What the prophet does and why the lambs bleat

What is your notion of a prophet?
I suspect the Western Protestant Church has made a right hash of this ministry.

Reducing it to mere predictions.

Either doom or glory, or vague hope & polite niceness.

Reducing it to clichéd slogans that mean anything and everything ….and nothing.
Reducing it the “wacky fringe of the church”:
The bigger the beard the greater the prophet!

Reducing it to spontaneous mini-messages of bespoke theological preference!
Reducing it to magic, on a par with ancient and modern gnosticism:
God’s weird little secrets made known to the special weird few!


False Prophesy is Pie in the Sky!

We need less (zero) ‘Personal Idiosyncratic Eschatology’ (or P.I.E. for short – I made that up all on my own); and more of what Eugene Peterson in his brilliant book Run with the Horses refers to as the true nature of the Prophet:

1. A prophet lets people know who God is and what he is like, what he says and what he is doing.

2. A prophet wakes us up from our sleepy complacency so that we see the great and stunning drama that is our existence, and then pushes us onto the stage playing our parts whether we think we are ready or not.

3. A prophet angers us by rejecting our euphemisms and ripping off our disguises, then dragging our heartless attitudes and selfish motives out into the open where everyone sees them for what they are!

4. A prophet makes everyone and everything seem significant and important – important because God made everything and everyone; significant because God is actively, right now, using it, or him, or her, you and me, in this place, right now, and yesterday and tomorrow.

5. A prophet makes it difficult to continue with a sloppy or selfish life.


Soren Kierkegaard said, “The crowd is untruth.”
In other words, “Crowds lie. The more people, the less truth” (EP).
This is why in Scripture we often see one prophet against the people.
In secular terms:
Whistleblowers in organizations are the person against the system.
We also see: Gandhi against the British Empire.
Bonhoeffer against the Nazi’s.
Jeremiah against Judah.
Samuel against the “elders” and all the people who backed them!
Jesus against Empire and the mob!

That’s why  Martin Luther King would write in a letter whilst in prison, “Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”

So although the true prophet may find themselves in lonely places,
they do not allow the crowd to dictate their message.
In a church, the crowd does not dictate what is preached – the Bible does!
In any ministry, the crowd is not the Great Wall of Truth, upon which all persons and ministries are assessed and then judged.


Upon hearing a propetic speech-act, imagine the prophet giving out a score-card on which the people can grade the Word.
1. Unacceptable
2. Acceptable
3. Good
4. Excellent
5. Outstanding

When Moses’s ministry was percieved as (1) unacceptable; they built a golden calf.

When Samuel’s ministry was percieved as (2) acceptable (1 Sam 8); they demanded a king like all the other nations.

Whatever score the crowd gives, the true prophet must keep speaking God’s Word, as they always have, since like Jeremiah, if they do not, their very bones burn with the burden of the Lord!

These “burning bones” are not the burning of anti-intellectualism, or anti-academia or the like.  Rob Knowles asks, “Have we so perverted even the notion of ‘prophecy’ that real prophecy is unrecognizable and mislabelled as ‘mere academic knowledge’?

Prophecy as a gift of the Holy Spirit is misunderstood. Thiselton writes:

“Prophetic speech may include applied theological teaching, encouragement, and exhortation to build the church, not merely (if at all) ad hoc cries of an expressive, diagnostic, or tactical nature, delivered as ‘spontaneous’ mini-messages. The latter debase and trivialize the great tradition of the term in the biblical writings as something altogether more serious, sustained, and reflective (First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 829).

From these comments we can see that the gift of prophecy today includes applied theological teaching, encouragement, and exhortation to build the church – teaching, encouragement, and exhortation that is serious, sustained, and reflective. Conversely, prophecy is not primarily “ad hoc cries of an expressive, diagnostic, or tactical nature, delivered as ‘spontaneous’ mini-messages”, which are less serious, less sustained, and unreflective.  Genuine prophecy includes biblical teaching!

relating-faith“We though, have often reinvented prophecy so as to suppress true prophecy that involves true biblical teaching.  Indeed, the church routinely alienates even its internationally renowned theologians. . . . . Churches drinking deep from the wells of cultural anti-intellectualism routinely mislabel theologians [and prophets and the like], casting them aside as ‘hopeless liberals’, ‘mere academics in ivory towers’, or as having only ‘intellectual’ or ‘academic’ knowledge that ‘does not relate to life. . . . .

. . . .Such marginalizing of true prophets and theologians, then, is like saying, ‘I fly aeroplanes, so I know everything about aircraft engineering’!  But what pilot says, ‘I don’t need aircraft engineers, because their understanding is “only technical”‘?  Granted, pilots fly the plane.  But only a suicidal pilot who cares nothing for his passengers is unconcerned about his plane’s air-worthiness.

Without true prophets and theologians, the church crashes and burns on its way to wrong destinations – every single time….

. . . . when you silence the true prophet, the teacher, and the theologian, you don’t get ‘the silence of the lambs’ – you get the bleating of the lambs.”

Rob Knowles, Relating Faith, pg. 124-5


 A blade of grass growing through concrete!

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