Prophets or Posers? – Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

I’m going to do something that I don’t do very often, launch a series of posts on a particular topic. My goal is to keep them somewhat short. Over the years I’ve heard many people claim that they have prophetic gifting. Whether it be from a spiritual gifts inventory, self-designation, or a casual statement from a friend or spouse – the term gets tossed around from time to time. As one who consistently gets diagnosed as a “prophet” or as one who prophetic gifting, I’m fascinated by the dynamic that occurs when my “gifting” clashes with another “prophet’s” gifting. Something’s got to give – no?

I’ve titled this series “Prophets or Posers” because I want to attempt to illuminate some of the logical fallacies that sometimes can lead to an individual’s errant self-understanding of their role in community and the authority of their insights, opinions, and convictions. For this initial post I want to highlight a book that I loved – but it’s over 100 years old. The Prophets and the Promise is a book from the well known Rev. Willis Judson Beecher from Princeton Theological Seminary and comes from lectures that he gave from 1902 – 1903. That’s old school, but there were times I totally forget this was a book over 100 years old. It has great insight on prophets and prophecy – both in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the modern age.

Today I’m going to include just a few quotes that highlight who a prophet was and what his or her function was in the Scriptures.

“According to the records a prophet might be judge or king or priest or general or statesman or private person, in fine, might occupy any position in the commonwealth; as a prophet, he was simply a citizen with a special work to do. The prophets as such had no settled position in church or state. They were sent by God on individual missions, natural or supernatural, to supplement the routine administration of secular and religious affairs. The bible refuses to present any other picture of a prophet than that of a citizen, like other citizens, holding a commission from God, and endowed with the gifts requisite for accrediting his commission.”
– pg. 86

“One needs to reiterate the statement that a prophet is not characteristically a person who foretells, but one who speaks forth a message from Deity….A prophet is a person who speaks out the special message that God has given him.”
-pg. 88-89

“First, any adherent of the true religion may be said to prophesy when the Spirit of God gives him a special message for the edification of others.” pg. 103

Prophets or Posers? Fallacy #1

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

I’m a little slow getting going on this, but I’m going to present a series of logical fallacies that present themselves in the mind of someone who is seeking to justify their position as the source of true divine light and revelation in community. Of course, some of this applies in any basic human relationship or situations, but it takes on stronger and possibly more damaging overtones when it’s infused with spiritual language and implications. I know this series might appeal to a more select audience, but feel free to weigh in with your thoughts.

Prophetic Logical Fallacy #1:

“I must have God on my side if those I disagree with are turning against me or if they are leaving me out in the cold.”

Counterpoint: You might just be an ass and not a very likeable person.The thing with many of these logical fallacies is that there is a kernal of truth that lends itself for self-deception. In the Scriptures, prophets routinely were alienated, abused, or even killed because they were opposed by hard-hearted people who could not accept the truth. Even from a family or organizational systems perspective, anxious systems are ready at a moments notice to scapegoat any individual that seeks to deviate from the norm or speak into the situation. So clearly, there are plenty of times where as an individual you might encounter hostility, betrayal, or alienation because you are indeed a mouthpiece for truth and reality in a messed up and distorted situation.

But, it clearly is bad logic to work backwords and say – because people are hating on me or rejecting what I have to say, I must be functioning prophetically and I know I’m right and God is on my side. Recognizing opposition and hostility that is based on fear of the truth or fear of change or insecurity is never a reason to build one’s case for one’s “increased divine authority.” Recognizing those things may explain a lot and help you stay anchored and calm, but prophetic authority doesn’t derive from the power and measure of the opposition.

Another way of looking at it is that it could be blatant blameshifting and a defense mechanism. When we as people feel bad or rejected – it’s all too easy to want to make the other person into Satan or redirect the accusation that is felt internally onto others in an effort to preserve one’s sense of superiority or goodness.

If one is truly functioning prophetically and is connected to God, no doubt they will experience a lot of what is mentioned above in terms of opposition and rejection; however, they are not going to get sucked into defense mechanisms and opposition as divine validation of one’s authority.

Prophets or Posers? Fallacy #2

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

In continuing this brief blog series on prophets or posers, here is prophetic logical fallacy #2:

“If I’m clearly right on one thing (in my mind), then God must be on my side and I’m likely on the side of truth in other things as well.”

Counterpoint: You might be right about one thing, but you might be wrong about more things than you are right.

It may be human nature to fixate on one issue and then we let that issue drive us and affect how we see all the world. Call it tunnel vision, call it myopia, call it fixation…whatever it is, sometimes we can somehow draw great courage and confidence and maybe even an increased sense of authority when it seems like our position is so clearly in the right..or Biblical…or just…or whatever.

