Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church 1

Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church 1 January 5, 2012

If Jesus was prophetic (and he was) then the church that follows him is prophetic (and it isn’t always what it should be). This is the thesis of Luke Timothy Johnson’s new book Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church. He contends that the church today needs to hear a prophetic voice, and a good place to begin for LT Johnson is with Luke-Acts. Johnson is a specialist in Luke-Acts, and so this series will be full of solid exegesis and theology.

Johnson contends the readers of the Luke-Acts (one book, not two; together, not apart) would have heard a “summons to an ideal that might be in danger of being lost … a thrilling act of utopian imagination … [and] “a normative prescription for how things ought to be” (5).

He observes that what Luke did to Mark is a clue to how to read Luke-Acts: Luke adds lots to the front end of the Story about Jesus; Luke adds more ecclesial stuff to the last chp of Luke; and most notably he adds a long Story about the Church to the Gospel — and it would be good to sit down just to ponder what happens to one’s database when one has Luke 1-3, Luke 24 (not to mention other things added in), as well as Acts 1-28. Just with those basics, what happens to the Story? What does this tell us about the gospel? What does this tell us about Jesus? What does this tell us about the church (and its importance)? What does this, then, say about the local church?

This is what happens: The Story of the Church is seen as the continuation of the Story of Jesus. That, in and of itself, is a huge theological perspective. Jesus isn’t just history; Jesus is alive and well in the Story of the Church.

That is, this is one story — the Jesus-Church Story. This is not two stories, but one.

Stylistically: Luke is adept. That intro to Luke (1:1-4) is a one-of-a-kind and the intr to Acts continues that stylistic competence.

As for genre, Johnson thinks the comparison to Greek and Roman novels is overplayed (he’s thinking no doubt of Pervo). Yes more like “lives” but not as much as some would like to think. Johnson thinks Luke-Acts fits into “historiography” (surely he means “history” for “historigraphy” is a study of history itself and not an historical account). History is not a chronicle of events but a shaping of events with a purpose. And Johnson argues from Luke 1:1-4 that this is a history of the fulfillment of Israel’s Story in Jesus and the Church. [Yes, indeed, say I — King Jesus Gospel is happy to hear this.] Luke tells this Story in order to create confidence in his readers by providing the Story as a set of narratives in sequence. Part of that order is the Israel to the Gentiles sequencing of the Story. God is faithful, Johnson argues, is central to Luke-Acts. In other words, Luke-Acts is theodicy.

Geography — namely, the centrality of Jerusalem — is important to Luke-Acts.

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  • Paul W

    The phrase that comes to mind is “totus Christus” refering to a full identification of Christ as a totality of head and members. It’s an identification of Jesus and church as a completed persona.

    One implication I think is that the church is humanity’s hope. God’s plan to sum up all things in heaven and earth by bringing them together under one head in Christ takes place within the church (Eph 1:10). The whole Christ is to be found in the community of all the faithful especially as it identifies with the poor and marginalized in their moments of distress.

  • Rick

    Looking forward to this series. I had my son start reading Luke-Acts this week. Wonderful timing.

  • JT

    My concern regarding expectations for a prophetic church is that, like speaking in tongues, it opens the door for far too many someones to feel like if prophecy isn’t happening, it’s time for them to start making stuff up.

  • Luke-Acts crucial for several reasons, but one to highlight is that it breaks down the false dichotomy I still hear of Jesus vs Paul. As in “church guys” major on Paul, but “parachurch” guys follow the Jesus method of discipleship . . .

    I think a great question to consider is this – was Jesus any good at His job? Was He any good at training His guys? Did He prepare them well for the future? IF so, then the second half of the book, Acts, is a record of how they implemented His training in the power of the Spirit

    There is NO split between Christ and His Apostles, including the one “born out of time”, Paul.

  • Amen.

    Luke Acts Johnson?

  • “Historiography” is the work of doing or writing History. Thus, it sounds like LTJ was commenting on the process, nature or quality of the composition itself.

    If LTJ says Luke-Acts is “History” then it sounds as if he’s saying, “It actually happened.” By calling it “Historiography” he’s probably trying to say that the writer was being more careful than creative.

    The point is good (if I’m inferring correctly).

