Bruggemann’s “alternative imagination”

“…when the local congregation meets, we are engaged in an act of alternative imagination.”
Walter Bruggemann
I’ve never read Bruggemann. I really have no idea what he’s about. If NT Wright hadn’t mentioned him in his work, I’m sure that I would never have heard of him. So when I saw that Homebrewed Christianity has an interview available with him on their podcast, I took a listen. He was talking about his book “Prophetic Imagination” and relevant connections between the prophetic practice found in Scripture and contemporary politics. To be honest, I tuned out for much of it, but I heard him say the quotation of above and it captured my attention.
What exactly are we, the local congregation, imagining when we come together? As I mull this over, I come up against this word imagine and it gives me trouble. The trouble is that the word is frequently employed to talk about something which only exists in the mind, couldn’t possibly exist in the world. Imaginary things are not real things and therefore lack weight. But, it’s obvious that Bruggemann doesn’t use the word “imagination” to mean creating a fantasy. So, even though I think I know how to use the word, I’ve gone to the dictionary and found this:
to form a mental image of (something not actually present to the senses)
Jesus said that when two or more are gathered in his name, he is there with them. His form is not perceived by their eyes. His voice is not heard with their ears. His presence is not felt with their hands. Yet he is there. And in his spiritual presence they imagine him. They form a mental image of him…or they should. We should. But how is forming a mental image of Jesus an alternative imagination?
Perhaps it’s an alternative imagination because we form a mental image of one who is alive, as opposed to those who count Jesus as dead. Whatever mental image they form of Jesus, he is a dead man for them, whereas to the local congregation, he is alive with God in heaven.
Maybe our meeting together helps us to form a mental image of the Kingdom of God. I haven’t done it often, but I have stood in front of a congregation of believers here in the Middle East and I’ve taken note of all the different nationalities of the people present. Others who have done the same have commented from the podium that they’re looking at an example of what heaven will look like, when the saved of all the nations are gathered into it. Maybe the alternative imagination that we enact is a unified world, but I don’t think so. A unified world is imagined by many people. What makes our mental image different is that we picture the world unified under the sovereignty of God’s appointed king, Jesus. In our mental image, the one at the head of a united humanity is not an elected official, an appointee of the United Nations or a victorious freedom-fighter. Maybe that’s what makes our mental image alternative.
I can’t confidently say that I understand what Bruggemann is saying in his quotation. I suppose I should try to get him on the reading list in order to find out.


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