It’s always good to have a good “blind spot theology” considering how finite and limited we are in our ability to see and assess truth and reality for what it is. This fallacy is perhaps more common among younger people, younger believers who are starting to develop passions and convictions, but they just haven’t experienced enough in life and relationships and with God to understand the complexity of things and the tendency for there to be a lot of gray area in life.

I also see this being common to people who embrace rigid theological systems that lead to the inevitable black and white labeling of others according to various doctrinal positions. It’s probably also true among people who are feeling a lot of pain in their lives. In the language of my leadership circles, all of these people fail the “intellectual flexibility” test. Sometimes our intellectual flexibility is hindered in the short-term because of crisis or short-term pain, but other times many of us suffer from chronic narrow-mindedness and poor vision as it relates to things outside of ourselves and that can come from several places.

Someone functioning prophetically might very well be right and have a clear word from the Lord or insight from Scripture that brings God’s will into center focus in a clear and compelling way that demands a response. But someone truly functioning prophetically as one connected to God and His heart has the humility to recognize other perspectives and and the courage to recognize when we are speaking out with our own voice and/or issues rather than the voice of the Lord.

Prophets or Posers? Fallacy #3

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

Here is prophetic logical fallacy #3 in the series I’ve been doing on “prophets or posers?”:

“Since God ‘anointed me’ or placed me in the position of leader, then my convictions and insights about reality and truth have more authority and weight to them (in terms of being right, not in terms of their impact on other people).”

Counterpoint: You might not be a prophet, you might be squashing them instead.

Organizational and spiritual authority should not be confused. I’m well aware that various traditions and even cultures will place different values on hierarchies and structures. I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater in this assertion, I’m just saying that spiritual authority and the voice of God does not flow through you just because you’re in charge. Just because you’ve got position and power doesn’t mean that your power is coming from God.

This gets at the “divine right” theology that so many kings and queens embraced in years past. I see some of this play out today on smaller levels. I’ve heard plenty of stories about pastors and I’ve seen other examples related to teams or organizational situations. It always creeps me out when I hear someone that it is in charge with significant organizational weight and power proclaim that they think they are gifted as prophets and function prophetically in the context of them being in conflict or disagreement with others. It’s not that this couldn’t be the case as examples from the OT show us, but prophets in the Scriptures tended to be more separate from power structures. Either way, when people in power self-anoint themselves as prophets it’s bad news. They tend to leave a wake of destruction behind them.

There is a reality that God, in his sovereignty, has put people in leadership and we’re called to respect and follow that leadership. I’m not challenging that. But I am challenging the perspective that just because someone has more power or clout in a spiritual community, that they therefore are the necessarily the mouthpiece of God.

People end up being leaders for a lot of reasons, some of which I long to have a big sit-down about with Jesus in the life to come. It’s tricky territory for sure to figure out how to honor and follow spiritual authority when our organizational leaders and the true Head of the Church are in great conflict with one another. That’s beyond the scope of what I’m trying to do here. The main point here is that it is a logical fallacy that one’s positional or organizational power serves as evidence to validate one’s perspectives, opinions, and judgments. I’m reading a lot of the Gospels right now and parables and this is part of what Jesus shreds the religious rulers of the day for.

 

Prophets or Posers? Fallacy #4

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

Here is the 4th prophetic logical fallacy in the series I’ve been doing on “prophets or posers?”:

“I’m functioning prophetically because I’m cutting edge and the people around me are old school and behind the times.”

Counterpoint: You might just be heading the wrong direction in a faster and more fashionable or trendy way.

It is quite true that groups, systems, organizations, or churches are often slow adapters in maintaining a healthy relevance to the psyche and needs of the current generation and era. As a result, early adapters or those who tend to be more cutting edge when it comes to ideas and methodologies get pushed out eventually via discouragement and lack of innovation or they choose to head elsewhere out of frustration. Yet that doesn’t make this usually talented, creative, and passionate type of person prophetic in how they are functioning.

This kind of person could potentially function prophetically as it relates to how attitudes and methods of the past are hindering God’s will from being made manifest. However, it’s quite possible that someone from a more traditional mindset could function prophetically as to the dangers that particular technological or creative advances might be hindering God’s will being made manifest. The key to the prophetic voice is not “new” or “old”, but it’s related to God’s will and the degree to which people in power and community are bringing their lives, relationships, and work under the will of God.

