Prophetic Recoil & the Need for Boldness

AMOS

I have this tendency, and maybe you do too.

It’s the tendency to speak out strongly against something that seems to be an injustice or an area of dishonesty or hypocrisy that is causing others real harm or pain. It’s the tendency to act on a conviction – not out of unrighteous anger, but out of urgent passion – and write that post or respond to that tweet or preach that message or interrupt that conversation where almost everyone seems to be agreeing about all the wrong things. It’s the tendency, really, to function prophetically – in the justice sense of the prophetic – and remind people that God hates harmful hypocritical religion and wants justice to roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream.

I have this tendency to function prophetically…and, I have a tendency to then recoil. 

To pull back out of fear.

Out of self-doubt and second-guessing my motive or mood.

I have a tendency to shrink back and flinch in the face of disagreement.

In the face of straight-up public chastising, ridicule, and trolling.

I have this tendency, and maybe you do too.

And I’ve got to be honest, this tendency has been kicking in quite a bit lately, especially as a particular Christian movement in which I spent a chunk of my adult life is fraught with a scandal of child sex abuse that stokes a fire of prophetic angst in me (angst like Amos had). There are things I know – that I know that I know – about this general movement because I experienced those things, and thus the root causes for the abusive fruit that is now hanging low on the tree of powerful neo-reformed evangelicalism seem abundantly clear to my prophetic eye. I can feel the desperate need for John the Baptist’s axe – he brought the powerful trees low by putting the sharp edge of his words to their roots.

But the prophetic is rarely welcome, especially among those with religious power. And, because the kingdom of God inaugurated by the Messiah ushers in a subversive, backwards path of peace and grace as the primary way to transformation in the world, the halls of religion often resound with the songs of peace, peace, all paying lipservice to that kingdom. Stop being critical! Hold back your judgment! Perhaps you need to work on your anger! That language is not holy! Peace! Peace!

But crying peace, peace when there is no peace is not the kingdom, either. The kingdom is peace but the kingdom is justice too. The kingdom is grace but the kingdom is truth too. In fact, this is precisely the point of the subversive, backwards kingdom – that through a just kind of peace and a truthful kind of grace the world is being bent back to shalom, back to wholeness, back to rightness. Whenever peace and grace and love and reconciliation ignore truth and righteousness they become twisted dopplegangers of themselves, leading hearts astray and sentencing them to wandering outside the peaceable kingdom realm.

Because in the peaceable kingdom, there is no flabby tolerance of child sex abuse in the name of pathetic political power.

In the peaceable kingdom, that very same variety of twisted worldly power is brought to its knees.

And it is often the prophetic voice that brings them there.

Therefore, I believe that fighting any injustice with more arrogance, violence, greed, selfish ambition, power grabs, and unrighteous anger merely perpetuates the cycle of sin and gets us even further away from the kingdom way. But that does not mean the kingdom way is to sit back, wait it out, and just look for the least common denominator belief that will allow us to all get along because it’s a small Christian world after all. Hell no – the kingdom way is more powerful than that, subversive though it may be. The kingdom way doesn’t mind kicking hornets’ nests and making a mess of things to wage right-making peace in the face of injustice. The kingdom way doesn’t balk at pointing out the vipers and shouting down the whitewashed tombs and exposing wolves in sheep’s clothing. The kingdom way wrecks temples. The kingdom way is anything but passive.

The kingdom way is bold.

In the empire’s prison, writing to the church in Philippi, the apostle Paul said:

I’m waiting eagerly and full of hope, because nothing is going to put me to shame. I am going to be bold and outspoken, now as always, and the king is going to gain a great reputation in my body, whether in life or in death.

See, that’s the posture of a prophet.

So, next time the temptation to recoil arises, I’ll remember that nothing is going to put me to shame. I’ll be bold and outspoken, now as always. And I’ll endeavor to do this, not out of pride or vanity, seeking selfish rewards, but so that the King of Righteousness and the Prince of Peace gains a good reputation through my short, beautiful life, before these few years I’ve been given are over and done. (And to die is to make a profit anyway, so might as well speak out now!)

