Postmodern Prophet -

On the Day which is Called Sunday

On the day which is called Sunday we have a common assembly of all who live in the cities or in the outlying districts, and the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the Prophets are read, as long as there is time. Then, when the reader has finished, the president of the assembly verbally admonishes and invites all to imitate such examples of virtue. Then we all stand up together and offer up our prayers, and, as we said before, after we finish our prayers, bread and wine and water are presented. He who presides likewise offers up prayers and thanksgivings, to the best of his ability, and the people express their approval by saying ‘Amen.’ The Eucharistic elements are distributed and consumed by those present, and to those who are absent they are sent through the deacons.

Justin Martyr, The First Apology, Chapter 67.

What do you notice?

I notice that a large amount of this second century worship service was given to reading of the scriptures (gospels and OT). It wasn’t about preaching. The scriptures preached themselves and the president just exhorted folks to listen and obey.

Then prayer, then the Lord’s Supper.

Wouldn’t that be refreshing to do today?

The Emperor has No Clothes!

Finally I have found a biblical scholar who clearly states the issues with much of the “postmodern” literary criticism of the Bible. Kudos.

A Brief Critique of New Literary Criticism

My own misgivings about the new literary critical approach to texts concern primarily the following:

  1. Its determined “anti-historical” stance, for which I find no justification.
  2. Its promise of superior results; but does this approach truly edify us, or merely entertain us?
  3. Its lack of sophistication, despite its claims, particularly in its inchoate theories of “literary production.” These are usually borrowed from other disciplines long after they have become obsolete.
    preoccupied with questions of ideology and power and political discourse that may be totally foreign to the text.
  4. Its stress on the “social context” of all knowledge, but its ignoring the original context of the text itself.
  5. Its minimalization of the importance of philological, historical, and comparative-analytical competence; its “know-nothing” attitude toward, or denial of, any original context.
  6. Its contradiction in insisting upon the “isolation” of an individual text, but at the same time arguing that “intertextuality” is essential in reading texts.
  7. Its positing that a text must be “tested,” but producing no criteria by which that might be accomplished.
  8. Its denial of “authorial intent,” which defies common sense.
  9. Its ultimate cultural relativism, which makes the text mean anything the reader wants. This is no different from the distortion and exploitation of texts of which they accuse both Fundamentalists and the liberal religious establishment in the past.
  10. Its fondness for “posing questions” of the text, but its lack of any answers.
  11. Its elevation of the reader’s subjective concerns to the status of final arbiter of “meaning,” which I find arrogant and self-indulgent.
  12. The oppressively ideological and polemical character of the entire movement, which substitutes slogans for sustained rational argument.
  13. The superiority of this approach is often asserted, usually dogmatically; but its actual reading of texts often borders on the fantastic.
  14. A typical postmodern stance is assumed as essential, but it is rarely defended. Is the latest fad (for that is what it will in time be seen to have been) really the best?

William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 15–16.

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.