The Prophets of Our Time

The Prophets of Our Time July 9, 2015

We had an interesting discussion of prophecy in my Sunday school class recently, as we continued working our way through 1 Corinthians.

I’ve often heard people suggest that preachers are the closest equivalent today to ancient Israel’s prophets. I’ve often viewed that as a problematic stance, since it seems designed to add to the authority of modern preachers, while also ignoring the fact that few such figures today preface their words with “thus says the LORD.”

But if one reverses the direction of comparison, I think it may actually work – especially if one combines it with Abraham Heschel’s suggestion that prophets are those who believe that God feels about things the way they do – that their horror at injustice, or religious practices, is what God feels about those things.

Preachers today, whether saying that God will destroy America for legalizing same-sex marriage, or that God is proud of us, seem to be similar, even if they may not think in those terms. Their stance is that they feel revulsion or pride at what our nation has been doing, and are persuaded that God feels the same.

Perhaps ancient Israel’s prophets and today’s preachers aren’t that different after all. And in both cases, it is easier to declare who was right with the benefit of hindsight.

See also Richard Beck’s thoughts on the necessity that prophetic voices address the spiritual and not only the political aspects of injustice.

Let me end with this image from Evolving Perspectives. It highlights something that I have commented on before: those who predict divine judgment predict things that happen anyway, not things that never happen in a particular area. That too is worth pondering. Gideon doesn’t ask for words across the sky as a sign. He asks for something to happen to dew. Just like waters are unleashed in the flood, rather than God simply making the wicked vanish. God was thought of as involved in what we call weather and other natural processes. And so even those who claim to believe in the God of the Bible today, do not believe and think about God in the way their ancient forebears did. And that itself deserves to be a topic of reflection.

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  • JeffCStevenson

    Ugh—modern day “prophets” are pretty much Larry Hill/Fortney Road all over again. Any time someone says, “God told me…” run in the opposite direction.

  • David Evans

    I followed your link bank to Don Cupitt and found this:

    “To put it bluntly, classical Christianity is itself now our Old Testament…We have to use traditional Christianity in the same way as Christianity itself has always used the Old Testament.”

    Now there’s a thought.

    When Christians moved on* from the Old Testament, they didn’t call themselves “reform Jews”. They chose a new name for their new religion. Should those who have moved on from traditional Christianity be thinking about a new name?

    * I’m using it in the sense that Einstein “moved on” from Newton. The old view still contains many truths but we see them differently.

    • The earliest Christians didn’t even call themselves “Christians.” They simply were Jews. The question of when a religious phenomenon has become so distinct from its parent that it deserves to be called a new religion is a difficult one, and reflects a certain amount of arbitrary categorization, much as we do with species and dialects/languages.

  • Darach Conneely

    Is it not written, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls”?

    • Shiphrah99

      Ko amar Rav Simon in the name of Rav Garfunkel?

      • Darach Conneely

        ויאמרו כל־העם אמן

        • But Rabbis Peart and Lee used to say, “For the words of the prophets were written on the studio wall, Concert hall. And echoes with the sounds of salesmen. Of salesmen. Of salesmen…”

        • ccws

          “And all the people said amen”? “And let all the people say amen”? I’m guessing – I totally suck at “naked” (unpointed) Hebrew. Used to be half decent at transcribing the Masoretic variety, but it’s been over 10 years since I had to do that & I’m pretty rusty.

          • Darach Conneely

            וַיֹּאמְר֤וּ כָל־הָעָם֙ אָמֵ֔ן

          • ccws

            Thanks! “V’yim’ru kol-ha’am amein” = And let all the people say amen.

  • Michael Wilson

    The prophets are an interesting bunch. I resist the notion to divide them between true and false historically, they were all in the same game no matter their gods ideologies or accuracy. Some of the biblical prophets were quite unjust them selves. The preacher may fulfil the role of the prophet today but a long time ago Christianity sidelined the cornerstone of prophecy, the belief that the prophet was conveying a message from a god. Most preachers accept that their pronouncements are not God’s holy word but their estimation based on scripture, reason, and prayer. If their wrong they don’t expect to be outcast for using God’s authority in vain. Personally I discount the idea of a prophet that conveys revelations from God. Truth is what God speaks, but only God is perfect, we are flawed and we perceive truth through our senses which can be fooled. Their is no prophecy then that can be accepted without question nor prophet that always prophesies the truth. Now if we say that which we believe is true, then we saying what we believe God says, “thus speaks Yahweh!”, but we do not have the capacity to penetrate the veil of the senses to see the true face of God so our pronouncements of truth must always be prefixed with humble clause, “I think…”

  • sanctusivo

    Don’t forget this: for all the Micaiahs out there, there are far too many more Zedekiahs out there and they do love their iron horns. See I Kings 22.