The Need for Prophets

I recently had to read the first fifty pages of Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination. While I would take issue with some of the details of his exegesis, overall I found the selection I read inspiring.

Brueggemann describes the prophet as having two functions: criticizing and energizing. The criticizing function looks at the issues of the day, and recognizes their incongruency with the Kingdom of God. The energizing function gives a vision of what life could look like as it comes to emulate God’s shalom – his Kingdom peace.

Fresco of John the Baptist (Church of Saint Elijah, Bucharest)

It’s a beautiful image, but I can’t help but wonder where are our prophets today? Most of us seem more caught up in a postmodern skepticism that is focuses almost exclusively on criticizing. We can see through hypocrisy in an instant. If we recognize a small flaw in a movement, we are quick to not only confront the issue, but condemn all those involved. Furthermore, we are culturally rewarded for this: sarcastic wit is seen as the height of humor, and the skeptics are seen as having wisdom.

Certainly criticism is a vital part of the prophetic role; I’d even describe a lot of what I do on this blog to be criticism as I seek to understand how Christ confronts us. Yet a critic is not a prophet. We must move on from criticism to energize one another with a new vision of how the Kingdom of God manifests in our world.

Nor do we need this energizing force in just a few areas. We need it in our social structures – what would it look like if the Church took its description as a family seriously? We need it in education – what if we understood that education ought not be about hoarding knowledge but about loving one another better? We need it in the way/things that we eat – what does it mean to eat in such a way that foreshadows the Kingdom?

The prophetic call is a comprehensive one. It extends to all areas of life. The Church is in desperate need of prophets who will not only criticize but provide a new vision of what life looks like. In a sense we are returning to the role of John the Baptist as we seek to herald the coming of the King, only this time he is coming to rule, not to sacrifice.

As Christians, may we seek to conform our lives and share a vision of what the Kingdom could look like as it explodes our reality, transforming everything about our lives.

What is one way you think that we can bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth now?

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5 thoughts on “The Need for Prophets

  1. Criticize and energize. Nicely put. Each intrinsically depends on the other for a true prophetic word. You’ve given some good food for thought. Thanks!

  2. Excellent distinction between a critic and a prophet. I’ve been thinking a little about this ever since the Kony 2012 movement surfaced. There’s a lot of criticism, especially from Christians, but very little constructive encouragement. And you’re right: Sarcastic wit is the winner of teh internets. I think almost everyone loves to criticize (after all, it makes us feel much better about our own inaction), but it’s much harder to attempt improvement.

    It’s scary to be a prophet, but it’s easy to be a critic.

    1. I think you’re absolutely right. Although I would add that criticism is a crucial part of the prophet’s function. Without criticism, the systems and views that need changing go unexposed. Yet stopping at criticism falls into the trap you’re talking about, where we allow our criticizing to make us feel good about ourselves. The energizing must come in and complement it if we are to see the Kingdom come.

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