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THE HOLE IN THE DONUT OF TODAY’S CHRISTIANITY

"Let’s Roll."

These words from the heroes of flight 93 shame today’s Christians. The courage of those 9/11 passengers demonstrated fearless risk-taking—exactly what the Lord of History demands from us. Yet, most Christians simply "go along for the ride." As a result, today’s Milquetoast "Christians" seem scarcely qualified as "Christians."

For years, we’ve seen this timid anemia reflected in "Christian creativity." Let’s face it, the bold imagination of non-Christians in the arts—in fiction and film, for example—nearly always exceeds the bland safety and shallow preachiness of Christian artists.

And we find the same spiritual anemia among clergy. They often prefer, for example, the security of their CEO positions to the risk of more prophetic roles. They usually opt for delivering information instead of displaying transparency. And they feel more comfortable with a "thinking-man’s religion" than with the dangers of actually doing religion.

Here’s the point:

The inspired power to proclaim and accomplish transforming visions of self and society are at the very heart of the church. It’s not mere church "talk" to insist that every one of us was intended to prophesy1—to live the raw reality of a prophetic life—to proclaim vital virtual realities and then boldly demand "offers the Holy Spirit can’t refuse."

That’s our destiny! And our lives fail if we fail our destiny. Individual authenticity and the very future of faith depend on it.

When they saw the boldness . . . of Peter and John . . . they recognized that they had been with Jesus.2

The Prophetic Paradox

Of course, this prophetic boldness—this spiritual authority—has nothing to do with "sanctioned" authority. It’s not tied to what people say—their political correctness, their comfortable culture, or their approved forms. And, it’s not bound by even pious traditions, religious poses, or the declared chasm between the sacred and the secular.

Further, prophetic boldness has nothing to do with intellectual abilities, the latest theology, or appeals to empirical "evidence."

And, at the deepest level, prophetic boldness has nothing to do with the one who prophesies. For prophecy has no need of our rhetorical eloquence, charismatic personality, or manipulative tricks. Nor does prophecy need our selfish reflections or heroic narcissism. In other words, prophecy was never intended to build the prestige, influence, or self-image of the prophesier.

The church doesn’t need any more "powerful" leaders. It needs more leaders with prophetic power.

Of course, this implies a paradox. For a prophetic lifestyle is bold, yet humble—confident, yet self-effacing—vigorous, yet delicate—powerful, yet subtle—singleminded, yet open. It is "in-your-face," yet "in-His-grace." In other words, prophetic power is not our power. We point to it only out of the Power to which we point.

Yet, that Power incarnates power!

"I will tell you what to do with My eye upon you"3

The Hole in the Donut

Belief in this kind of boldness is long forgotten. It’s the hole in the donut of today’s Christianity. For it requires inspired emotion, an assertive will, and dangerous risk—all the qualities refused in "proper" churches and "respectable" seminaries.

Prophecy and inspired emotion, for example, go together. They are a declared love, a propelled passion. We’ve long known that intuitive visions and felt meanings require each other—that the curiosity of creativity and the excitement of discovery always commingle. After all, the Latin origin of "emotion" meant "to move out." And, in the same way, biblical "prophecy" is a "forth-telling" (not just a "foretelling").4 In other words, we are "borne along (moved and impelled) by the Holy Spirit,"5 then we "forth-tell" this inspiration to others.

God moves us. We move others.

Prophecy also requires an assertive will. The two together ignite the intention of our spirit, the volition of our imagination, the incarnation of our faith. Something, after all, must rouse the spirit to action, something must dare the unseen, something must invoke the urgency of a Presence. In other words, prophetic boldness always takes the form of an "action." It always "does" something.

Finally, then, prophecy implies risk. It is a daring utterance. Yes, we always honor the inspired "Word" of previous prophets, but our "in-your-face assertions" and "no-nonsense bluntness" must still crack the crust of today’s routine consciousness.6

We dare, for example, to risk the unknown within the known, the awe within the ordinary, the mystery within the mundane, the numinous within the natural, the intuitive within the intellect. It is the risk of spontaneity—a dynamic, intuitive, open-ended, personal immediacy.

This immediacy resembles the spontaneity of Jesus. And, like Jesus, prophetic inspiration never births the same thing twice.

Such risk, of course, implies an intimacy with Otherness. For prophecy always speaks dangerously about dangerous things. Each time we hasten God’s Presence, we hazard God’s Power.

A lifestyle of prophecy is always a "living sacrifice."7

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.8

Controlled Exaggeration

Beyond these risks, here’s what the Lord of History requires: Prophecy doesn’t "predict the future," it "projects a world." It doesn’t "think" or "analyze," it anticipates and summons things yet unformed, unthought, unavailable. It doesn’t let loose like a loose canon, it speaks with "controlled exaggeration."

In the words of Shakespeare, it "bodies forth the forms of things unknown."9

And—in the process—prophecy transgresses present reality. It breaks stale conventions. It goes against acceptable formulas. For we know the Scriptural promise: The truly inspired "Word" never returns void—never proves useless—never fails to produce an effect.10

In this confidence, we also know we’re made in the image of a Creator/God—a God who "calls things that are not as though they were"—a God who speaks of "nonexistent things . . . as if they [already] existed"—a God who declares "the end and the result from the beginning."11

And, reflecting that image, we know the call to perform "an obligation which we accept, in spite of its appearing on reflection impossible of achievement."12

"Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth."13

The Right "Heart"

Careful, however. . . .

