Where have all the prophets gone?
Have they all disappeared? Or is it possible that some of them are around but aren’t doing their job? Is it possible that God is still appointing them, but not many of us want the job? I mean, we know what happened to Jonah, and the belly of a whale doesn’t sound like fun, does it?
Walter Brueggemann is one of our best Old Testament scholars. In books like his wonderful work, The Prophetic Imagination (and Finally Comes the Poet), he doesn’t let us relegate prophecy to biblical times. Prophets are not obsolete, although they seem rather rare these days, despite the great need for them in our churches and in our world.
I want to suggest that pretty much all of us are called to have an element of the prophet in us. Yes, I understand that is not the primary role for many of us, but I’m thinking that being overcrowded with prophets is not our problem right now.
I’m suggesting that for pastors, for example, as we call them to the role of pastor/preacher, we might also want to add the word prophet: pastor/preacher/prophet. Such pastors will value our values and will fight for them. The title of prophet might even apply to laymen or, God forbid, a denomination! These groups, with a little prophetic imagination, could become the cutting edge of the prophetic in our society, rather than the six to eight so-called “prophets” we hear on TV, whose prophetic imagination is limited to Armageddon. The genuine prophets of whom I speak would be ready and willing to confront the principalities and powers, whether they be school boards, city councils, the legislature, Congress, or even our own Baptist institutions.
But seldom do I go to churches and hear preaching that is prophetic or that proclaims a strong sense of biblical ethics. And the brave pastors who want me to preach for them often say a word to me before I go. It goes something like this: “Now, Phil, our church is not really in a place where it can deal with anything controversial.” Which tells me that they don’t want to do anything that involves risk. Which tells me that no prophecy is happening there since prophecy always contains an element of risk!
Back to our $70 billion tax cut currently being considered, funded partially, as I said, with $50 billion being cut from programs that are used for poor children. If the pastor as prophet wanted to point out the injustice of that, how would that go over with some of the members of the church?
Well, I think I can answer that for Phil. They would cry “Politics!” They would suddenly become strict church-state separationists. Of course, what they really are saying is that they don’t want God and government to go together if it’s not their brand of politics. I’ll also tell you that there’s a widespread feeling in many church pews that has to be challenged. People think government is by nature always bad and needs constraining. They think government is lousy at caring for the poor and that that’s really the church’s business. But I can tell you that I have never once seen a line of those folks forming at my door begging for ways to give the church more money to care for the poor or eager to start new ministries that would do it better than the government.
So what is happening to prophetic voices?