Frequently Asked Questions (of a theologian) is a series I do from time to time as a means of answering good questions that come across my desk. Sometimes I answer the questions, sometimes others do, if you’re interested in seeing some other Q & A’s check it out here.
This week’s question is: are there modern day prophets?
As you know there are two forms of prophet: the one who tells the future, and the one who poignantly explains the “signs of the times” as a way of critiquing and calling the people back to God.
Both are done with a sensitivity toward the Holy Spirit, and those who truly hear the Spirit speak truth which is often hard to hear.
The first kind of prophet has always been rare, only about 10 percent of prophecy in the OT is directed toward the future. And today I think this kind of prophecy is rarer. I don’t think that it’s impossible because I believe that God still speaks today, and he could very easily tell someone something like this. However, the two parts of this future directed prophecy is: that it calls people to worship God (it is not for the prophets own gain) and it’s meant not as an individual gift (such as God tells me when to play the lottery or when to avoid getting on the plane) so much as a corporate Gift, in other words it has social implications and glorifies God.
The second kind of prophet is much more common and I do think there are people who speak with the words and heart of God in a way that critiques the powers of our world. In fact, I think Mennonites, Quakers and Catholics have nurtured this gift among their people more consistently than a number of other traditions because of their insistence on listening to the living Spirit of God. This kind of prophecy is in line with the Jeremiah’s and Isaiah’s of to OT and of course Jesus in the NT because it is very unpopular, often rejected, and is often only accepted after it’s too late or almost too late to turn around.
One example of this is the prophetic witness of Quakers and their involvement in the underground railroad, something we’d all hail as a revolutionary obedience to what the Holy Spirit called all the church to do. Their involvement in the railroad was not only illegal but highly rejected by people inside and outside the Friends movement. It took a really long time for the rest of the church, and just as long for the rest of the country, to accept their anti-slavery position as truth. But now, looking back, we Christians know that God is against domination and oppression and that the Spirit always calls us to help those who are in these situations. Those who first listened to the Spirit and who responded obediently were prophets leading the people of God to respond.
So in the end, yes I believe that God calls people to critique the powers the way Jeremiah, Isaiah and Jesus all did, I think we have some good examples of this, and that these prophets and what they say are often difficult to accept because of the radical nature of their message. I don’t however think there are many people, and I sometimes wonder if any, who faithfully tell the future.
Walter Bruggemann is an incredible Old Testament professor whose books are well written and very engaging and cover a number of these topics. In fact, I am reading one called “Prophetic Imagination” right now. So if you’re interested in looking more into this I’d encourage checking out one of his books on the topic.
How would you respond to this question?