Next time, I’ll be bold.

And maybe you will be too.

What do you think? Do we need a bold, prophetic voice that doesn’t recoil?

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. He blogs here at Patheos and HuffPost Religion. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter, released in 2012. Most importantly he binge-watches TV dramas and plays in the snow with his family.

Find him on Twitter & Facebook!

  • pastorben52

    Zach, I’m a fairly new reader and really appreciate your courage in trying to hold the prophetic line.  Is it possible to be prophetic and still speak words that could change those who are enslaved by their own desire for power?  I think that too often we rip up the weeds that come from power but we do not take up the root of power.  The subversive Kingdom shows that worldly power will inexorably lead to greater sinfulness and unimaginable harm.  I think sometimes our gut instincts in prophecy can fall short of questioning the love of power and the protection of self/friends that is so prevalent in  what I have read of the SGM and TGC responses.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      pastorben52 yeah, i think that’s a good point. perhaps that keeps an element of hope at the center of the prophetic word – hope that nineveh will turn around, etc.

      • pastorben52

        zachhoag exactly what I was thinking about.  Jonah is a great prophetic story for that reason.

  • http://www.AmyThedinga.com/ Amy Thedinga

    Psalm 85.10:  Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.  For there to be true peace, wrong things must be made right.  Roll on Zach.  I’m with you.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      Amy Thedinga great verse Amy! and thanks.

  • jordanwilhite

    I know that I will catch grief for what I’m going to say here, but for the sake of  intellectual integrity, I’m going to say it anyway:
    Honest question, Zach…how are you defining ‘angst’ & how does your definition of that term have anything to do with prophetic recoil or boldness? “Angst” by definition is”anacutebutnonspecificsenseofanxietyorremorse” and so by saying you feel “prophetic angst (like Amos)” is really you saying that you are “accurately describing what will happen in the future (prophetic) [with] an acute sense or nonspecific sense of anxiety or remorse. (Angst)” How can you either recoil or be bold about something non-specific. (I am asking that in general terms, not about SGM)
    If the above is the hermeneutic you come to a text like Amos 5 with, I am convinced that the point has been missed. Amos was not non-specifically being prophetic…his prophecy had a point and it was to accuse Israel of not worshiping God correctly. The point of Amos 5 is indeed justice but not from us. In the context of the book and not just a cherry picking of the text, it is clear that the justice and righteousness spoken of in 5:24 is not from human hands but from God. Very plainly, verse 25-27 are the outpouring of God’s righteousness and justice as he sends them into exile beyond Damascus.
    Please understand me, I am in no way disagreeing that those liable at SGM for the continuation of child sex abuse shouldn’t be brought to justice. Yes, we play a part in that justice and we are to speak out against injustice, its why we care for the widow, orphan, poor, etc., but we must come to terms with our limitation in the enacting of it. It is as Romans 12:19 says “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”. Those at SGM, if found guilty, will face justice. Of that there is no doubt, but it is not from us. 
    If we don’t believe that, than our view of the Gospel is twisted. 
    One final critique I would make is your use of Philippians 1:20…again, the hermeneutic you approach the text with is incorrect. Paul’s words to the Philippians are not words of prophecy but of confidence in the Holy Spirit and by the prayer and supplications of those in Philippi that should death come, he would not slink away from Christ.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      jordanwilhite Jordan, starting out a blog comment with “I know I’m gonna catch grief for this but here goes” is a good way to buffer responsibility for a very strong opinion. No need for disclaimers – own your critique and face the consequences! :)
      Your criticism of my use of “angst” (one time in the post, and in the graphic) might be technically correct (maybe), but I am going with a more popular meaning, like this one:
      Angst, often confused with anxiety, is a transcendent emotion in that it combines the unbearable anguish of life with the hopes of overcoming this seemingly impossible situation. Without the important element of hope, then the emotion is anxiety, not angst. Angst denotes the constant struggle one has with the burdens of life that weighs on the dispossessed and not knowing when the salvation will appear.An airplane crashes into the side of a remote snow-covered mountain; those passengers that worry about their lives without hopes of survival only face anxiety. In contrast, those passengers who worry about their lives with hopes of survival but do not know when the rescue party will arrive face angst. 
      In my angst, anger, and anguish, I lived and died. – M.O.A.
      I think that describes the prophetic mood really accurately. 
      Further, your hardline distinction between God’s (final?) justice and justice in the here and now at the hands of people is untenable biblically and experientially. Why does the church exist if not to embody the right-making of God in the here and now for the sake of the world? Isn’t the gospel holistic? And haven’t the authorities been given in part to at least curb injustice and protect the weakest among us?
      Finally, your exegetical claims sound strong but are actually weak. Amos isn’t straining at repentance – temporal right-making in the nation of Israel? Amos 5 is then getting at both things – the inevitable justice of God that WILL roll down like waters & the temporal repentance and right-making that may LET that justice roll down (and with far more favorable circumstances). My heremeneutic for citiing Phil. 1:20 is “incorrect”? Really? Paul is talking about continuing to be “bold and outspoken” here, an aspect of his prophetic preaching to the powers that be. Your objection is reaching.
      And it’s reaching, Jordan, because of what you are really trying to do here. You’re trying to protect TGC and SGM, and you feel it’s wrong that they are being called out in the way they are, and that justice is being called for boldly. Which is, really, the entire point of this post, so thanks for illustrating it. Peace.