Cutting edge folk are vital to healthy creativity and progress for organizations and ministries, but just because new ideas are new doesn’t mean they are prophetic. I like C.S. Lewis’s term for this type of thinking. He called such glorification of the “new” to the detriment of the past as “chronological snobbery.”

We should all aspire to be early adapters and to some degree “cutting edge,” but if we lose the humility that comes with being attentive first and foremost to the heart of God then we’re running the risk of arrogant posturing and self-promotion.

Prophets or Posers? Fallacy #5

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

Here isyet another prophetic logical fallacy (#5) in the series I’ve been doing on “prophets or posers?”:

“I’m a prophet or have the gift of prophecy because a spiritual gifts inventory told me I was; therefore, I probably see reality for what it truly is most of the time.”

Counterpoint: If Hitler had taken a spiritual gifts inventory, it would have suggested that he had spiritual gifts as well – perhaps even prophecy.

I like spiritual gift inventories and occasionally use them in leadership development and discipleship. However, we have to take them with a grain of salt. They’re not designed to measure the strength of your gift (as fueled by both your character and the power of God), nor can they measure whether one truly is a believer or not. So any effort to boost our own authority through an appeal to spiritual gift inventories is dubious.

A possible corollary to this fallacy could also be, “I’m a prophet because my spouse tells me that I am or must be one.” I’m not going to dive into this one, but I’ve heard several spouses over the years herald their partner as a prophet. Sometimes I’ve agreed with them from my vantage point, but others times not so much. Spouses sometimes can react in funky ways when their partner is a lightning rod in conflict or debate or any kind of “truth war.” It’s not uncommon for spouses to build their partner up or make them all good (i.e. the prophet role) and demonize the opposition as carnal, apostate, mean, or maybe even evil. Emotionally secure spouses can be a great source of confirmation as to whether their wife or husband might be functioning prophetically, but the spouse who gets lost in conflict is probably not a reliable source for perspective of one’s position.

A good test of this fallacy is to give a spiritual gifts inventory to someone blatantly hostile to Jesus Christ and see what happens 🙂

Prophets or Posers? – Watch Out!

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

Matthew 7:15 – 23

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

I’m not going to offer detailed analysis here, but I thought I’d include a few of Jesus’ original thoughts related to the theme of “prophets or posers?” He thought of that first 🙂

Some of what I’ve been doing this series is trying to illuminate false ways in which some of us can try to legitimize our own opinions and perspectives and increase our authority in community. However, Jesus points out that there’s one thing that generally illuminates whether someone is doing and/or voicing the will of God or not – are they bearing fruit?

This doesn’t exactly provide a clear rubric to analyze every person’s claim to be following God’s word in their words and actions, but it does get to the heart of the matter. What is the fruit of their life and work? Are they sowing the word of God into situations that produce redemptive solutions or are they leaving behind a trail of bad and rotten fruit? Are they working for themselves or for the good of all?

Prophets or Posers? Fallacy #6

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

After a long hiatus, I’m finally getting back to the “prophets or posers” series.  Because it’s been awhile I’ll share the first five prophetic fallacies with the links to their posts, followed by the sixth prophetic fallacy.

  • Part 1: “I must have God on my side if those I disagree with are turning against me or if they are leaving me out in the cold.”
  • Part 2: “If I’m clearly right on one thing (in my mind), then God must be on my side and I’m likely on the side of truth in other things as well.”
  • Part 3: “Since God ‘anointed me’ or placed me in the position of leader, then my convictions and insights about reality and truth have more authority and weight to them (in terms of being right, not in terms of their impact on other people).”
  • Part 4: “I’m functioning prophetically because I’m cutting edge and the people around me are old school and behind the times.”
  • Part 5: “I’m a prophet or have the gift of prophecy because a spiritual gifts inventory told me I was; therefore, I probably see reality for what it truly is most of the time.”

Here’s Prophetic Fallacy #6:

“I’m leading change or functioning as a change agent, therefore I’m functioning prophetically in my community or organization.”

Counterpoint: You might be leading change – much needed change, but organizational change in the name of relevance and efficiency is in a very different category than offering a powerful witness and word that testifies to an alternative kingdom.

I read tons about leading change – books, articles, blogs, and now even podcasts.  Most of it is really good stuff.   The transitions to post-modernity and the digital age have really laid the foundation for constant change.   The rules are constantly changing, whereas previous generations enjoyed significant stability.

As a result, today there is a constant tension most of us face between doing things the way we’ve done them in the past and innovating new solutions for an unpredictable future.  We all must develop an aptitude for adapting and changing in both our methodologies and our assumptions – or else we’ll get left behind.

