Hi and welcome back! As soon as evangelicals staged their January 6th insurrection attempt, I knew we’d be seeing the usual infighting afterward. And yes, we sure did. Almost immediately, Christians sprang into action there. One group seemed especially upset, though, and that was self-styled Christian prophets who hadn’t signed on with the insurrection attempt. Now, they’re doing their best to justify why prophecy in general is totes essential — and they’re the totes for realsies prophets, not those ickie, fake, confused scare-quotes ‘prophets.’ However, all prophets are just hucksters trying to protect their respective games, nothing more. Once again, today we discover self-interest motivating the Christian critics of false prophets.
(Defining prophecy: In this post, I discuss ‘prophets’ as hucksters who foretell and divine the future. However, Christians do use a second definition for ‘prophecy.’ Sometimes, it means a divinely-granted revelation of hidden knowledge about someone else. One example I’ve seen given of this meaning: Nathan confronting King David about his relationship with Bathsheba. That isn’t how today’s pop-culture prophets are using the term, though, so I’m intentionally ignoring this less-common definition today.)
The Prophets Arrive to the Evangelical Party.
First, please permit me to explain how prophecy came to be a lucrative industry within evangelicalism in the first place.
As evangelicals ramped up their level of fear-based politicization, prophecy became a very important sub-industry within the greater industry of professional Christianity. (See endnotes for an explanation of this term.)
The publication of The Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970s likely kicked off the trend of popular-culture apocalyptic ranting. It sold tens if not hundreds of million of copies, which made one its authors, Hal Lindsey, a household name.
(Heck, even my mom had a copy of this book! I don’t think I even realized it was Christian till well after my deconversion. She kept it on the same shelf as Chariots of the Gods and Dianetics — and Bullfinch’s Mythology.)
This article from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) neatly summarizes the book’s incredible importance in Christian publishing — and in shaping the burgeoning movement of “Jesus People” who would soon become the next generation’s big evangelical names. Its author focuses more on the laypeople who took up this awful book as a rallying point for their quirky take on Christianity. But we could just as easily focus on the hucksters who realized what a great grift Lindsey had discovered.
Indeed, this book’s phenomenal success made the sub-industry of prophecy-shilling a very real grift possibility for aspiring Christian hucksters. Until then, prophets had made very few inroads past their own insular little tribes. Prophets usually had to multi-class as pastors or take other jobs to pay their bills.
But Hal Lindsey reached way past his own tribe and even past his religion. He made the job of prophet into a lucrative vocation. Thanks to him, the gravy train started running nonstop through Evangelical Town!
The Second-Worst Problem Prophets Face: Superfluity.
Now, allow me to explain why prophets are so obviously dominated by self-interest:
Their entire profession is superfluous.
Nobody in Christianity really NEEDS to purchase anything sold by prophets. Prophets are not telling Christians anything they absolutely need to hear that they can’t get from their church leaders. One can be a perfectly adequate Christian without once purchasing any product that prophets sell so relentlessly.
That makes the position of prophets very precarious indeed. They must constantly be impressing their followers with the sheer necessity of their work.
Often, prophets tell the flocks that their products will help purchasers live morally-acceptable lives, which ensures safety when the Rapture finally happens. Or that prophecy is an important part of
this important breakfast an overall evangelism campaign, or part of an overall package of literalist, inerrantist doctrinal beliefs.
Since authoritarians are a fear-based group, to an extent prophets’ products can be used in those ways. But they’re not necessary. Worse, in my direct experience I’ve seen prophecies backfire in all three respects — notably by sowing seeds of doubt when evangelicals start to figure out how unreliable prophets really are.
Really, if the entire prophecy industry as a whole got completely wiped out by a natural disaster tomorrow, Christianity as a whole could be practiced just fine without it. So prophets are always fighting superfluity. In this battle, their position begins as merely drastically-disadvantageous — and worsens from there.
