Postmodern Prophet -

What is a Prophet?

As you know, I make no claim to be a real, true prophet. But I do believe the church needs to hear the other side of the story. This list from John Goldingay rings true for me.

Prophets are different from kings, priests, judges and experts, different from pastors, teachers, apostles and evangelists, different from worship ministers, youth pastors, counselors and spiritual directors, and different from social activists. I assume that we shouldn’t be surprised if God sends prophets to the church, though neither should we be surprised if it is a rare thing. Not all the ten points that follow will then be true of every prophet, but to judge from the OT, in general a prophet is someone who

  1. Shares God’s nightmares and dreams. Prophets are not social reformers or political commentators. They see calamity hanging over God’s people and they tell them about it, and about why it is so. They also know what is God’s dream for his people and they tell them that dream. They know the dream because they know the story of God’s involvement with Israel and know God’s promises and God’s expectations, and they want to get Israel to live in light of the story, the promises and the expectations.
  2. Speaks like a poet and behaves like an actor. Prophets describe things not prosaically and literally but poetically and figuratively, partly because of the depth and mystery of which they speak. Prophets use pictures. They also picture what God intends by acting it out.
  3. Is not afraid to be offensive. Prophets have the capacity to be outrageous. People thought that they were offensive and crazy.
  4. Confronts the confident with rebuke and the downcast with hope. The calling of prophets is to get their own people to live in light of the reality of what God is going to do. God’s people do not need prophets to confirm what they already think. They need prophets to disagree with them.
  5. Mostly brings this rebuke and encouragement to the people of God. Prophets speak about other nations, so that God’s people understand what God is doing and so that they shape their lives and attitudes accordingly, but they do not speak to other nations. Within their own nation, they are not social reformers. They do not give concrete practical directives to the people. They minister to the broader world indirectly by encouraging the people of God to become something more like an alternative community that will then commend itself to the broader society.
  6. Is independent of the institutional pressures of church and state. It’s virtually impossible to be a prophet if you are on the nation’s payroll or the church’s payroll. People such as pastors who are on the church’s payroll have to encourage other people to be prophets. But they will have to remember that the OT prophets tended to be people who did not expect to be prophets (e.g., a foreigner or a priest or a kid) and whom other people did not expect to be prophets
  7. Is a scary person who mediates the activity of a scary God. Like the OT, the NT makes clear that God is both loving and capable of doing frightening things. Prophets bring home to us the fact that you can’t mess with God.
  8. Intercedes with boldness and praises with freedom. As well as mediating God’s word to us on the basis of knowing what God intends for us, prophets pray for us and tell us how to pray. They also articulate praise for what God does in fulfillment of their words.
  9. Ministers in a way that reflects his or her personality and time. Paradoxically, the people who especially speak directly from God are also people whose message shows the influence of their own person, which God is using. And prophets are people who know what time it is, who know what needs to be said concretely now.
  10. Is almost certain to fail, one way or another. Prophets make mistakes. In addition, they are usually rejected and persecuted because of the fact that their message characteristically confronts what the people of God think. Only a fool wants to be a prophet. Sensible people run away. But they may not get away.

John Goldingay, An Introduction to the Old Testament: Exploring Text, Approaches and Issues (London: SPCK, 2016), 262–263.

Not So with You

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:24–27, NRSV)

This must certainly be the word of Jesus that we most often forget or neglect. Leadership in his church is to be different than leadership in the world. Yet Christian leadership books are no different than business leadership books (ask John Maxwell if you don’t believe me), and they are among the best selling books.

This topic is important. Important enough for Jesus to talk about it during his final meal with his disciples. We should pay attention.

I Want to See

“What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord,” he said, “I want to see!” (Luke 18:41, NLT)

Yes, I want the same. I want to see Jesus. I want to follow Jesus. I want to know Jesus.

Let the Little Children Come to Me

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:15–17, NRSV)

What is the connection between receiving children and entering the kingdom?

Joel Green interprets v. 17 to say that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as one receives a little child will never enter it.” That reading transforms the way I have always thought of this teaching. It isn’t about the childlike way the kingdom is received; it’s about how we receive the lowest echelons of society.

The children are not active. They are passively received.

Church, we have some work to do.

Many evangelicals have made salvation such an individual thing that they have stopped baptizing children. Jesus would most likely rebuke us for that as he rebuked his disciples.