    We need less debate about historicity, and more focus on historical interpretation that leads to actual understanding.

  • scotmcknight


    Historiography, though, is the study of history and historians do their business. There is no way Luke-Acts is historiography. What he means by “history,” to be sure, is not “this happened exactly as Luke says and we can show it” and, yes, that is part of what is going on but “history” is capable of being more than 100% chronicle for we use it for what Herodotus and Josephus wrote.

    Americans bloat words: we use “methodology” when we mean “method.” Methodology, again, is the examination and study of methods.

  • scotmcknight

    Bill, I should not have simply said what I said about Johnson for he goes on to say it is “apologetic history.” He does say it belongs to the genre of historiography — on that I’d say it’s not the right word (Luke doesn’t theoretically reflect on history, though Lk 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1 is a beginning) … but he’s talking about the genre of Luke-Acts as apologetic history, a kind of history.

  • Sean LeRoy

    No disrespect to LTJ, and I understand why he’d land squarely on L-A, but I think the church more needs to hear the voice of OT prophets. His book looks interesting and I’ll add it to my list, but the church isn’t able to “hear” L-A, because she’s never really “heard” Amos, or Nahum, or Malachi…she hasn’t been trained to.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    Your comment is interesting and largely correct.

    However, my wife enjoys interacting with scripture, although not in the narrow scholarly way that I sometimes do. She has committed this year to reading and writing on the “Minor” Prophets. I am watching with expectation and anticipation.
    Randy Gabrielse

    Interestingly, this year my wife, who has always enjoyed interacting with scripture, but not studying it in a narrowly scholoarly way, is

  • T


    You could say the same thing regarding the command to love the way Christ does: if/when the legitimate thing isn’t present, we fake it. That argument doesn’t tell us–at all–whether the church ought to be pursuing love, prophecy, tongues or anything else. Yes, the church will fake it on everything sometimes. Does that nullify the command to pursue love, or earnestly desire spiritual gifts?

    In any event, I’m guessing that the author has more social justice in mind rather than the gift of prophecy.

  • T


    What interesting about this to me is that this thinking was at the heart of the Vineyard’s pursuit and practice of healing the sick, mercy ministries to the poor, and evangelism w/in both, and rightly IMO. To answer your bolded questions, it tells me that church needs to pursue a more integrated approach to gospelling and works of power via the Spirit with an ever-compassionate heart that leans to the most needy.

  • I have his “Living Jesus” but never read it. I’ll have to add it to my reading list for this year, and then follow up with this one. Sounds great.

  • Tommy O’Keefe

    Sean – Sounds like we need an awakening of the “prophetic imagination”. I couldn’t agree more!

    I am excited about LTJ’s book; I plan on teaching a sermon series on Luke/Acts during the second half of this year.

  • JT

    T – Very interesting point. My response would be that we are commanded to love, but not to speak in tongues or prophesy. I would also argue that it is not possible to fake love. We mistake love for an emotion, which can be faked. But love is not an emotion and never has been. Love is an action of giving. You cannot fake giving something of yourself to someone else. They will either receive it or they will not.

  • Scot, glad you posted this. After reading King Jesus Gospel, I am very eager to hear from others who connect the fulfillment of Israel with Jesus and the church.

    I like LTJ and look forward to reading this.

  • T


    You’ve never been in a church or with people that faked love? Or gave, with their best attempt at an appearance of love, but obviously had very different motives? Can’t fake love? It happens every day, both toward God and toward others.

    And no, we’re not commanded to prophesy. We are told to imitate Christ. We are commanded to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophesy. We are told to pursue love. Etc., etc. What they all have in common is that they come from the same Holy Spirit.

  • DRT

    Wait a second, JT and T are speaking like prophesy is telling the future, unless I am reading them wrong. I thought biblical prophesy could include that, but was more about understanding the relationship between god and the people, right? Which is LT Johnson saying?

  • DRT

    BTW, I have a couple (or more) courses taught by LT Johnson for the Teaching Company and I absolutely love him as a lecturer. Perhaps he will do his book in that format.

  • T


    I think LT is talking more about it in terms of action and words calling for justice for the poor, but I could be wrong. But I don’t see the gift of prophecy, FWIW, as being necessarily about telling the future. It could be future, past or present oriented, verbal or action or both.