As a matter of necessity, then, self-interest drives prophets. It must. There’s no objective reason why Christianity needs these hucksters.
The Worst Problem: Prophets Are Actively Harmful.
Indeed, evangelicals’ favorite prophets were doing everything in their game’s playbook to get the crowds whipped up. They presented their followers with a multitude of prophecies that all boiled down to one promise: evangelicals were on the cusp of totally winning their culture wars against the world once and for all — and then, they would finally get the Republic of Gilead of their dreams.
I found a good compilation of these prophets in action from YouTuber Holy Koolaid. It consists of evangelical prophets’ freakouts after the election:
You can find an update here, too, uploaded December 25. Jeez, Wall of Fundie O-Faces Ahoy.
In the update Holy Koolaid released the next month, we find these same prophets doubling down on their already-failed prophecies. It’s all very seedy, sleazy, and blatantly manipulative. These hucksters couldn’t have made it more clear with these obvious power-grabs that prophecy, as an industry, is actively harmful to everyone — except the prophets themselves, of course, who profit (<— LOL) handsomely from their false prophecies.
The response from the rest of the world: perhaps the most negative attention I’ve ever seen focused on evangelical prophets.
And y’all, a whole bunch of competing prophets got super annoyed by having their game exposed so completely on January 6th by these more-obvious hucksters.
The League of Extraordinarily Concerned Prophets.
There’s this prophet-training group in the United Kingdom (UK) called “Global Prophetic Alliance.” Its co-leaders, David and Emma Stark, lead the British Isles Council of Prophets, along with a church in Glasgow. These two have written books, run seminars and classes, offer private consultations to clients, and travel all over to offer prophecies. They don’t work for free, but they assure customers over at their website, Prophetic Scots, that their classes in prophecy are “affordable.”
And these two trainers-of-prophets are extremely concerned about all these false prophets over in America. On January 19th, Premier Christianity ran a puff piece for them. In it, the Starks piously insist that prophecy IS SO a totally valid discipline in Christianity. They say that Christians shouldn’t pay any mind to all those awful, ickie, false American prophets! Bless their cotton socks — they really try hard here:
You may not feel that this has been the contemporary prophetic movement’s finest hour but let’s heed Paul’s advice and not treat prophecy with contempt and his urge to keep on eagerly desiring the gifts of the Spirit – especially prophecy (1 Thessalonians 5 and 1 Corinthians 14).
Yes, cuz it would super help these two out if people would please continue to give prophets their time and money.
But real prophets. Like them.
Not the false ones. Like those ickie fake American ones.
A Biola University Leader Is Also Very Concerned.
Oscar Merlo is the Director of Biola University’s Center for the Study of the Work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit Today. (WOW.) I’m already not impressed at all with Biola. And here, I defy anyone to read his writeup of his job’s demands and come away with a single concrete, objective task that he himself performs.
Maybe that’s why his December 11 post there sounds like complete gobbledygook. It is just astonishingly nebulous, even by cowardly evangelical standards. He titles it:
False Prophecy and Prophets:
Misrepresenting Evangelical Pentecostals and Renewal Movements
In it, he dances around and around the topic of false prophets. He never once names any specific false prophets or prophecies. He just hints about those prophecies relating to “presidential” matters. Let’s get a load of this guy:
This becomes problematic when the gift of prophecy gets linked to utopian ideals that foster persuasive manipulative power, and hold the potential of altering the consciousness of otherwise reasonable human beings. Such manipulation is what we recently observed in regards to presidential prophecies uttered by leaders of various American Charismatic and Pentecostal movements.
Merlo’s concerns mostly relate to how false prophets make evangelical groups and leaders look to outsiders. He’s upset about how these false prophets bring “derision and judgment toward the church.” [Correct.] As well, he thinks that false prophets “misrepresent” evangelicals to outsiders. [Nope.] Luckily, he also thinks that he can Jesus his way to persuading the wingnut followers of false prophets to start flying straight again. [LOL NO.]