However……functioning as a change agent organizationally in order to help keep with the changing culture, while important in many ways, is not equal to a prophetic witness in community.  Some of the dynamics may be similar, such as  the role of challenging an establishment of strong power or the prevailing power of the imagination over mechanisms of control.  However, those dynamics tend to be common to all systems in which the status quo is being challenged.

Change agents challenge the status quo for the sake of efficiency, relevance, and success.  Prophets challenge the status quo for the sake of justice, for the sake of hope, for the sake of God’s intervention into a unjust and dehumanizing context.  It’s important that we recognize the modern tendency to place the “prophet” label on change agents because of the role they play in challenging the status quo.  In some ways I’m okay with doing that as long as we’re clear that we using the term in  typological kind of a way as opposed to a real designation of one who God is using to witness to His true nature, resist injustice and advocate on behalf of the oppressed.

There will be one or two more posts in this series pertaining to prophetic fallacies.  Then I will post several entries about what prophetic witness is, as opposed to what it is not (as I have been doing thus far).

Prophets vs. Posers Fallacy #7

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series Prophets or Posers

This is my last stop in this prophets or posers series, though the general topic is going to get several more posts in the coming weeks.  Just because I’m done posting my thoughts, doesn’t mean you can’t post yours (see my invite below).

Here’s Prophetic Fallacy #7:

“By God’s grace I do in reality have the gift of prophecy, therefore I’m functioning prophetically in my community or organization.”

Counterpoint: You may be a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal.  You might be “nothing.”

This is the fallacy that I wanted to conclude with for now before I explore other thoughts on prophetic functioning.  The reality is that God has blessed some of his people with prophetic gifting.   And you might be one of those people.  However, it’s not enough.The apostle Paul first attacked this fallacy a couple thousand years ago so I’ll just quote him.  Bold lettering is my emphasis.

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-2)

Having special or revealed knowledge can very easily lead to an overestimation of one’s own importance (Romans 12:3).  God’s people don’t function very well together when this is the case.  One might be right and on the side of justice as God sees it, but still not be on God’s side.  It’s a humbling thought that in God’s economy we could actually see things completely for what they are and have convictions that line up with God’s will, but still not be on God’s side because our hearts are not properly oriented to God Himself or to other brothers and sisters.

The presence of love as a motivation can be easily rationalized.  It takes some work to make sure that we are fueled and motivated by love – and that’s work on our part to create space for God in our lives and work on God’s part to foster His life in His through His Spirit.  In the case of prophetic gifting, love can fade away (or disappear) in apparent importance because of a self-driven quest for justice or even vengeance.  Or maybe love gets lost because of an over-confidence in certainty and all or nothing categories.

Regardless, many who take the high road of being God’s side in community tensions or disputes end up being exposed as “nothing” because they set themselves above and apart from those they are seeking to challenge or prompt towards truth.  The Scriptures offer a healthy test for this – it’s the fruit test.  Trees are judged not be what they proclaim themselves to be, but by the fruit that they bear.  Ugly fruit = ugly heart = someone who is “nothing” in terms of God’s purposes for His people.

Prophetic functioning carries with it an odd and maybe counter-intuitive blend of tenacity or boldness along with humility and tenderness towards people as well as a general systemic wisdom about what things are “off” or contrary to God in the bigger picture.  This is perhaps where the carnal prophet goes awry – he has his or her quiet time with Jesus in the morning and then goes about trying to fix the things that feel “off” to him or her.  Love gets lost in that equation, because the carnal prophet works to get the system to conform to his standards and values.

Prophetic functioning that is “something” in God’s economy is characterized by love (for God and the whole community and not one’s own agenda), wisdom (pertaining to the complexity of the human heart as well as to how communities function, especially how power is used), humility (knowing that even as a prophet – one cannot claim to be functioning out of certainty.  The prophet, more than anyone, should recognize how fallible they are in this great spiritual journey.)  There may be a fine line between serving with boldness and in full faith and feeling like we must be certain – but that’s a sign of immaturity I think.  The power of one’s character, especially a mature and emotionally healthy person, allows one to boldly engage matters of justice and truth without losing sight of their own identity and person along the way.

There are no doubt other fallacies that influence people to assume that they have greater authority in matters than God has truly given them…but this is where I’m stopping in terms of my own thoughts.  If you have a fallacy that you have identified in the spirit of this series, I invite you to write a guest post for me and we’ll keep the series going….seriously.

If you have tracked this series (and I recognize there may be many readers who had not interest in this), and you have any overall reflections on any of the dynamics highlighted, please leave a comment and hopefully there can be some further discussion.