What about a prophetic word?

If Jesus was prophetic then the church that follows him is prophetic.

Do you believe in a prophetic word today? Not only do you think anyone speaks prophetically today, but do you see Scripture as the prophetic word?

Luke Timothy Johnson’s new book Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church examines these questions and probes what the church needs to hear today.

He sketches the two essential features of the prophetic word: it is a call to conversion (repentance), which is about God’s judgment on the human construction of this world, and it is a call to a life shaped by the covenant — and this means genuine repentance/conversion forms a politics of a new order. The message of Luke-Acts is the “kingdom of God,” and Johnson rightly argues this means God is King and that God’s people are to live under God’s Kingship in God’s kingdom.

Johnson contends, and I agree with him (and Joe Modica and I have just finished editing a book that will come out, we hope, this fall called Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not, and this book will examine the anti-empire theories at work today) … anyway, back to Johnson, I agree that Luke-Acts is misread if seen through the lens of anti-empire ideology. Instead, it is a politics “more possible to be realized by small intentional communities than by worldwide administrations” and has to do with “deep derangement of human dispositions … a liberation from dispositions that corrupt all social programs and a demand for dispositions and actions that work for the transformation of all social practices” (74). [By the way, Johnson is very close to our King Jesus Gospel proposals.]

In other words, kingdom pushes to church; he has somewhat of an ecclesial view of kingdom.

He examines then the infancy narratives, John Baptist, Jesus, and the early church in Acts on understanding the word of God as prophetic: repentance, conversion, and concrete social transformation in the ecclesial body.

So what does this mean for today?

Johnson asks that Luke-Acts faces us and asks: “What do Christians really stand for?” (89).

Kingdom of God today: we see an already and not yet view of kingdom, and it is a summons at two levels, both necessary: personal and political. The “political” is not reduced to partisan politics in society but to an ecclesially based new society, and the personal is not reduced to personal pietism.

Repentance: not about remorseful guilt, which one can find today among some Orthodox, some Catholics, some Reformed … but is about an acceptance of God’s measure of reality and a commitment to live in that reality in the here and now. Johnson pushes against the soterian gospel and against the easy-to-find acceptance of a personal experience as the essence of repentance. Luke-Acts sits in judgment on this stuff.

Baptism and forgiveness of sins: baptism involved risk and danger and forgiveness, surely the great news of God’s gracious forgiveness and at the same time a summons to be people who forgive.

Big one: when we think of sins from which to repent, or if we listen to folks talk about which sins are most important to avoid, we move into the realm of sex. We have not a sex-repressed but a sex-obsessed culture, and Mark Driscoll needs to recognize the former is not the problem. Johnson says we need to see that Luke-Acts’ primary goal was possessions and wealth and a summons for kingdom people to embrace and embody an altogether radical vision of possessions and wealth.

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  • Ouch. Nice post, Scot!

  • DRT

    Isn’t a sex repressed culture going to be a sex obsessed culture for some (many)? We are not at a healthy balance.

  • Chris Criminger

    To your questions: Are there people who speak prophetically and is scripture the prophetic word? The answer is “yes” to both of them realizing when it comes to our interpretations of scripture and those who speak prophetically, they need to be tested and spiritual discernment needs to be utilized.

    As far as Christians living in mansions, if we are, I would think it would be like a great communal place where the poor, the lame, and the marginalized can live and not just for our own private comfort and individualized tastes.

  • If we are to truly live out the kingdom of God we must turn our backs on the man-made structure of the church. Truly Jesus must be the only Pastor and no one – not a pope, not a local pastor – should seek to take His place as shepherd of the people of God.

    This is true repentance: to live under the lordship of Christ every moment of every day.

  • Should Christians live in mansions? I don’t know. Should Christians spend even $150,000 that they don’t have to purchase a culturally-reasonable home? Like Andrew (1) said, Ouch.

  • jamie

    Is that the primary goal of Luke acts? It’s certainly there for us to deal with, but primary?

    Mike, what are you saying? There should be no local pastor? Or are you commenting on how local pastors can be elevated?

    Haha what’s with the cheap dig on driscoll?

  • Rick

    Jamie #6-

    “Haha what’s with the cheap dig on driscoll?”

    I was curious about that as well. Did not quite fit the tone of the overall post.

  • scotmcknight

    Jamie, not meant to be cheap but very, very serious.

  • jamie

    Could you flesh that out then? It felt cheap…


    BTW, enjoying junia book and its causing deeper reflection.

  • i’ve just started World Upside Down by C. Kavin Rowe; does L.T. Johnson’s book deal with some of the same issues regarding Luke-Acts (i.e., an “anti-empire ideology?”)

  • T


    Well, above he says that the message of Luke-Acts is the kingdom of God. Within that, I think it’s fair to see money as the idolatrous center of the counter society to the kingdom of God. Luke has the magnificat, John the Baptist’s call to share your extra coat, the “woes” to the rich, the call to lend to our enemies without expecting repayment, the call to whole groups of disciples (not just one rich young ruler) to sell their possessions and give to the poor, the parable of the rich fool, the teaching that one cannot serve both God and money, the parable of the good Samaritan, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, etc. Not to mention so many of the narratives highlight the reach of Jesus for the poor and outcast specifically.

    If you couple this with the radical sharing that is so famous in Acts, it is not a stretch to say that Luke is convinced that one cannot adequately declare the kingdom of God without simultaneously denouncing the reign of money, which Luke seems to take as the kingdom of God’s foil.

