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What We Mean by Prophecy

We all need a word of judgment—and of hope.

Luke tried to prepare us for it: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). Yet in the time since he wrote these words, somehow we Christians came to distrust much prophecy. Whether because of the excesses of the charismatic movement, or the Left Behind franchise, or the overly political aims of mainline Protestants, today when someone claims to be speaking “prophetically,” we ask: Whose visions? Which dreams?

We are wise to check any claim to prophecy against Scripture and church teaching. But I wonder if our mistrust has led us to reject prophetic words we desperately need to hear. (It wouldn’t be the first time God’s people did so.) In his book The Prophetic Imagination, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us what prophets are for:

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. … Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate despair so that new futures can be believed in and embraced by us.

In other words, prophets speak a word of judgment and of hope, reminding us of the future promised to us. A future in which pain and death itself are vanquished, for “God himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). Prophets don’t conjure new realities; rather, they call us back to Reality himself.

This issue of CT features several people we believe may offer prophetic words for today’s church. Russell Moore leads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public-policy arm of the 15.7-million-member Southern Baptist Convention. ...

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Christianity Today
What We Mean by Prophecy
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September 2015

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