  • jjmahoney3

    Very well said. It’s unfortunate that in the Land That Shall Not be Named, leaders had the tendancy to be more concerned with the way you delivered a concern instead of the concern itself. I stopped counting the stories. That type of practice creates a dangerous culture for victims. It’s a shame that the big dog leaders out there don’t seem to understand that they’re buddy is responsible for creating that culture. Forget about the doctrine, which they may have had right. When the culture wounds people and holds them captive, it’s dangerous. I’m disappointed and disgusted that they are so quick to discount the bold, those fighting for justice for the victims (and even the victims themselves), as gossips and slanderers, instead of actually listening to their complaints.
    Even if it’s found that the authorities were contacted in every single instance and that no cover-up occured, the SGM culture left victims repeatedly victimized by the very people who are called to protect and watch over them. They can condemn child abuse all they want (and thankfully they do), but they cease to acknowledge the damage that the ministry did to people AFTER the abuse, and they continue to defend the one responsible for shaping that culture.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      jjmahoney3 well said, thank you.

  • jjmahoney3

    Also, your beard is epic.

  • sarahbessey

    That’s a good word, Zach. I wonder, too, about the prophetic of HOW we speak to these things. If we’re using the same old tactics – calling people out, kicking hornet’s nests, writing angry, etc. (which I’ve done and probably will do again) – I wonder if we’re really calling people to something better. I have come to believe that the way we speak the word matters as much as the word, particularly if we’re trying to call people into the Kingdom of God. It’s hard sometimes to lay down the old empire ways of engagement and argument and “fight to the death” rhetoric in an effort for something we believe profoundly. And then there are times when you just need to turn over a table and howl at the moon. It’s a tension I’m finding more and more in my work, and walking it out requires a lot of listening and a slowness. Sometimes I recoil because I know that I’m slinging mud just like every one else, even if I think my mud is better, if that makes sense. I think the WAY we speak the prophetic criticism matters as much as the criticism itself because it’s often the arena where people get to see that better story lived out in real life. Great thoughts, as always.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      sarahbessey yeah, maybe there is a tension here where exceptional cases might call for that righteous angst/anger, but that’s not normative. and there will always be times when we genuinely overstep, take the wrong tone, etc., and that’s where we need to be ready to apologize and adjust. the “recoiling” I’m getting at is more of that pressure to not be fully honest or forthright for the sake of keeping a false kind of peace (which usually protects injustice). and I think you can even kick a hornet’s nest winsomely :). thanks for the sharpening, and i consider you a formidably bold (and gracious) prophet as well :).