I guess 1 out of 3 ain’t bad for an evangelical.
Hal Lindsey Speaketh.
Interestingly, Hal Lindsey himself — or someone writing in his name, at least — chimed in on the riots as well on January 13th. It’s an amazing piece for its utter lack of self-awareness. He doesn’t seem to have the faintest idea what happened during the attack, who was involved and why, and most of all why evangelicals actually supported — and still support — Donald Trump to the hilt.
However, Lindsey doesn’t even mention the role of false prophets in riling up evangelicals. In fact, he hints repeatedly that some unnamed meaniepies out there just “want to provoke Trump-supporters, especially Christians,” into doing hypocritical things, “to goad Trump-supporters (evangelical or not) into acts of actual insurrection.”
Yes, but he’s avoiding the point here: evangelical leaders were the ones doing that. And it was shamefully easy for them to do it.
Lindsey’s own irresponsible game led the flocks straight to this point, but he’ll never admit it. He just wants to make sure people keep sending him money.
The Sounds of Silence.
LifeWay’s Facts & Trends blog was silent on the entire situation.
The hilariously-named Pre-Trib Research Center had nothing to say at all about it either.
SBC Voices, usually a good place to find dissenting opinions in the Southern Baptist Convention, said nothing about prophets or about the insurrection.
Oh, but a few Christians here and there disapproved at these false prophets. Almost all that I’ve seen take the form we see in this post-election hot take from Craig Keener at Christianity Today. He’s a self-proclaimed charismatic Christian, so he’s got an investment in wanting prophecy to be real. He sounds incredibly reluctant to examine the sausage factory too closely:
As a charismatic Christian myself, I like to see prophecies come true. But prophecies need to be evaluated. Whenever possible, before they go public. And, when necessary, afterward.
Me, I’d argue that Keener suffers from an inability to clearly perceive prophets’ greed and ambition. Multiplied across millions, this same inability has had a great deal to do with why evangelicals make it so incredibly easy for prophecy-hucksters to make sales with them.
Self-Interest Holds ALL Evangelicals Back.
Prophets know that evangelicals don’t really want to evaluate their prophecies. They know that evangelicals won’t hold them responsible or accountable for anything they say. And they know just as certainly that even after inciting evangelicals to violence, nobody will start doing that now.
Let’s say evangelical critics of false prophets put any effective measures in place to stop false prophets. Okay. Or let’s say they at least find the magic way to convince evangelicals to be more careful about trusting prophets. Fine. Those exact measures would get in their own way very quickly. The false prophets complaining would find their own prophecies examined similarly — and I guarantee they’d be found wanting too.
And evangelicals have never wanted to prod too intently at their beach rubble. I think they kinda know what they’d find.
They don’t want to test miracles any more than they want to test prophecies. Hey, I learned that lesson myself as a young Pentecostal! Nothing’s changed there, either.
So as per normal, as my dad would have said, evangelicals’ way of dealing with their false prophets is to complain very loudly about the matter, but not to change a thing and hope everyone forgets all about it soon.
NEXT UP: Evangelical U takes a field trip visit to the Pre-Trib Research Center! See you soon!
About “professional Christians.” My ex-husband Biff used to call ministers of all kinds “professional Christians.” They got to be Christian for a living. Their ranks included ANY paid, full-time church or denominational position. Y’all, this whole idea fascinated him. He bent his whole life toward becoming a “professional Christian.” He didn’t care what the position involved as long as he got paid to “be Christian” all day! Ever since then, I’ve found the term useful in describing all such positions in Christianity.
Interestingly, by the way, Biff failed to achieve his big dream. Meanwhile, I became a professional skeptic to some extent. This universe does sometimes feel like it’s got a sense of irony. At least this time it worked in everyone’s favor. That includes Biff, of course. I mean, he’d have wrecked his OWN life even worse than he actually did if he’d ever gotten his dream job! (Back to the post!)
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