For a long time, it seems that the team is just moving trash and debris from one pile to the other. The debris is pushed in stacks blocking roads and alleys. The first objective is to just find a way to get to the places you need to work. 

Don’t you wish we had a disaster relief team for organized religion and denominations in North America? We have certainly had our share of storms and disasters over these past few years. Prominent ministers admitting to affairs, sexual and spiritual abuse, and countless financial mismanagement revelations. These and other smaller, unknown, but just as damaging issues are the reasons many people don’t go to church anymore. 

I know a lot of these people. There have been too many disappointments and broken hearts for them to continue being part of the local church. This is why I wish we had a disaster relief team for churches and denominations in America. I wish I could make a call and buses of volunteers would roll into town and carry off the debris, begin repairs, and care for those who were caught in the storm. 

And in most places, we need to take damaged structures down to the studs. Whenever a disaster relief team comes into town, they begin to tear down damaged structures and for the ones that can be salvaged, they are taken down to their supporting structures. Houses shredded by the angry weather are torn down so they can be rebuilt. Anything that is damaged has to go: sheetrock, shingles, window frames, doors, and piles of soggy plywood are all thrown into garbage bins and hauled off. 

What would it mean if the organized religion in the United States was taken down to the studs? I think about 80% of what we do in our churches can be hauled to the dumpster. I’m convinced that we spend a lot of money on programs, events, and other gatherings that make absolutely no difference in our churches or the lives of our members. What makes me so sure of this? Covid. When the pandemic quarantine forced many of us to close our churches, most of what we did was never missed by our members. I got calls from people wanting to know when they could come back to worship and others wanting to know when they could get together with our small groups. They didn’t call about anything else. 

I think a lot of us would benefit from taking our religious life back to the studs. What are those things that are essential and necessary to our expression of faith? What practices actually help us deepen our faith and become more like Christ?

Worship is the first requirement. Everything else results from our worship. What we worship, and who we worship influences every other decision we make. Another word for “glory” is “weight.” Weight, of course, means mass and mass means gravity. In His glory, God is the only being with a gravitational mass strong enough to hold the aspects of our lives in their proper orbit. When we place anything or anyone else in the center of our lives, our lives spin out of control. Worship is the habitual practice of placing God in the center of our lives. 

Groups are the second requirement. We need a place to work out what it means for us to be a follower of Christ. We need support and encouragement. We need practical advice on how to actually live out the great teachings of forgiveness, grace, and mercy. While these are beautiful concepts, they are difficult to live out. Most of us need a little help putting these concepts into real-life practice. Groups are God’s way of recreating broken families. All of us need a family. In the hard times, it’s family that gets you through. 

We need some kind of mission. We need someplace where we deal with our broken world and in the power of the Risen Christ, bring hope to the hopeless and healing to the wounded and hurting. Our mission work doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to bring the light of Christ to a dark part of the world. 

Maybe if we made our faith walk a little more simple, we all would benefit. This would give us more time to actually BE the church instead of just GOING to church all of the time. Our lives are complicated enough, our churches don’t need to be.

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