Prophecy is an embarrassing subject for a religion “come of age,” says James J. G. Dunn, for “true prophecy suffers from that most damning of all indictments for a respectable Westerner—it is ‘not nice.’ ”

It is not that we do not esteem prophets. We talk about them in terms of highest praise. We write books about Isaiah and Jeremiah and the others. We come behind no generation in building their tombs (Luke 11:47 ff.).

We even clamor for “a prophetic voice” to be raised in our own day against the evils that we see on every hand. And from time to time we hail some vocal protester as a modern-day prophet. Our generation finds it strange to be accused of embarrassment in the face of prophecy. Who could honor prophets more than we do?

But Dunn is right. Where prophecy is concerned we have debased the currency. What we call a prophet is not what the Bible knows by that name. When, for example, we praise somebody for being a prophetic voice in this degenerate modern world, chances are that he is putting out an opinion with which we agree but which we have not been able to persuade people to accept. And if the opinion in question happens to be rejected by the leaders of some ecclesiastical group, particularly the leaders of one or more of the old-line denominations, that makes it just about perfect. That is the kind of prophecy we understand and appreciate. What more could we look for in a prophet?

Sometimes, it is true, the “prophet” says something that affects our conduct. But we dismiss that. After all, it is unreasonable to expect a man to be right all the time. So we reject him when he rebukes us and accept him when he sets forward our pet ideas.

We do much the same thing when we read the prophets of the Bible. We find Isaiah sternly ...

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