THE HOLE IN THE DONUT OF TODAY’S CHRISTIANITY
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Only those who will risk going too far can
possibly find out how far one can go.8
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"I do not at all mean that these new phenomena
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!
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
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
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.
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,
9. William Shakespeare,
10. Isaiah 55:11, AMP.
11. Romans 4:17, NIV & AMP; Isaiah
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.