Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Problem with Prophets - Christianity Today Magazine

The Problem with Prophets - Christianity Today Magazine:
(free registration required to read the full article)
by Paul Marshall

"Evangelicals apparently have so much political clout that they are poised to install a theocracy, according to some commentators. Such critics don't notice there is little distinctively evangelical about the evangelical approach to politics. The evangelical emphases—on conversion, the Cross, the Bible, and activism—do not themselves amount to a full, independent theological system. Nor do they take us far in understanding politics, which requires at least some grasp of history, government, law, justice, freedom, rights, mercy, violence, and war. Thoughtful evangelicals trying to understand politics often draw on the wider resources of Calvinist, Anabaptist, Anglican, Lutheran, or Catholic teaching. ..."
With both major parties trying to project themselves as the party of faith, this article comes at a good time.

Beau Weston, who wrote a blog entry back in late April on how the Presbyterian budget might be balanced, noted that "The church needs prophets, as does society as a whole. That is why God keeps sending them. The place of prophets is outside the house of power, speaking truth."

Those on either end of the political spectrum who style themselves as prophets need to remember that it is a rare instance where the Bible speaks approvingly of "official" prophets. If you are part of the power structure, then your ability to speak the word of the Lord is compromised by your own self interest.

Marshall elaborates on this by drawing on an example from the "evangelical left" (my characterization):
"...A more pervasive—and perhaps pernicious—pattern makes a prophet the key political actor. This view's advocates implicitly claim the prophet's mantle for themselves. In his widely noted God's Politics, Jim Wallis writes, "The place to begin to understand the politics of God is with the Prophets." Wallis does not bother to justify this unusual contention. The Bible itself does not begin with the Prophets, but with Genesis, as does most Christian reflection on politics throughout history. Nor does Wallis relate the Prophets to the Torah. They challenged rulers on the basis of God's law, not on their own feelings of injustice. ..."

The anabaptist tradition is one in which the metaphorical realms of Caesar and Christ are held to be separate, and further, that the realm of Caesar implicitly relies on coercion to maintain itself. He notes the irony that many who are outspoken against the military and police are more than willing to see the govenment (with its coercive power) establish and enforce such things as redistribution of wealth, welfare reform, and other social programs. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, have been more than willing to not only speak to powerful people as outsiders, but to roll up their sleeves and do the work themselves that other Christians are more than willing to outsource to the government.

I recommend this article for reading and reflection.

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DLW said...

somehow I don't think many other Christians starting with Genesis may be the right place for dealing with potential political changes in the present, in part because of the long history of Constantinization of the Church and how that, through doctrines like "Divine Rights of Kings" has been used to reify the status quo or selective changes to it.

There is an exegetical issue here, but it has not been resolved.

thecomingprophets said...

The church has always rejected and killed the prophets. God has always raised up those who can be used by God to shake the tree or stir things up. The current church hated John The Baptist and also Martin Luther. Those preachers and teachers in high places never wanted the bible widely distributed. God used a person that the church hated (Saul) to write 3/4 of the new testament. Why not one of the twelve decyples? I think because of all the legalism and the Judaisers. The twelve decyples went to seminary for three years with God teaching yet somehow they missed something. God used them for the gospel and as martyrs but somehow used the Pharisee of Pharisees to write most of the new testament.

Denis Hancock said...

dlw -- If I understand this guy's point correctly, it is that the OT prophets were calling people back to God's law as put forth in the pentateuch. It was not that social justice came in with the prophets, it was that the people had forgotten (or rejected) the Law that was already there.