  • MarkADemers

    It requires tremendous courage, faith and boldness to speak the prophetic word in the midst of injustice, especially when that injustice is propagated by the Church.  (And the prophets always spoke to the covenant community, telling them something they should know about themselves.)
    It takes something else entirely to live the prophetic word.  Intense self-awareness; a willingness to be accountable; an authentic humility that is so very hard to come by.  As challenged as I have been both to hear and to speak the prophetic word, that challenge pales when compared to the call and the command to live it.  Here.  Now.  In the community I currently experience.
    I don’t have to wait to discern it.  It stares me in the face even as I’m writing these words.

  • Chris1509

    This article hit the bulls-eye for me. I actually read this
    in my daily reading today. My wife and I were talking about this very thing how
    we both react to injustice the same way, it comes from deep within.
    I grew up in SGM, spent 28 years there. And your entire post
    was spot on exactly what I’m seeing. “There are thing that I know that I know…”
    YES!
    “The kingdom way wrecks temples.” AMEN!
    Thank you for being bold, thank you for writing this.
    This was for me an arrow that flew straight and true and hit
    the bulls-eye.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      Chris1509 i’m so happy it hit the bullseye! and i’m happier that you guys are finding prophetic boldness in the wake of your experience. prayers.

  • Chris1509

    Prophecy is not just foretelling but also warning. Amos gives some foretelling but it is general. Most of Amos is prophetic warning.

  • http://watchkeep.blogspot.com/ watchkeep1

    As Boz T said, “Aslan is on the move.” 
    With boldness I say, the good ole boys network needs a good ole fashioned kick in the butt. http://watchkeep.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-selective-outrage-of-southern.html

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      Yes, indeed.

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  • Mary DeMuth

    Well said, important words. We all have a calling to speak out as God initiates. Recently I wrote this post, and I shuddered: http://www.marydemuth.com/a-stake-in-the-ground/ And then today this: http://www.marydemuth.com/perpetrators/ Jesus, help us all stand for good, exposing evil.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      Mary DeMuth thanks mary. and those are great posts, keep them coming :).

  • Jeanne S

    Oh Zach, I soooo identify with your writing. You have described me to a T. Nothing stirs me up and burns a fire in my belly like injustice or someone being mistreated/victimized. I can see through BS at 50 yards and sniff out a phony like a blood hound. I have been misunderstood, marginalized, labeled as a trouble maker or rebellious when I have tried to go to in respect and try and point out the error that is going on. The very church (I think) you are talking about with the Child abuse, I was part of in it’s genesis and I went to one of the leaders and told him him my concerns….I was totally dismissed.
    My question, in a New Covenant context, and being out of the institutional church I have no idea where the “gift” I have as a prophet fits. I put gift in parenthesis because it rarely feels like a gift, but feels like a curse. To live with the burning in my bones when things stir me and have no outle or given any credence is no fun and very frustrating. There seems to be no place for us, because we are viewed as critical. Being a woman is no plus, you are marginalized even more and viewed as a Jezebel. I don’t know where I fit. I identify with Elijah and his angst and depression of feeling alone. 
    There must be a difference between the old and new covenant prophet, Grace and love must be part of the equation, correction or direction in a redemptive way, rather that punitive. Where does the balance between resting the the Lord is at work in a situation and when to know when you must say something?

  • Kathy

    WOW. .. you are totally describing my life, almost to a T.  And, on top of that, I’m a woman in that framework. ..it has been SO painful.  However, in our culture (maybe all the way back to Amos’ culture, huh?), there really has been no room for that prophetic bold voice.  Why?  Because most church leaders, pastors tend to be the “teacher” or “counselor” or maybe an “administrator”type and they fundamentally don’t know what to do with the prophetic types. .. they are threatened by them and even if that prophetic person is a team player, they tend to be threatened by them.  So what happens with those prophetic types?  Why they end up going outside the church and starting their own 501c3 organizations. .. .it’s really too bad, because the church could really act on God’s voice to bring the kingdom to bear on culture if there really was room for everyone. ..instead, our sense of strategic thought and presence often reflects horrible financial sense and bad stewardship all the way around. .. pretty sad.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @Kathy great points, Kathy – I can identify!


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