The Test of True Prophetic Speech

The Test of True Prophetic Speech October 15, 2021

The 1960s reintroduced prophetic speech into the church’s vocabulary.  Although some of the best work in that regard was done long ago, appeals to the role of the prophet have become common.

Pastors often claim that role.  Even public figures and pundits without religious commitments have claimed that role.  With regularity one hears people talk about “speaking truth to power.”

But increasingly there is an element of dishonesty to such claims.  Far too many self-anointed prophets never make the effort to uncover the distortions or departures from “God’s truth” everywhere they might be found.

Instead, they offer only half-truths, exposing the mendacity of “the other side.”  But they never name the lies told by their own tribe.  They claim to “punch up” and accuse their opponents of “punching down.”

This is not prophetic speech.  It is partisan-prophetic speech, which should be taken for what it is: an effort to score points and wrap the mantle of “prophet” around the points scored.

Whether one looks to Old Testament prophets or Jesus for examples of truly prophetic speech, the pattern that dominates is of speech that looks to the will of God.  That concern, that focus motivates the prophet and the proverbial “chips” fall where they may.

This orientation is why Jesus fell foul of partisans of every kind in his own day.  He offended of the Pharisees and the Zealots.  He fell foul of his own nation’s leaders and he fell foul of the Roman Empire.  And his message to everyone he encountered was conditioned by the will of God.

If there is a test for true prophetic speech, this is it.  And people who claim to be prophets should be cautious about making that claim – because prophets inevitably alienate everyone.  Not as a matter of pride, but as a consequence of this one commitment.

Real prophets don’t “punch up” or “punch down.”  They “punch through” – through to the will of God, through to a complete understanding of the truth.  As Frederick Douglass put it, “There is a prophet within us, forever whispering that behind the seen lies the immeasurable unseen.”  And the prophet speaks to the immeasurable unseen, wherever it is ignored or obscured.

Everything else is partisanship.


Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash




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