The prophetic role is not primarily a "one-on-one-with-God brand of personal holiness."14 It does not emphasize a me/mine "life in Christ." We are not, in other words, "Lone Rangers."

Instead, we act with "authority" only in the Latin meaning of "authority"—"to help others to grow," to express loving care through responsibility, to empower others through inspired vision. In this meaning, our "authority" is never coercive. It does not put people in submission. It does not flaunt one-upmanship. And, it does not come from a top-down, ego-dominated structure.

Authentic authority—or authentic boldness—remains possible, then, only with the right "heart"—or the right "reason." For selfless love and the urgency of reconciliation stand at the center of everything prophetic. And these traits, in turn, remain possible only with an awareness of our own brokenness and vulnerability.

Of course, love and reconciliation exist on behalf of others. They emerge from within the life of a community. After all, "God is essentially a relational being."15 As a result, "We live in a vast world of interconnectedness, and the connections have consequences."16 Prophetic messages, for example, may transcend a community, but they always remain relevant to that community.

Finally, Jesus is our example:

He taught as one who had authority.17

"False Prophets"

Too often, of course, we find "false prophets" who have perverted and squandered their God-given opportunities. They offer glib talk about how God "speaks" to them. Yet, their hearts are cluttered with things contrary to the Word.

They simply use God’s name to legitimize their own sin.

Some spiritual leaders, for example, reveal terribly wrong motives in their lust for God. We assume the educated and sophisticated, the prestigious and powerful, the glib and gifted also come equipped with mature spirits. Tragically untrue! "When people become Christians, they don’t at the same moment become nice."18

That includes those who "prophesy."

Rather than being Spirit-directed, they are self-directed. Rather than being selfless, they call attention to themselves. Rather than serving others, they exploit their listeners. Rather than reconciling disagreements, they polarize differences.

Often, they criticize for the sake of criticism.

That’s the reason all of us must be held accountable by mature spiritual communities—by believers who remember how to measure credibility, who intuitively "test the spirits,"19 who clearly know the signs of authenticity.

Unfortunately, the testing of "truth"—in our time—has lost credibility while relativism continues gaining ground. Increasingly, people ask, "What is virtual and what is real?" Indeed, the whole rush of history in this new multicultural world tends to create a vacuum of any truth.

Previously, we touted the tools that established integrity in the modern world of intellectual and scientific "truth." But we have yet to discover the tools that verify integrity in the postmodern world of emotional or subjective "truth." As a result, we hear a growing cry for "Truth" with a capital "T," an unspoken plea for bedrock foundations, and an honest openness for new and radical "orthodoxies."

"Ironically, (postmodern thinking) needs ‘authorities’ more than ever before."20

Second Only to Love

The actual universe is the universe that is coming to be. This means the inspired Word of God will never be locked in time-bound doctrines or man-made institutions. More to the point, God still needs prophecy to make Himself known.

That awesome opportunity proves especially true in today’s epic shift toward an oral culture: a culture where words "do things"—where virtual reality is no longer virtual —where fictions become facts—where metaphor holds the very seed of the future—where art transcends "art"—where prophetic visions actually "change" life.

Inspired creativity, in other words, has the power to change the world. When Spirit takes on body and body takes on Spirit, new realities are created. For what we envision becomes real, what God inspires fulfills itself. This fulfillment derives its meaning from the evidence we proclaim, even as we proclaim it. It creates its facts from the new world we announce, even as we announce it.

"I do not at all mean that these new phenomena are illusory."21

Is this a daring way of thinking? Yes. Is it an uncharted "logic"? Yes. Yet, we have no choice. For we will never offer authentic spiritual influence outside a lifestyle of prophecy.

Don’t even try!

Vision—passion—decision—risk—movement—are all one. They project our spiritual energy until they evoke enough creative strength to go there—to prophesy.

How precious it is. Nothing is more awesome, humbling, fulfilling. . . . It is second only to love.22

"My brethren, earnestly desire and set your hearts on prophesying."23

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt

ENDNOTES

1. "The office of a prophet should not be confused with prophecy or the gift of prophecy which pertains to all believers (I Cor. 13:8; 14:3; I Tim. 1:18; 4:14; Rev. 11:6)." Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1992) p. 1246.

2. Acts 4:13, AMP.

3. Psalms 32:8, New Life Version.

4. In both the Old and New Testaments, prophecy is not primarily a "foretelling." It is a "forth-telling"—a sharing—of authentic inspiration. Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Distionary (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1992) p. 1244.

5. II Peter 1:21, AMP.

6. Eugene H. Peterson, The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2003) pp. 1199, 1705.

7. Romans 12:1, AMP.

8. T. S. Eliot, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/tseliot161678.html

9. William Shakespeare, http://bit.ly/aTtAue

10. Isaiah 55:11, AMP.

11. Romans 4:17, NIV & AMP; Isaiah 46:10, AMP.

12. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958) p 324.

13. Isaiah 43:19, AMP.

14. Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996) pp. 99, 115, 116.

15. Fee, p. 46.

16. Peterson, pp. 1199, 1716.

17. Matthew 7:29, NIV.

18. Peterson, p. 2062.

19. I John 4:1

20. Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in the New Millennium Culture, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999) p. 187 (my parentheses).

21. C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1964) p. 221.

22. I Corinthians 14:1, AMP.

23. I Corinthians 14:39, AMP.




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