Like this Tax Collector

The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ (Luke 18:11–12, NRSV)

Whoever offers to God sacrifices of praise, the rational fruits of the lips that confess his name, should be very alert for the ambushes of the evil one. Satan lies in ambush ready to catch you by surprise at the very time of thanksgiving. He will get up and accuse you before God, just as he did with your fellow Pharisee in the temple. This time, he will not be puffing you up with pride over good works, as he did with the Pharisee, but he will be making you drunk with a different kind of pride. He makes you drunk on pride in the lovely and sweet sound of your own voice, the beauty of your chants that are sweeter than honey and the honey-comb. The result is that you do not realize that these belong to God, and not to yourself.

Martyrius, Book of Perfection 78.

It says that the tax collector “stood afar off,” not even venturing to raise up his eyes. You see him abstaining from all boldness of speech. He seems devoid of the right to speak and beaten down by the scorn of conscience. He was afraid that God would see him, since he had been careless in keeping his laws and had led an unchaste and uncontrolled life. You also see that he accuses his own depravity by his external manner. The foolish Pharisee stood there bold and broad, lifting up his eyes without a qualm, bearing witness of himself and boastful. The other feels shame for his conduct. He is afraid of his judge. He beats his breast. He confesses his offenses. He shows his illness as to the Physician, and he prays that he will have mercy. What is the result? Let us hear what the judge says. He says, “This man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 120.

The stern Pharisee, who in his overweening pride not only boasted of himself but also discredited the tax collector in the presence of God, made his justice void by being guilty of pride. Instead of the Pharisee, the tax collector went down justified, because he had given glory to God, the holy One. He did not dare lift his eyes but sought only to plead for mercy. He accused himself by his posture, by striking his breast, and by entertaining no other motive except propitiation. Be on your guard, therefore, and bear in mind this example of severe loss sustained through arrogance. The one guilty of insolent behavior suffered the loss of his justice and forfeited his reward by his bold self-reliance. He was judged inferior to a humble man and a sinner because in his self-exaltation he did not await the judgment of God but pronounced it himself. Never place yourself above anyone, not even great sinners. Humility often saves a sinner who has committed many terrible transgressions.

Basil the Great, On Humility.

A Gift with an Obligation

God gave us a wonderful gift when Jesus was born. He gave us the opportunity to be part of his people. This is real amazing grace.

When that grace is appropriated in our lives, we are not done. The gift keeps on giving.

Some Christians act as if the receiving of grace is the end of the story. They seem to have the attitude that they can do whatever they want and God will wink at their sin.

Not so.

God’s grace comes with an obligation. The obligation is to obey God, to serve him. We exchange slavery to sin for slavery to Christ.

So, grace comes to us when we don’t deserve it, but it does not come without strings attached.

Get that idea right and you could become a productive Christian, part of a productive Christian community. Get that idea wrong and you will find it uncomfortable when Jesus judges us on what we have done.

More Thoughts On Burying The Term “Evangelical”

The problem is that in the 1980s evangelicalism’s leaders — James Kennedy, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell — aligned evangelicals with the Republican Party and we have people today like Franklin Graham uttering asinine and inane defenses of President Donald Trump, we have pastors standing behind the President in the posture of blessing, and far too many evangelical leaders who are afraid to speak against the political posturing of evangelicalism.

Link: More Thoughts On Burying The Term “Evangelical”

Link: It’s Not Too Late

Now that the special Senate election in Alabama is over, it is time for some Christians on both sides of the political aisle to repent of selling their souls in exchange for temporal political power.

It’s Not Too Late

Being Saved

Throughout, the Lukan narrative focuses attention on a pervasive, coordinating theme: salvation. Salvation is neither ethereal nor merely future, but embraces life in the present, restoring the integrity of human life, revitalizing human communities, setting the cosmos in order, and commissioning the community of God’s people to put God’s grace into practice among themselves and toward ever-widening circles of others. The Third Evangelist knows nothing of such dichotomies as those sometimes drawn between social and spiritual or individual and communal. Salvation embraces the totality of embodied life, including its social, economic, and political concerns. For Luke, the God of Israel is the Great Benefactor whose redemptive purpose is manifest in the career of Jesus, whose message is that this benefaction enables and inspires new ways for living in the world.

Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997.

It grates on me when people say, “I’m saved.” Better, in my opinion, is to say I am being saved. But even more important than that distinction is the whole idea of what it means to be being saved.

It’s more than a transaction that frees me from the fear of hell and grants me eternal bliss. As Professor Green points out, it is social, economic, and political in its ramifications.

It’s a good time of the year to think about this. The Christ-gift is the totally life-changing. It is not an add-on to life. It is life itself.