  • scotmcknight

    Driscoll enjoys and indulges in shock talk, and part of his reason for discussing sex so shockingly and frankly – and I would say over the top — is because of repression. The facts are that our culture, including evangelical Christianity (Ed Wheat, Tim LaHaye, this Ed Young), is more sex-obsessed than sex-repressed. I find his language more jarring than helpful, and we need to tone sexuality down in our culture not ramp it up. That’s my view.

  • scotmcknight

    Dennis, in a word, not much.

  • Thank you Scot.

  • DanO

    A couple questions here. First, does the ‘prophetic word’ necessarily come through a prophet?

    Second, would anyone be willing to sketch out the difference between the prophet in the OT and those of the NT?

    In the OT we usually see a call from God for someone to take God’s message to individuals and/or groups, sometimes even pagans (a la the post from yesterday). Do we think the same thing happens with the prophets in the NT? I suppose a tangential question could also be if it is possible for one to be a prophet and not know they are a prophet. Some would argue that lots of folks in our churches do not exercise their spiritual gifts because they do not know what their spiritual gift is.

  • T


    Lots of good questions. I’m sure others’ answers will differ from mine. I’ll focus on how I see the gift of prophecy functioning in the NT and today. First, prophecy seems to be, at its most basic level, God revealing something to someone via the Spirit that they would otherwise not know. For example, Paul says “if I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries” or, elsewhere he says if the whole church is prophesying and an unbeliever comes in “the secrets of his heart will be laid bare.” Similarly, when Jesus tells the woman at the well, “It’s true you’re not married. You’ve had 5 husbands and the man you’re now living with is not your husband” the woman replies, “I see you are a prophet.” So I take prophecy as revealing something unknown, whether in the present, the past, the future, etc. It’s something that God has to do or say in a specific context that he has designed, as the post mentions, to plant folks (more?) firmly in God’s kingdom reality.

    Paul elaborates in I Cor. that prophecy is generally for the building up of the body, but I think the above examples and other NT examples make it clear that prophecy also pops up outside of intra-church work. Paul also comments that “even prophecy reveals little” when he says that we currently see God as if through dark glass.

    My own experience with it has been when God told me or others to do or say something specific at a specific time, often without my ability to see or confirm the relevance. But I think many, many preachers (even ones that believe the gift of prophecy ceased!) have “felt strongly led” to do or say very specific things at very specific times and actually worked with prophetic gifts very powerfully.

    Chris’ comment above (3) has some good insight. Anything offered to us as God’s teaching or prophetic message should not be swallowed without testing what is said, preferably with community and with knowledge of the scriptures. In this way, I recommend people deal with prophetic offerings from others the way we do teaching. Lot’s of folks will say “this is what God says” but asserting such doesn’t make it so. I counsel folks, if they believe God has given them something prophetic, to be humble and admit any uncertainty, just as I would counsel any teacher regarding matters about which they have doubts. That usually helps to take the pressure off of all concerned and enable things to be offered for consideration.

  • T

    Sorry, meant to say “often without my ability to see or confirm the relevance before I do what I’m being led to do.”

  • T

    And no, I don’t think one has to be a “prophet” or think of one’s self that way to prophesy. If I recall, the Jewish high priest said concerning Jesus, “Let one man die for the people.” But he meant something very different by it, nor does it appear that he thought he was prophesying or a prophet in the office sense. Yet, the scriptures say he was prophesying if I remember correctly.

  • Dana Ames

    Here are some quotes I keep in a relevant place in my prayer book:

    God requires of us to go on repenting until our last breath. -St. Isaias the Solitary

    Repentance: It means not self-pity or remorse, but conversion, the re-centering of our whole life upon the Trinity… It is to see, not what we have failed to be, but what by divine grace we can now become; and it is to act upon what we see. -Archbishop Kallistos Ware

    Repentance is not simply a time of hand-wringing, regret and guilt. It is the beginning of a new and open-ended future that is a radical change in direction from the “no exit” of sin and alienation from God.
    -Fr Lawrence Margitich, 2009

    If there is remorseful guilt among “some” (and I would be the first to admit that there indeed is), I think it’s because they have not been taught or counseled well, or there is some sort of serious personal inner “blockage”. But the teaching of Orthodoxy is meant to actually help move one toward “acceptance of God’s measure of reality and a commitment to live in that reality in the here and now”.

    Johnson’s take on baptism and forgiveness is key, imnsho.


  • mike

    “Repentance: not about remorseful guilt, which one can find today among some Orthodox, some Catholics, some Reformed … but is about an acceptance of God’s measure of reality and a commitment to live in that reality in the here and now.”
    In this context could it be seen as giving fealty? All that I am and have is now given to the work and service of a new authority. This would be a political move for sure.

  • jamie

    Thanks for the response Scot!

  • hi, I was intrigued by this statement but do not fully understand the context. Could someone enlighten me please?

    “Big one: when we think of sins from which to repent, or if we listen to folks talk about which sins are most important to avoid, we move into the realm of sex. We have not a sex-repressed but a sex-obsessed culture, and Mark Driscoll needs to recognize the former is not the problem.”

    I am currently rethinking sexual ethics from the point of view of a newly “single” widower and reading Margaret Farley’s book on “Just Sex.” I agree that there is too much obsession with sex, even as a negative focus among Evangelicals …