Do we still have prophets in the twenty-first century? What do they look like? What are they saying? What is their profile? Are they able to speak truth to power? Are they a reforming influence on society? Do people take them seriously? Below are some names of people that we would deem part of the contemporary prophetic voice in their ability to analyze culture, dig deeper for the truth and speak courageously to our current situation,
The voice was often poetic as Walter Bruggeman points out. Poetic language often bypasses our false rationalization or self-justification (Nathan with David). The Old Testament prophet (see Moses) often had the dual and difficult role of advocating for broken or belligerent people in the midst of moral failure and advocating for God's righteousness at the same time. Thomas McComiskey, one of my OT profs at TEDS, noted that the prophet was able to apply the voice, the heart and the word of God to a contemporary need in a way that engaged the people towards change and renewal.
They were indeed courageous, bringing up difficult topics and challenging social trends, even confronting socio-religious-political evil directly (Elijah) often at great personal risk. The prophetic gift included insight into where a culture or a people group was heading morally and spiritually; they saw their role as helping leaders avoid a political, moral and spiritual abyss. The prophet carries God's passion about justice.
This individual saw creatively the light or promise of alternative approaches, bringing God's honour and will back to the centre of society (Nehemiah). The vision was to recover good things from the spiritual heritage and reform corruption in the present. A prophet is not a doomsayer or soothsayer, but a socially redemptive agent, confronting false ideologies, the corrupt leader and deconstructing popular misconceptions. Prophets reconnect the human with the transcendent, earth with heaven.
Jesus himself follows in the prophetic tradition; he was deeply concerned about the corruption of Judaism in his day and wept over Jerusalem. His confrontation with its principalities and powers led to his crucifixion and our redemption. His teaching, life, death and resurrection deconstructed the evils that held people in its thrall. He confronted the will to power of Rome and its lackeys in the Sanhedrin. We should be encouraging writing with a prophetic edge, preaching with a prophetic poetics, research that has prophetic insight and impact. Perhaps we can find some of these people within the university world and even among modest minds that have a strong desire for God's will in society.
The following leaders seem to fit somehow within that prophetic tradition and deserve our attention. We will add more names over time. They are sociologists, humanities scholars, philosophers, theologians, scientists, environmentalists, writers, poets, musicians, lawyers, ethicists, historians, cultural analysts. We have here people of strong intellectual and moral capacity. They carry a deep concern for the deterioration of culture and the loss of truth, dignity, civility, goodness and appreciation of beauty and good stewardship. They do also warn us about where our current trends such as excessive consumerism will take us. Perhaps you have more names to add to the list. It is to our benefit, our children's good and human flourishing to heed our contemporary prophets and sages. ~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner
Made for spirituality we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our full human role as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning. That, quite simply, is what is means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.
~N.T. Wright, Simply Christian
Listen to Prophetic Sermon by Darrell Johnson, First Baptist Church Vancouver, BC May 6, 2012 Title: "We Have Come to a Fork in the Road" firstbc.tumblr.com
David Bentley Hart
James Davison Hunter
Ruth Padilla Deborst
Paul K. Moser
Eugene Peterson speaks to this spirit of significance profoundly:
Christian followers of Jesus have an urgent mandate to care for language—spoken, heard, written—as a means by which God reveals himself to us, by which we express the truth and allegiance of our lives, and by which we give witness to the Word made flesh…. Contemporary language has been dessicated by the fashions of the academic world (reductive rationalism) and the frenzy of industrial and economic greed (reductive pragmatism). The consequence is that much of the talk in our time has become, well, just talk—not much theological content to it, not much personal relationship involved, no spirit, no Holy Spirit…. We need a feel for vocabulary and syntax that is able to detect and delete disembodied ideas, language that fails to engage personal participation. We need a thorough grounding in the robustness of biblical story and grammar that insists on vital articulated speech (not just the employment of words) for the health of the body and mind and soul…. Words don’t just sit there, like bumps on a log. They have agency. Scott Cairns, reflecting on his work as a poet working with words in the context of a believing community reading the Scriptures, says that we “are attending not only to a past (an event to which the words refer), but are attending to a present and a presence (which the words articulate into proximity for their apprehension)… leaning into that articulate presence, participating in its energies, and thereby participating in the creation of meaning, with which we help to shape the future. (The Jesus Way, 67-8)
Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts
“The sages and prophets, the disciples and revolutionaries, they are the ones up on the ramparts, up on the wall pointing to the dawn of the new Kingdom coming, pointing to the light that breaks through all things broken, pointing to redemption always rising and to the Blazing God who never sleeps.”