Frequently Asked Questions (of a theologian) is a series I do from time to time as a means of answering good questions that come across my desk. Sometimes I answer the questions, sometimes others do, if you’re interested in seeing some other Q & A’s check it out here.
This week’s question is: are there modern day prophets?
As you know there are two forms of prophet: the one who tells the future, and the one who poignantly explains the “signs of the times” as a way of critiquing and calling the people back to God.
Both are done with a sensitivity toward the Holy Spirit, and those who truly hear the Spirit speak truth which is often hard to hear.
The first kind of prophet has always been rare, only about 10 percent of prophecy in the OT is directed toward the future. And today I think this kind of prophecy is rarer. I don’t think that it’s impossible because I believe that God still speaks today, and he could very easily tell someone something like this. However, the two parts of this future directed prophecy is: that it calls people to worship God (it is not for the prophets own gain) and it’s meant not as an individual gift (such as God tells me when to play the lottery or when to avoid getting on the plane) so much as a corporate Gift, in other words it has social implications and glorifies God.
The second kind of prophet is much more common and I do think there are people who speak with the words and heart of God in a way that critiques the powers of our world. In fact, I think Mennonites, Quakers and Catholics have nurtured this gift among their people more consistently than a number of other traditions because of their insistence on listening to the living Spirit of God. This kind of prophecy is in line with the Jeremiah’s and Isaiah’s of to OT and of course Jesus in the NT because it is very unpopular, often rejected, and is often only accepted after it’s too late or almost too late to turn around.
One example of this is the prophetic witness of Quakers and their involvement in the underground railroad, something we’d all hail as a revolutionary obedience to what the Holy Spirit called all the church to do. Their involvement in the railroad was not only illegal but highly rejected by people inside and outside the Friends movement. It took a really long time for the rest of the church, and just as long for the rest of the country, to accept their anti-slavery position as truth. But now, looking back, we Christians know that God is against domination and oppression and that the Spirit always calls us to help those who are in these situations. Those who first listened to the Spirit and who responded obediently were prophets leading the people of God to respond.
So in the end, yes I believe that God calls people to critique the powers the way Jeremiah, Isaiah and Jesus all did, I think we have some good examples of this, and that these prophets and what they say are often difficult to accept because of the radical nature of their message. I don’t however think there are many people, and I sometimes wonder if any, who faithfully tell the future.
Walter Bruggemann is an incredible Old Testament professor whose books are well written and very engaging and cover a number of these topics. In fact, I am reading one called “Prophetic Imagination” right now. So if you’re interested in looking more into this I’d encourage checking out one of his books on the topic.
How would you respond to this question?
8 responses to “FAQ: Are There Modern Day Prophets?”
Of course there are modern day prophets. It’s Bono!
Or so sayeth the legions of fans.
Anyway, I like how you differentiate between the different types of prophets. You’ve got a smart head on your neck, and a smart blog on your hands.
@Kevan, thanks for the remarks and I agree I think Bono is doing a good job at naming the powers.
Graham Cooke is one of my all-time favorite people: he leads a School of Prophecy in Vacaville, Ca. Good, good stuff.
Hi AJ- I haven’t read any Cooke but I’ve heard he’s wonderful, I should check him out.
I agree that there are two types of prophets but I don’t think it matches the classification you gave. I would say there are capital ‘P’ Prophets who operate in the office of Prophet, and the rest of the church who has the ability to prophecy.
The NT model for prophecy is in 1st Corinthians. Paul says it’s for exhortation, encouragement and comfort. For strengthening. Not all prophecy must tell the future or call out sin. We can all listen to the impressions of the Holy Spirit and speak encouraging words to one another.
I don’t think that your classification is different then mine. In fact, I think you’re naming two roles within the role of prophet. These two roles could be fullfilled in either of the categories I explained. I think my categories are based more on the content of the message being delievered, where you’re emphasizing who’s saying it. I’ve given the two categories of content that are predominant in the Scripture.
This second kind of prophetic category can be calling out sin, naming the powers, or as you say exhorting, etc. Though I think that in our world today there isn’t a clear distinction between exhorting and naming the powers. Good prophecy, always points back to God – but if this is true then it assumes that we’ve followed some other idol, power, or sin. So I wouldn’t want to draw a line between these two distinctions.
My model certainly isn’t comprehensive but is based on all the prophets of the OT and the model Prophet – Jesus. I think Paul offer’s a descriptive rather than prescriptive account in the sense that’s he’s not saying all prophets need to do it this way, but that this is what prophecy has looked like for the church in Corinth.
Later he offers prescriptive advice about how prophecy is to go down – two or three, etc.
But with Jesus as as our primary role model for what a prophet looks like, says and acts like, we see that the content and role of prophet is much more broad and radical than the few descriptions Paul offers.
I found it odd that you failed to mention one of the most important roles of Prophets: to lead. The Lord calls prophets to lead His people, to act as His mouthpiece. Prophets like Moses, Abraham, Noah, and Isaiah spoke in the name of the Lord by his authority. It was not assumed by themselves. In fact, it was something they initially may not have wanted. But the Lord looked upon their hearts and saw that they were worthy.
Prophets are leaders. There were others who believed in their words and also preached the word of God, but they were not Prophets. The Lord cannot be the author of confusion, and therefore, it doesn’t make sense for many people to be called as Prophets at the same time. This is why interpretations of scripture can be so confusing today, because people assume that they can speak on the Lords behalf, but actually lack the authority to do so.
God is unchanging. It wouldn’t make sense that He would call prophets as leaders anciently, but not do so today. Whenever He has reestablished his church after a period of widespread apostasy, the Lord calls a new Prophet to restore His true church. He gives the priesthood authority to that person, and through revelation, the Lord speaks through him.
I know the Lord has chosen a prophet to lead His church in the past, and He still does today.
does billy graham count as a modern day prophet, please need to know for my project ….
or any of these guys Benny Hinn, John Hageem Edgar Dayce >>>